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Nine common job interview questions and how to answer them

Make sure that you are prepared for any job interview with this handy guide to the most common questions you might be asked and how to answer them 

    Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

    Seeta Bhardwa

    Editor, THE Student
    June 17 2021
    University student at a job interview


    All job interviews are different and they are a common stage in internships, work experience and full time roles. Depending on what kind of industry you are planning on joining, the interview questions will vary. However, the main aim of the interview is to work out if you will be a good fit for the role and the company. And there are only a few ways you can really work that out in an hour.

    So, while we can’t guarantee that you will be asked any of the exact questions below, there’s a good chance you might encounter some variation thereof.

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    Try to relate every answer back to the job and how those skills and experiences you are talking about can be applied to the role you are applying for. 

    And of course try to speak with confidence and conviction. A good tip I’ve picked up along the way is to imagine that you already have the job – you are purely having a conversation with your future colleagues about the finer details. Hopefully this should make it feel less nerve-wracking!

    1. Tell me about yourself

    Most interviews will begin by asking you to talk about yourself. A good way to structure your answer to this question is to use your CV and cover letter as a guide and talk about your education and work experience and how it relates back to the job role you are interviewing for.

    As a graduate you might not have a lot of work experience or previous jobs to talk about and that’s OK. You can instead talk about extracurricular activities, volunteering, part-time jobs or work experience, online webinars or lectures, short courses you completed – the list goes on. Just ensure you pick things that show how you are a good fit for the role and how you developed through the experience. 

    While it can be hard to talk about yourself, try not to undermine yourself or gloss over any big achievements, but do also try to keep your answer concise. 

    2. Why do you want this job?

    A key point to remember when answering this question is to make sure that your answer is not generic. And by that I mean that if you could apply your answer to any company, then you haven’t answered it correctly.

    Instead, note down the parts of the job spec that attracted you most and talk about why they did. Do extensive research and talk about the things about the company that most excite you – whether that’s working in certain teams or participating in particular projects. 

    You want to show that you’ve really understood the ethos of the company and the work you will be doing and that you are enthusiastic and excited to be a part of the company. 

    3. What are your greatest strengths?

    This is your opportunity to really talk about your best qualities. It might seem uncomfortable but if there is any time to talk about your talents, this is it!

    Think about quality, not quantity when answering this question. Don’t reel off a list of 10 strengths in a vague manner – instead consider three or four qualities that you can show examples of and relate them to the role if you can.

    For example, if one your strengths is that you work well under pressure, think of a time when you had to demonstrate this and tell the interviewers about it. “Show, don’t tell” is an important principle to bear in mind during a job interview. 

    4. What are your greatest weaknesses?

    This will always be a tricky question. While you don’t want to give the interviewer any reason not to employ you, you also don’t want to seem disingenuous. And everyone has areas that they need to improve on. What employers want to see here is self-awareness and how you are taking steps to overcome things that you perhaps aren’t quite good at or find challenging. 

    For example, you could say that you aren’t very comfortable with public speaking, but that you have tried to speak up in meetings to practise talking in front of a group of people. 

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    5. Why did you leave your job or why are you leaving your job? Can you explain any gaps in your employment history?

    I’ve bunched these two questions together as they may or may not be applicable to many students just embarking on their careers. If you are leaving your current job, you may well be asked this.

    The key tip to remember here is never to speak badly of any former employers. Even if you are leaving for less than pleasant reasons, you should try to avoid sharing this when asked this question. It won’t show you in a good light if you are disparaging towards previous employers.

    Instead talk about how you’re looking for a new challenge or any newer skills that you want to develop, which this new role can provide. 

    If you do have any gaps (such as between graduation and the interview itself) then be honest and explain what you were doing. If you were unemployed, say this but then ensure that you can share how you spent the time. 

    6. Where do you see yourself in five years?

    This is a less common one, but something to be aware that you might be asked. It’s also a fairly challenging one to consider when you are at the start of your career. 

    Think about the industry you are applying to join and how you might progress within it. Think about the skills you might acquire during this role and how they could help you develop. You don’t need a clear career plan; employers just want to see that you have drive and are forward-thinking. 

    However, do not state that you are planning to leave this role in two years and that you see it as purely a stepping stone to working in a different company or even setting up your own business. Most companies will want to hire someone they can develop and work with long-term rather than someone who will leave soon. 

    7. Tell me about a time when...

    This question will vary depending on the job role and the industry, but interviewers will often ask you to share some examples of how you handle situations in the workplace. This could cover a range of scenarios, including times you worked well under pressure, times you worked in a team, times you presented to a large group, times you used your own initiative – the list is endless. 

    You may well be asked more than one of these questions as a way to talk about your experience in more detail. The best way to prepare for these questions is to plan a few scenarios to talk about that could work for a range of competencies.

    Something else to remember when preparing for these questions is that you don’t have to talk specifically about work experience or previous jobs. As long as you can correctly answer the question, you can draw from your experiences of volunteering, student societies and clubs, webinars or lectures you’ve joined, and many other things. Even just the experience of moving abroad and being an international student can be a great example of ways you showed resilience and initiative. 

    8. What are your salary expectations?

    You may or may not be asked this question, but always be prepared for it. There may be roles where the expected salary is stated on the job advert, in which case you probably won’t be asked this question. 

    However, if it isn’t then it’s worth thinking about how you might answer this question.

    Because this may be one of your first job interviews, it can be hard to know how to answer this question. Look at similar roles in other companies and work out the average salary. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends and ask about what they think would be a good salary for this role. It’s a bonus if they happen to work in the same industry you are planning to work in. Speak to careers advisers and lecturers at your university as well. 

    The main thing is to do your research, and also know your worth. As a graduate it can be hard to negotiate salary and understand the right salary for your role but with some preparation and advice you will be better equipped to answer this. 

    9. Do you have any questions for me?

    The answer to this question should always be yes. Preparing and asking questions shows that you have done your research, you are diligent and keen to know more about the company and are interested in the job. 

    Try not to ask something about the company or the role that you could easily find online.

    Instead ask questions that show how keen you are to hit the ground running. Ask about day-today tasks, what you will be expected to achieve in the first three months, what training opportunities there are and more.

    Or you could ask about company culture or volunteering opportunities if that’s something you are interested in. You could ask anything really (within reason) as long as it again shows an interest in the company and that you have done your research. 

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