9 most common interview questions (and how to answer them)

Candidate Interview Questions - Image Credit: Thinkstock

The answers you give to these common interview questions will have a significant bearing on whether or not you receive a job offer. If you've advanced to this stage of the recruitment process, you've already impressed the employer with your CV and application. As such, you've got every chance of getting the job. But you've got to say the right things at interview and convince the employer you are the best person for the role.

Knowing how to answer the top interview questions is a great starting point. If you have a rough idea of how you will respond to typical lines of questioning - and practice these answers - there is less chance you will get tongue-tied or find yourself short of something relevant to say. This takes the pressure off on the big day, making it more likely you will do yourself justice.
You've got to show you have the skills and experience to do the job, but also the right personality, motivation and attitude to work for the hiring organisation. With this in mind, here are nine common interview questions and suggested ways of answering them:

Interview Question 1: Tell me about yourself

This is typically the most common interview question, and as such, your chance to make a great first impression. Very often, candidates give an overview of their employment or personal history, and while there is nothing wrong with this approach, it won't necessarily make you stand out from the crowd. Some people prefer to focus on one element of their career and life, and tell a story around it. Be constructed in your approach, highlight your key skills and achievements, and potentially touch upon your ambitions. However, it’s best not to reveal everything about yourself, those who have prepared for their interview will have a concise answer and won’t need further clarification.

Interview Question 2: Why do you want to work here?

If you don't have a clear idea of why you have applied for a role - in terms of what the organisation does and why this appeals to you - you're unlikely to get the job. The chosen candidate will be someone who shows awareness of, and a connection with, the employer's mission and values. It is important to gather as much information as you can about the business, its people and products and services. The interviewer is looking to see how you identify with the company and how your skills align with its views.

Interview Question 3: What are your main strengths?

You need to have a pre-prepared answer to this common interview question; there shouldn't be any doubt in your mind as to where your strengths lie. Pick two or three of your best attributes or personal characteristics and explain how they have helped you achieve professional success and how you will apply them to the job in question. It is always worth consulting the candidate requirements before your interview, to establish which skills the employer is looking for. You can shape your answer according to the qualities they see as being most important in their new hire.

Interview Question 4: What are your main weaknesses?

Another top interview question that many candidates dread being asked about is their weaknesses, fearing they may say something which ruins their chances of being picked. The best way to answer this question is to focus on an area for improvement in relation to your CV and state what you can do, and are already doing, to improve your skills. Don't ever say you have no weaknesses; this shows a lack of self-awareness and hints at an arrogant streak.

Interview Question 5: Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

Employers are looking to establish a number of things with this common interview question. They want to know you are ambitious, have set realistic goals for your career, and that the advertised position can help you achieve these targets. You should be honest with the employer and tell them what you aspire to. If the job won't allow you to achieve your ambitions, it won't be in anyone's long-term interest for you to be offered the job. And if it’s a permanent job, the employer is less likely to hire someone who is a ‘job hopper’ – changing jobs every two years’ time.

Interview Question 6: Why are you leaving your current job?

If you are asked about your decision to seek a career change, avoid bad-mouthing your current employer, regardless of your feelings towards them and explain your reasoning. You are not going to gain anything by criticising the organisation you work for - you can only harm your chances of being selected. It is much better to focus on the positive aspects of switching organisations, such as the chance to further your career development and take on new challenges. Focus on the specifics of the job you have applied for; which duties or responsibilities appeal to you most?

Interview Question 7: Tell me about a time you showed leadership skills?

Organisations always have one eye on the next generation of leaders - the people who can take the business forwards in the future. If you can demonstrate an ability to take charge and lead others in a professional setting, this may make you look like a prize asset. You need to provide examples and case studies of the value you have added to organisations while leading a team.

Interview Question 8: What salary do you expect?

Before answering this question, you must do your research. Use benchmarking resources such as the Robert Half Salary Guide to establish how much professionals working in your industry, at your level, typically earn. Once you know the average wage, you have to decide how much to ask for. You could take a risk and request an above-average salary, but be wary of pricing yourself out of the market. Tip: work with a recruitment agency as they will be able to negotiate a competitive starting salary and added benefits.

Interview Question 9: Do you have any questions?

This is your opportunity to learn more about the role and hiring organisation, but also to direct the interview down a particular conversational route. If you have important points to make which have not been covered in the interview, you need to be asking questions in the interview which relate to them. For instance, if you want to talk more about your long-term goals, ask about professional development opportunities. If you want to discuss your hobbies and interests to show off your personality and broader talents, ask about social aspects of the job.

For more interview tips and advice including what to do if your interview doesn’t go well, visit News and Insights.