On average, an interview will last 40 minutes. It will contain, for the most part, a question-and-answer structure where an interviewer will look to gain insight into you as both a person and a professional.
Creating a powerful CV should be one of your first key steps in your job search process towards securing your interview. But once that interview time comes, you’re going to need to brush up on your Q&A skills to ensure you’re prepared to impress.
A quick fix such as learning the elevator pitch will be useful for the initial ‘Tell us about yourself’ question, but how will you handle more complex questions? Although you can’t possibly know every question beforehand, there’s a way to cheat the system.
Many interviews follow a similar pattern. Questions can be divided up into three different categories based on the goal they are trying to achieve: questions about your background and goals for the future, questions relating to your professional behaviour, and questions addressing your role and skills. Here’s how you can sufficiently prepare to answer a wide range of questions, by practicing your answers to these 15 common interview questions.
Questions related to your past, present and future
Interviewers ask personal questions in an interview to “see if candidates will fit in with the culture, and give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality, too,” says longtime hiring manager, Mitch Fortner.1
Your experiences prior to this interview are important for positioning your key elements that’ll set you apart from other candidates. Don’t be caught short by the simplicity of certain questions and fail to prepare your responses.
Avoid unnecessary deviations and be sure to share insights that reflect well on your work ethic, personal goals and above all else, professionalism.
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Choose between 3-4 achievements or pivotal moments you would want the interviewer to know above all else. Finish with an outlook on your current situation and why you are ready for this role.
2. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This question is asked to give an indication of what expectations you carry for both yourself and your career. Use the opportunity to focus on what experience, growth and goals you would to have gained and be honest about your ambition.
3. Describe yourself in three words
Ditch the broad thesaurus regulars every interviewee uses when asked this question.
Instead, look to use words that you actually use, ones you are able to back up. The aim is to name three positive traits about yourself, look to include ones related to your thinking, your ethics, and your personality.
4. What do you like to do outside of work?
Walk your interviewer through your version of a well-spent weekend. Aim to highlight your hobbies outside of work, excursions you often enjoy or where you could most often be found.
Don’t overshare or leave any unprofessional suspicions to be derived from intricate details of how you indulge in your free time.
5. In what type of environment do you thrive?
Be strategic in your response by making subtle connections between the business environment at the company you are applying to and specific situations in which you excel.
Avoid being too general with your reply; mentioning words like ‘busy’, ‘exciting’, ‘challenging’ or ‘fun’ will not give any indication of your individual motivators or drivers.
Behavioural questions you should be ready to answer
Behavioural questions are used by many organisations to gauge how your past professional and personal experiences will impact your future prospects for the position.
When last did you share a really impactful story?
As Interview Coach, Pamela Skillings, advises, “candidates should prepare ‘interview stories’ which highlight the different competencies and skill sets the employer is looking for.”2
6. Can you give an example of how you worked on a team?
The interviewer is focusing on teamwork. Look to provide a story that highlights your ability to work well with a variety of team personalities, under difficult time constraints, or challenging project demands.
7. Share an example of a time when your communication skills were used to handle a delicate or complex situation.
The key here is to present your story along with the process and preparation you went through before engaging in the communication. This will indicate your ability to think strategically prior to making your move.
8. What’s your time management style?
When answering this question, focus on a time when you had to manage multiple responsibilities and remained calm under the constraints. Look to include insight into your organisational routine and how you felt when juggling tasks.
9. Tell me about the first job you ever had. What did you do to learn the ropes?
Look to share a story that showcases your ability to adapt. Describe the deepest deep end you’ve experienced, the lessons you learnt during that time and how you successfully navigated your way out if it.
10. Describe a time you disagreed with a decision that was made at work?
You need to show how you handle conflict both within a team and in the workplace. Focus on how you acted in the situation, how it played out, and the resolution that was reached.
Questions based on your skills and related to the role
Remember: you’re being hired to meet a business need and fill a skills gap in an organisation.
Make sure your responses take this into consideration and frame your abilities and experience as answers to their problems.
Shweta Khare, a career and job search expert, suggests you “prepare by identifying the skills employers are looking for. Use their in-depth job descriptions, view videos the employers post about their organisation, and visit their Facebook page and Twitter feeds.”3
11. What are your greatest professional strengths?
Target your response towards your top accomplishments that will bear a relevance to the role you’re interviewing for. Provide specific examples of how you’ve demonstrated your skills successfully to achieve results in the past, and add metrics if relevant.
Avoid staking claim to traits dramatically unrelated to your career path or strengths you’ll struggle to substantiate.
12. Why should we hire you?
This is the perfect platform for you to sell yourself in your own words.
Prove that you’re capable of doing the required work by being result-driven and make mention of how you see yourself both fitting into and thriving in the company office culture.
13. What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
Skip the canned response that plays towards some sort of strength. “I’m too hard on myself” is not a genuine reflection of your honesty.
Show off your self-awareness by admitting to a professional weakness and then delve into how you are actively trying to overcome it. By indicating you’re working towards improvement you’ll place the focus on your problem solving and the progress you aim to achieve.
14. Why do you want this job?
Craft your answer with a collaborative outlook on your personal and professional goals, relating them to what you understand about the company’s values.
Don’t get caught up in the process and forget about why you – and only you – want this job. You need to draw attention to your underlying passions for your career and how they can tie into this organisation.
15. What do you know about the company?
Repeating the “About Us” section won’t do you any favours. You need to show that you’re aware of and understand the mission of the organisation.
Start with keywords from their core values and align them to your own professional pursuits. This will show you care about what the business stands for and why you believe in their goals.
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