The 5 most common job interview questions and how to answer them

Handshake in a job interview

A job interview is a very nerve-racking experience, and when faced with tough questions it’s important to prepare in advance. But how can you prepare your answers if you don’t know what they are going to ask?

The simple truth is that you don’t know what the employer will ask. But you can however prepare for the most common job interview questions, and even if you are just asked one of the below examples you will be grateful. Any edge or advantage you can give yourself could result in a job offer.

Here are the 5 most commonly asked job interview questions and how you can answer them.

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

This is usually the first question you’ll be asked once the pleasantries are over and done with. This question is designed to help you relax and shake off a few of those nerves. So rather than get straight into the difficult questions, the employer gives you the opportunity to build up some rapport and start on a friendlier tone.

Every candidate will answer this differently, but there are some tips we can offer to help steer you in the right direction. First of all, try not to go straight into your list of qualifications, experience and skills. You need to avoid being too specific, and instead offer a more generic overview. There is plenty of time to go into more detail during the interview.

Give a brief description of your most recent activity. For example:

‘I am currently working for an energy company as a customer service team member, but I am looking for a bigger challenge. I would like to focus on a more sales orientated role, and I believe that my 10 years of customer service and hospitality experience has prepared me for success.

Outside of work I like to go fishing most weekends with my brother. We regularly travel all over the country to the best fishing lakes and rivers. I also play guitar in a local band and we try and play about once a month. We currently have a few videos on YouTube and our own Facebook page, so feel free to check us out and let me know what you think.’

In our example above you can see that we’ve started by giving a brief career update. This aims to reassure the employer as to what you have to offer and why you’ve applied. The second paragraph talks about hobbies and allows the interviewer to delve into your personality. It will be welcomed by the employer and breaks away from the typical seriousness a job interview brings.

2. Why do you want to work for us?

One of the best ways to answer this question is to compliment the company. An employer will love to hear how great they are and it will put them on a high. Everybody likes compliments, and it’s a great way to make a positive start to the interview.

You do however need to be careful not to make your answer too generic. You have to be specific so they know you really do want to work for them. Talk about their most recent successes – an advertising campaign, social media, reviews, and also the specifics of the role. Finish of your answer by linking your skills to the role so they can see that you are the right fit.

Avoid talking about the pay and benefits as to your reason for applying. The employer wants to hire someone who is genuinely interested in the company and the role, so make that very clear in your answer.

3. Do you know what we do?

This is one of the most important questions that will usually be asked very early in the interview. If you fail to give a detailed response you are already looking at rejection, even if the interview has to continue. It will certainly be very difficult to claw it back from there!

Failing to understand what the company does shows a lack of interest. The company doesn’t want to hire unenthusiastic individuals as they are more likely to under perform. An employee needs to be motivated and excited about what they do, and also have a basic understand of how everything functions.

Conduct lots of research on the role and the company before you enter the interview (and before you write your CV). This shouldn’t be done just to impress in the interview, but also to ensure you want to apply in the first place. You should never apply for a job just because the money is good –job satisfaction is equally as important.

The best places to visit online are the company’s website, social media pages, reviews and testimonials, and so on. You can find a lot of information from here which will help you to answer these questions:

  • What does the company do?
  • What product or service to they provide?
  • Who are their customers?
  • Where are they located?
  • How big is the company – revenue, sales, locations, international?
  • What would be required of an employee?
  • What is the company’s culture?
  • What is their most recent advertising campaign?
  • What are their plans for the future – new product out soon?
  • What are the biggest issues the company faces right now?

Can you imagine how great it would be to walk into an interview and have the answers to these questions? The employer would be so impressed that you would already have one foot in the door.

4. Why should we hire you?

What value do you add? What are you bringing to the table that the other candidates aren’t? What is it about you that will enhance your team? This company? Our brand? Why are you a good fit for this position?  These are all somewhat covered in the question “Why should we hire you?”, and you need to be prepared to give an answer that reflects them all. – The Interview Guys

This is your chance to give a brief overview of your relevant skills, qualifications and experience. The emphasis here is on the word ‘relevant’, and although outstanding achievements are worth mentioning at some point during the interview, you need to remain focused on the role.

Although the interviewer may have already made the connection between your credentials and the role, you still need to spell it out for them. You could even offer a bit of information that wasn’t in your CV to throw something else into the mix – food for thought!

Before you enter the interview you should consider what the most important skills to have are. Keep this list fairly small, and focus on about 2-4 key points from your CV. Your answer should make it very clear why the employer should hire you because they’ve asked for XYZ and you are able to offer XYZ, plus AB and C.

5. What are your weaknesses?

This question has become a cliché for a reason. Interviewers continue to ask it even though they know they are unlikely to get answers that are 100% honest. – Pamela Skillings / The Big Interview

This is one of the toughest questions you’ll face, and can make or break your chances of getting hired. But why is it so difficult to answer this question?

Talking negatively about your self in an interview seems very counter productive. The whole idea of a job interview is to confirm what you can do rather than what you can’t – but this is why the employer asks this question. They are looking for someone who is humble and honest enough to know their own failings and admit it to a total stranger.

It takes a lot of guts to open up about past or current career failings, but the more someone is able to do this the more likely they are to improve and remove those weaknesses. This is the type of character an employer looks for. They don’t want to hire someone who thinks they’re perfect and has nothing else to learn.

Think of at least 3 genuine weaknesses before you enter the interview and prepare answers to each one. Your reply should aim to do two things – firstly, briefly explain the weakness. Secondly, confirm what you are doing to combat this weakness and how you’re making improvements. You have to be honest but leave the employer with the belief that you are actively seeking to develop and improve.

The biggest mistake you could make when answering this question is to provide something which isn’t actually a weakness. You cannot fool the employer as they will have heard these cliché answers a million times. If you tell them that you work too hard sometimes, or that you struggle to stop thinking about work when you’re at home, you are not going to be believed.

If you think you can be smart and give a weakness that is actually a strength, you throw your credibility into doubt. Instead, provide genuine answers so the employer is happy you are telling the truth. But don’t give an answer which would directly affect your ability to function in the role. For example, telling an employer you are terrible with numbers when applying for a financing position is not a good idea!

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