Common Interview Questions

Here is Part 2 in our series on job interview tips to help get that job you want.
Last week we covered 16 interview tips. This week, we cover Common Interview Questions – what are they and how to answer them.
The most important part of preparing for an interview is practice – knowing what job interview questions you might be asked and how to answer them is essential. Questions can come in a variety of forms. Below are some common examples.

Common Questions:

Tell me about yourself

  • This is often the first of many interview questions, designed to warm up the candidate.
  • Many candidates choose to respond with an overview of their work and employment history. This can be helpful if your hiring manager hasn’t read your CV.
  • Often it is a great way to sell yourself – add facts that might not necessarily be in your CV – such as how you helped your company achieve a challenging budget etc.
  • Make sure you read the job description and advertisement to demonstrate how you can add value to the company and role at hand.
  • But be careful not to waffle…

What attracted you to our company?

  • This is a great opportunity to show that you have done your research.
  • Prior to the interview, read up on everything you can about the company from their own website, social media and other news articles and forums.
  • Identify what stands out about the company’s missions and values and how it resonates with you and your personal values and/or career path.

Tell me about your strengths

  • Identify two or three of your best attributes and give concrete examples of those strengths.
  • Be sure to articulate how those strengths are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • This is a common question used by your future employer to check if your expectations are realistic and how drive and goal-oriented you are. It also helps a hiring manager determine if you are looking to develop your career at the employer company or see it as a stepping stone to another job or company.
  • It is a difficult question to provide generic advice – however we recommend you demonstrate in your answer your awareness of industry trends and ability to be flexible.

What are the most important things you are looking for in your next role?

  • Start with your skills. Identify a skill that you exceed in and talk about how you are looking for a role that will utilise and further develop that skill.
  • Explain your motivations and how this role can help you achieve your long term goals.
  • Make sure your answer is relevant to the company and the role in question.

Why are you leaving your current job?

  • It is critical to frame your answer in the positive.
  • Try to avoid saying anything negative about your current employer – as it could make you look difficult to work with or want a new job for the wrong reasons.
  • Focus on the specific, positive things that a career change to the new role will bring – for example professional development opportunities or the excitement of a new challenge.
  • We don’t advise raising salary as a reason to leave your current job.

What are your salary expectations?

  • It is important to do your research beforehand. If you come prepared with reasonable salary expectations, you and your employer will know straight away if you are going to feel sufficiently compensated in the role.
  • It is important that you let the interviewer ask this question.

What skills do you think are required to perform this job effectively?

  • Asking what competencies are essential to the role provides valuable insight for the hiring manager to determine whether you understand the skills required to be successful in the job.
  • A good starting point to prepare for this question is to look at the job description. Often a job description will list skills or experience required for the job.

What are the first three things you would do if you land the job?

  • This question is more common for more senior roles.
  • This question gives you a chance to show the interviewer you have a good idea about what the company views as more important aspects of the job and where you might add value.
  • It also allows you to demonstrate that you have deeply considered the role and confident in your own abilities to fulfill the role’s requirements.

What are your weaknesses?

  • One of the most common interview questions asked. Answering this question is like navigating a mine field. We discuss this question in greater detail below.

 

Behaviour based questions:

It is very common for interviews to have behaviour based questions. Behavioural questions are based on the assumption that past behaviour is the best indication of what future behaviour will be like. The question usually asks detailed questions about specific tasks you undertook or experiences you had in a real life setting or in prior roles. The question is intended to demonstrate behaviours that the company thinks are important for a particular position. For instance, you might be asked to talk about a time when you made an unpopular decision, displayed a high level of persistence, or made a decision under time pressure.

The best way to prepare for these questions is:

  1. Anticipate the behaviours your hiring manager is likely to be looking for. You might get a clue through the job description.
  2. Identify at least one example of when you demonstrated each behaviour.
  3. Prepare a story about each example.
  4. Practice conveying/telling the story.

Common behavioural questions:

  • Communication questions
    • Have you ever had to get buy-in from a resistant audience to a project or idea? Tell me how you approached it.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to give a team member constructive criticism. How did you go about giving it?
  • Achievements
    • Tell me about your greatest career achievement to date. Can you describe what steps led to the outcome?
    • Describe a project that you worked on, that led to your professional development.
  • Leadership
    • Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project and your other team members weren’t contributing as you had envisaged. How did you tackle the situation?
    • Describe a time when a member of your team was under-performing. What did you do?
  • Analysis
    • Tell me about a time when you had to analyse information to solve a problem. How did you go about doing it and what was the result?
    • Describe a project that you worked on where you had to take steps to solve a problem. What was the problem and what was the logic you applied to solve it?
  • Attention to detail / organisational ability
    • Tell me about a time where you discovered an error, made by either yourself or a colleague. What did you do? How did you approach the situation?
    • Have you ever had to create or implement a new system to achieve greater productivity? What did you do?
  • Creativity and innovation
    • Describe the most innovative idea you’ve ever had.
    • Have you ever solved a problem in a way that was unexpected? Tell me about it.
  • Integrity
    • Give me an example of a time where your integrity was challenged. What did you do?
    • Describe a time when honesty was not the best policy.
  • Teamwork
    • Describe a situation where you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you go about communication it to your team?
    • Give me an example where you’ve had to work with someone who you didn’t get along with. How did you approach and resolve the situation?
  • Tenacity
    • Tell me about a time when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. How did you deal with it?
    • Have you ever had a project or idea rejected? What happened and how did you react?

How to answer them:

A common method to answering these questions is to use the STAR or CAR method. These methods are similar and outline a framework to answer the above questions.

STAR = Situation or Task (describe the specific event or task you were given), Action (describe what steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you delivered to the business)

CARContext (describe the background and situation you were in), Action (describe what action or steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you achieved).

An example of how to use the CAR method:

“Tell me about a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and how you handled it.”

Context (also known as Situation or Task): I was leading a special project team. Our client shifted the deadline forward by two weeks. This had a significant impact on our suppliers. Some could deliver to the new deadline, but others couldn’t.

Action: Leveraging the strong relationship that I had developed with my client already, I took the time to understand what was driving him to change the deadline. Once I understood the detail as to why it needed to be shifted, I realised that I could deliver the project to the client in phases – thus satisfying his needs, and keeping the suppliers happy. I developed a phased delivery plan and proposed this to the client.

Result: The client accepted the phased schedule, and we delivered the project on time. The client was very satisfied and as a result we were appointed another new project worth $1 million to the business.

 

Analytical questions:

Some interviews include tough analytical questions. These questions are designed to analyse your thought process. Whilst the question may ask you to solve exact number or rough estimate – it isn’t always necessary to have the right number, but more the right logic on how you got the answer. So it is very important to talk through your thinking – don’t just given an answer.

An example question we found online was – “How many lawn mowers are there in the United States?”

  • A weak answer would be to provide an answer after a few minutes of silence. “75 million”
  • A strong answer would be talking the entire way through your calculations and assumptions. E.g.

“Let’s start from the top down. Assuming the US population is 300 million and each household averages 3 people, then we have 100 million families in the US. Let’s assume urban households don’t have lawns to mow and therefore only suburban and rural families buy lawnmowers. If roughly 25% of America is urban and 75% is suburban and rural then we have 75 million households that own a lawnmower.”

(side note: it’s okay to make assumptions and for those assumptions to be off. But that’s why you need to communicate them first).

This is a great way to show your communication skills alongside your analytical ones. Plus, if you make an error, it’s easier to know where you went wrong and fix it.

 

What’s Your Weakness question:

The dreaded “What’s Your Weakness” – we have given this question its own section as it is a very common question and could have its own article on how to answer it.. Most people overthink this, or give away too much. Having interviewed people in the past, some people often ramble on and give away multiple weaknesses.

Some people provide the “I’m a perfectionist” answer.

But the secret isn’t about your weakness – its about showing how you overcame them. For instance, a weakness would be:

“I had trouble keeping on top of what my team members were working on. But I organised a weekly team meeting and asked my team members to brief me on what they were working on, where they were up to and any issues they came across.”

 

Stay tuned for Part 3 – when we discuss Questions for the Interviewer – an overlooked but critical part of every interview.

 

Remember, before you get to the interview stage, you need to make sure your Cover Letter and CV are up to scratch. Here are a a few pieces of information that might help.

 

To learn more about MentorSelector or to find your mentor or life coach, please click here. We are always looking for more mentors to join our family – its a great initiative that is mutually rewarding for both mentor and mentee. Register now to become a mentor or a mentee.