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Common interview questions

It is impossible to predict exactly what an interviewer is planning to ask you – they might have a set list of questions, but equally they might change their angle throughout the interview depending on your responses.

However, there are some common questions you might be asked that it is worth preparing an answer for – below are some suggestions of how to tackle these.

Tell me about yourself…

This is arguably the most asked interview question in any sector, and it is also one of the hardest to answer. This question can be asked in so many different ways, so it is important to prepare for this question in advance. We are often asked for our advice on how to answer this question, and our clients regularly say that candidates let themselves down when they are asked it. Candidates usually fall down on this question for one of two reasons. In our experience they either do not relate the question to their skills or the job, or they do not put any personality into their answer.

It is important to think about what the employer wants to hear. The interviewer doesn’t want to know about your personal life. They want to know about your achievements, and why your previous skills and experience make you a suitable candidate. Think of what makes you stand out. Perhaps it’s your experience or some highly desired training or technical skills that you have. It is also important to review the job description closely and note ways that you exceed the requirements, and ensure you get these into your answer for this question.

What are your key strengths and weaknesses?

Be ready to turn any weaknesses into strengths and use examples to support your answer. You should never suggest that you have no weaknesses – having flaws is only human, but it is how you present them that is important.

For example, you can find overcoming an issue difficult because you simply want it to be perfect, but you have found that creating to-do lists has really helped you stay on top of projects whilst completing them to the highest standard.

Why do you want to leave your current job?

Responses to this question should never become personal as it will inevitably look negative on you as a candidate. Consider reasons such as you are looking for a new challenge, want more responsibility, or feel that this company could offer you a better future.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

This can be a difficult question to answer, especially if you are going for a temporary position or are only just starting out on the career ladder, but be honest and show the interviewer dedication to your chosen path.

Do you want to be a manager? Perhaps you want to get some business experience abroad? It might sound far-fetched at this moment in time, but showing drive and commitment will only reflect well on you.

What have been the most significant achievements in your career so far?

Consider the skills that will be most desirable to the role and company you are interviewing for and use examples involving them. If possible, quantify your answers to really have an impact.

How do you handle conflict?

Provide an example where you can explain the steps you took to seek a compromise and settle the situation to achieve a positive outcome. This is a great chance to showcase your listening, interpersonal and leadership skills.

How do you perform under pressure?

Be specific to the position you are interviewing for but be honest with your answer – if you are going to enter a high-pressure role, there is little point in lying that you thrive in pressurised situations. You want to ensure that the role you accept works for you and by being honest you are more likely to find a role that suits your working style and that you are happy in.

How do you define success?

At first glance this may not seem like a difficult question to answer, but the word success is subjective and could be interpreted in a number of ways. The dictionary describes success as “an achievement of something you have been trying to do”, but in relation to this question what is the interviewer looking for?

Here the interviewer wants to gauge what your priorities in life are, and how you define success in relation to your career and your skills. You should try and define success in a way that shows your ambition and commitment to achieving the role in question.

Our advice is to stay away from monetary goals, and instead focus on the development of your skills and career. Approach this question as an opportunity to show how keen you are for the role and to progress with that company and you will likely be remembered in a positive light.

Is there anything about you or your personality that your colleagues might find annoying/not like?

This is a doubled edged question. On one hand you don’t want to let the perspective employer know you have any annoying habits, but you also don’t want to come across cocky and act as if you are perfect. Our opinion is to pick a personality trait that could come across as both a positive and a negative, and explain your reasons. For example, one of our candidates recently used the below answer to a very similar question:

“I have been known to be too organised and a bit controlling at times. I like to ensure that everything is planned, and that all variables are covered to ensure nothing goes wrong. Sometimes people have said that I am a bit OTT, but it means that very little is overlooked when I am working on a project.”

This answer shows that the candidate is able to highlight flaws in the way they work showing their honesty, but the flaw was also seen as a positive by the employer as they were looking for a very organised and meticulous candidate.

Why do you want to work here?

This question will appear on almost every interview advice article, but it is still one that candidates slip up on the most. All too often candidates try to blag their way through this question which will not work. Before your interview you should assume you are going to be asked this question and do your research.

When researching your answer for this question you should find out if the company has won any awards recently, look at their benefits package and check out their policies on things like equality and diversity. This should give you enough information to build an answer to this question that is tailored to the business, and will show the interviewer that you have taken the time to find out why you want to work for them.

If you were unsuccessful in the role, what would you do next?

This is a clever question that our legal team has come up against a number of times. Clients will ask this to test your commitment to the sector/role you have applied for. You need to show the employer that you want to work in a similar position no matter what. They also want to ensure you will not simply jump to one of their competitors. You may also want to ask the interviewer’s advice at this point to include them in the conversation.

A legal candidate of ours gave the perfect response to this question and said:

“I would be hugely disappointed not to secure this job as I feel it is perfect for me and what I am looking for. If I was unsuccessful I would go back to my job search and research organisations that may have similar roles to this. If I didn’t secure the role, what would your advice be to secure a similar position elsewhere?”

Some not so common questions our candidates have been asked

In some interviews you may be asked a question not even we can prepare you for. If you are asked a question that stumps you, first take a deep breath, maintain good posture and look the interviewer in the eye. You want to appear calm and confident, even if you don’t feel that way. If you need to, ask the interviewer to repeat the question, this will buy you some time to think, and always remember to relate any answer you give back to the job.

Here are a few examples of some of the strangest questions we have been asked, and some explanations as to why our clients asked them!

  • How many pound coins are in circulation? – This question was asked by one of our Actuarial clients to see how the candidate would deal with a logical, but difficult question. The client knew it was impossible to guess, but he wanted to know how the candidate would approach working it out and answering it.
  • If you could be one kitchen utensil, what would it be and why? – One of our Wealth & Investment clients asked this in an interview to inject a bit of fun and try and find out a little bit more about the candidate they were interviewing. Other examples we have heard are “if you were a chocolate bar what would you be” and “if you won the lottery tomorrow what would you buy first”.

Be prepared to ask the interviewer questions

Always take time to think about what you want to ask the interviewer and what you want to get out of the meeting. An interview is a two-way process, so prepare some relevant questions that will benefit both parties.

  • Some common questions you could ask are:
  • What are the future plans of the company?
  • What are your company’s growth plans?
  • How large is the current team I will be working within?
  • Why has the vacancy arisen?
  • What does a typical day look like?
  • What advice would you give to succeed in this role?
  • What is staff retention like?
  • Do you have any training, study support or opportunities to pursue professional qualifications? 

What next?...

If you want to go over some interview preparation or discuss potential questions further, contact our Consultants for advice and a confidential conversation. Alternatively you can check out our CV writing tips, interview presentation guide or our LinkedIn guide in our candidate resources here.