Common interview questions for you to prepare

10 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Common interview questions: unfortunately, 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 the responses you give.

But luckily there are some common interview questions that you might be asked at an interview, so it’s worth preparing answers for some of them. Even if you’re not asked the questions specifically, your preparation will trigger answers which will enable the conversation to flow and provide inspiration, when you might have otherwise struggled.

Below are some common interview questions and answers:

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 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. This is simply because candidates either don’t relate the question to their skills and the job, or they don’t put any personality into their answer.

It is important to think about what the employer wants to hear. The interviewer doesn’t necessarily 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, some highly desired training you have had, or maybe it’s a complex project that you worked on. 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. You could even tell a story of how you got into the profession and what inspired you, touching on your education or academic training. Then weave in information on how this built your passion for the industry, combined with work experience or previous roles that enabled you to develop.

What are your key strengths and weaknesses?

This question is about balance. You don’t want to reel off too many strengths and then tell the interviewer you have ‘no weaknesses’ – having flaws is only human.

However, any weaknesses you do list must be turned into strengths – and you need to provide examples to support your answer.

You could explain how you find overcoming issues difficult because you want everything 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.

Here are some alternative weaknesses to speak about and how you can turn them around:

  • ImpatienceI have started to prioritise tasks and remember that colleagues have priorities as well.

  • Self-criticismI started to focus more on things I have achieved and break down big projects into smaller tasks to make them feel more manageable.

  • Struggles with delegationI spoke to [someone you look up to professionally] about this, to come up with some solutions. I am placing more trust in people and being clear with instructions to reach the best outcome.

  • DisorganisedI recognised that this doesn’t always create the best working environment for colleagues, I strive to clear my desk at the end of every day and throw away anything I don’t need at the end of each week.

  • Too detail-orientedI’ve learned that this can sometimes cause me to lose sight of the bigger picture, [give example], I have taken so much from this and now make an effort not to get lost in detail.

When it comes to strengths, you should pick two and offer examples of how you have used them in the workplace. Think about what the role requires and tailor these accordingly. Some strengths to speak about could be:

  • Flexibility – Showing that you are capable to switch projects, or clients, where necessary without any performance impact.

  • Leadership skills – Provide examples of the leadership skills you have built.

  • Forward-thinking – If the job you are applying for is particularly creative, or this skill would benefit the company, speak about a project you worked on where your creativity resulted in a particular success.

  • Dedication – Giving 110% on all projects, if a client, customer or colleague ever brought this up, you could mention it. An example could be that a project was completed earlier than originally planned, without jeopardising performance.
  • Positivity – If the industry you’re applying for is particularly stressful, this would be great to talk about – and could lead you on to explain that you are calm under pressure.
  • Appreciation/insight – understanding the needs of clients, customers, co-workers and helping where you can.
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. You need to enter the interview armed with an honest, yet positive, explanation and one that takes highlights your suitability for the role you are interviewing for.

Consider reasons such as:

  • You are looking for a new challenge.
  • Want more responsibility.
  • Would love to learn more.
  • Feel that this company could offer you a better future.
  • Have progressed as far as you can at your current firm.

If you list something such as that you are looking for a more responsibility, you could then go on to explain how the role you’re interviewing for offers you that and how you could adapt and grow with the position.

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.

The interviewer is trying to gain insight into your career goals and, although they may not be mapped out yet, it’s important to give them something.

Do you want to be a manager? Are there certain skills you want to learn and need to receive training for? 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. You could also bring this back to the role you are interviewing for to explain how this will help you to reach your future goals, provide you with industry experience and allow you to grow with the firm.

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.

This might relate to a practice that you implemented saving your current company, or a previous one, time and money. This clearly shows the interviewer that you would add value to the business.

How do you handle conflict?

This question can be asked in a number of ways: tell us about a time you had issued with a colleague, tell us about a time you disagreed with your manager or provide an example of a time you had to deal with an unhappy client.

You need to showcase your ability to get on with, or at least be able to work professionally with, several different personalities, and show emotional maturity.

You could use the STAR method (situation/task/approach/results) here to really outline your example. This means first talk about the situation or task: describe how the conflict situation arose and what your role was.

Then go on to speak about your approach and the actions you took to resolve the conflict as productively as possible. This is a great chance to showcase your listening, interpersonal and leadership skills. Finally, explain the results that came from your approach. This should be a positive example and it’s even better if you can provide quantifiable results.

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.

Equally, if you struggle under pressure but want to get better, say that and focus on the steps you are taking to make necessary improvements, which will show that you’re still a strong candidate. Assuming you want the role, and to prove that you work well under pressure, you must provide examples to the interviewer. You can link this to motivation, problem solving or teamwork.

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.

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 excelling in the role you are there for.

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 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 over the top, 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.

You should specifically look at whether the company has won any awards or gained any accreditations recently, look at their benefits package and core values. and check out their policies on things like equality and diversity. You could also Google the company to see whether they have done anything recently – the Managing Director may have appeared in an industry publication which would make for a great talking point.

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. It is important to be professional and mature about potentially not being hired. 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, but I would respect and understand that I’m not the right person at this moment in time.

“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 this happens and you find yourself stumped, 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 our candidates 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?’, ‘If you won the lottery tomorrow what would you buy first?’, and ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you take?’.
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 interview questions further, contact our Consultants for advice or a confidential conversation about opportunities.