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Five common interview questions – and how to answer them

Job interviews are tough, no matter how many you’ve done!

While you can’t predict every question you’ll be asked – especially some of the stranger ones – there are a lot of questions that will get asked in most interviews you go to.

So, to help you prepare for your next job interview, here are five common questions and some tips on how best to answer them:

1. Tell me about yourself?

The “tell me about yourself” question is often asked as the first question in an interview as an ice-breaker. While a seemingly innocuous question, it can end up being a disaster for the interviewee if not tackled correctly.

This question isn’t an opportunity to tell the interviewer your entire life story, family history or long list of likes and dislikes.

What you should do is talk about a handful of things that are relevant to the job – like how you came to be in your current career, your skills and your passion for your work. Anything that will let your personality and professionalism shine, without getting into “too much information” territory.

If the interviewer wants more information, they’ll ask for it.

To help you prepare, write out a succinct two-minute answer to this question and then practice out loud until you know it off by heart. You’ll make a great first impression!

2. Why are you interested in working for this organisation?

The employer is asking this question to get a sense of whether you would take the job if it were offered to you, and how long you’d be likely to stay for.

While it might sound like an opportunity to talk about yourself, it’s actually the time to demonstrate to your potential employer how much you know about them.

With this in mind, expressing your passion and excitement to work for this particular organisation is a must!

Avoid vague answers like “it seems like a great place to work”, and get specific.

Do your research so you’ll know about the various projects the organisation is involved with, who their clients are and what their plans for the future are (most annual reports on an organisation’s website can tell you this).

For example: “I know you’ve just launched a program focussing on working specifically with young people with mental illness and that this role is linked to that project. I’m extremely passionate about mental illness and have experience working with young people so I would be very excited to be part of your work in this area.”

3. What are your weaknesses?

The dreaded “weaknesses question” doesn’t need to be as feared as it is.

The hardest part of being able to answer this question is actually identifying what your weaknesses are and how you would go about overcoming them.

Here’s what you need to do to prepare a great answer:

  1. List three of your weaknesses. If you’re struggling to think of one, cast your mind back to previous jobs or your time as a student and think about the tasks that you really didn’t enjoy – those are a good indicator of a potential weakness;
  2. List “why” you think they’re a weakness and why it’s important for you to develop your skills in those areas;
  3. Think of three examples of what you’re doing to overcome those weaknesses.

There’s no need to try and avoid an honest answer for this question. The most important things are to show the interviewer that you can be self-reflective and that you can identity problems and overcome them – not that you’re a perfect human being without weaknesses!

4. Describe a situation in which you solved a problem

To shine when you’re asked this question, pick a recent example that has as much relevance as possible for the job you’re applying for.

The STAR technique, which we’ve talked about before on this blog, is a good structure to use when working out how to answer this. Here’s how it works:

  • First, identify the situation in a few sentences – what was the problem that needed to be solved?;
  • Then clearly identify what your part was in solving the problem, including the steps you took; and
  • Finally, what was the result of the actions that you took?

It’s the result that you should focus on most when answering this question, as this will prove that you were able to deliver a successful outcome.

5. Do you have any questions?

When a potential employer asks if you have any questions, it’s a fantastic opportunity to build rapport with them, express your enthusiasm for the role, show that you’ve done your research – and just as importantly – a chance for you to make sure the role is a good fit for you.

There’s no perfect number of questions to ask, but it’s good to have at least 2 or 3 ready.

Some questions you might like to ask include:

  • “What are the main challenges facing the organisation right now?”
  • “Where do you see the organisation going in the next five years?”
  • “Can you tell me about the team of people I’ll be working with?”

And if you’d like a few more options, here are 20 more good questions to ask your interviewer.

The most important thing is to be genuine with your questions and not to sound too rehearsed.

Also, be sure that you aren’t asking really obvious questions that show you haven’t done your research. For example, getting to the end of an interview and then asking: “So, who are your main clients?” is not a good idea!

This post was based on an article that originally appeared on The Guardian Careers.

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