Great Answers to Those Common Job Interview Questions

3 years ago

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Written by Claire Bullivant

“Start by telling me a little about yourself”

One of the first things most recruiters begin an interview with is: “Start by telling me a little about yourself.”

For the interviewer it breaks the ice and puts the spotlight on you as they glance over your CV again and remind themselves why they invited you in to interview in the first place.

However, for many interviewees this initial invitation to talk freely about themselves for a minute or so unprompted by any specific questions sends them into a blind panic. They mumble and look blank as they may have rehearsed answers to all the ‘normal’ interview questions but they weren’t expecting to perform a self-appraising monologue straight out the gate.

Don’t be this type of unprepared candidate. Expect to start every interview by telling the interviewer a brief overview and consider it an opportunity to share with them whatever you think is important right off the bat. You don’t need to tell them everything. But you do need to sound confident and appear poised and relaxed as you make your first impressions. Research shows that most recruiters make up their mind about whether you’re a “no or a maybe” within two minutes of meeting you. Make your first two minutes strong!

Even if your interviewer is looking down at your CV; try and get eye contact with him/her and open with a solid introduction, then move on to why you’re interested in the position and follow with three great points about yourself. Simple right?

Well it can be as long as you prepare it. Practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of your mom. Do whatever it takes until your words roll confidently from your lips into the ears of whoever will listen. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and these first words may be the most important speech you ever make landing you the job of your dreams.

A very real example for me would be:

Interviewer at Rolling Stone Magazine: “Tell me a little about yourself.”

Me: “My name is Claire Bullivant, I have a masters degree in Marketing and Communications. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work here ever since I became a journalist as the quality of your editorial output is second to none. I want to be part of your team. I’m a team player, I’ve never missed a deadline and I’ve got an exceptional contact book for interviews in the music business.”

Of course yours will be different, unless you really are copying my career and want to work at Rolling Stone too! But joking aside, just tailor your introduction in the same way I’ve tailored mine. You may be looking to get into sales in which case you might like to highlight your past sales achievements. Or you may be looking for a job as a rocket scientist, in which case your knowledge of nuclear physics would be good to mention. Adapt accordingly but remember to practice, practice, practice making sure you’re clear and concise and make sure you include three things:

  • Your brief introduction (e.g. your name, where you’re from, overview of your qualifications).
  • Why you want to work at the company / in this position (you can also always flatter the company here too for bonus points).
  • Highlight three of your strengths.

“Where do you see yourself in five years time?”

This is another common question that interviewers like to ask. However, don’t be fooled, employers don’t always care to hear that you expect to be running the place in five years time.

If the job you’re interviewing for is not at managerial level, they probably aren’t too concerned about your supervisory or leadership skills. This is not to say you can’t share how you’ve been a mentor to others and led projects with little / no supervision. That would indicate you have leadership potential but be careful not to be too: “I’ll probably be your boss in five years time Mr. Interviewer!”

There is a fine line between an ambitious, confident answer and making the interviewer hate you.

Instead of answering this question personally, try and focus your answer on the company. If need be, change the question in your head from: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years time?” to “What will you have done for our company in five years time.” More about them, less about you. Remember this when this question comes up.

For example you might want to portray that in five years time you will have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line or increased productivity. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you’re interviewing for and adjust your answer accordingly.

In certain careers, advancing your skills is important too so yes you can mention you’d like to perhaps take a course or become more qualified in a certain area. But make sure your answer always shows benefit to the company in the long-term too. Don’t allow them to think that if you get qualified in something or gain more experience, you’ll soon be jumping ship if they are to take you on.

“Why should we employ you?”

When your interviewer asks: “Why should we employ you?” You basically want to tell them that they’d be crazy not to (in a clever, subtle, non too cocky way of course).

You can do this by focusing on them again. Basically you need to reiterate how you meet all the criteria they seek. Go through all the things they said they were looking for in the job advertisement and explain how you fulfill each one. If necessary tick them off in the air. Be confident, be daring and show your interviewer you’re exactly who they are looking for.

After you’ve ticked everything off, feel free to add in a couple of extra abilities to set you apart from the competition. This will show them you’re a candidate who can meet their needs now, but also be valuable for where they want to go in the future.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Be honest, there must be a reason you applied for a job at the company in the first place. What was it? Did you hear about the great bonus scheme? Or do you have a friend already working there who said it’s a great company to work for? Tell the truth.

But you can also do your homework on this one. Go online and do some research. Understand the reasons why others enjoy working there. Is it a great place to advance your skills? Will it allow you to grow as a professional? Are their products or services far superior? Do you really believe in them? Are the flexible work hours appealing?

Remember flattery will get you everywhere BUT it needs to be genuine. If an interviewer feels you’re just telling them what they want to hear… well, you’ll come across as a phoney (not a good look for an interviewee).

Be honest, that’s what the interviewer will want to here and you can’t go wrong.

“What do you know about us?”

This question is actually a test. Be very careful. A candidate who is really excited about the prospect of working there will have done their homework. A candidate who doesn’t know much, isn’t actually that serious about the job. End of story.

So do your research and study up on the company. Go through the company website and read everything you can about them. See if you can get your hands on their financial reports. Try out their products or services if you can. Go online and read articles about the company. Try and find out what you can about the shareholders. Show the interviewer you already know a lot about the company and if you’ve got any questions or there are extra things you want to know that aren’t clear from their website or company brochure, this is a great time to ask them.

Basically if you can tell the interviewer something positive about the company that he / she doesn’t already know (of course they probably won’t admit it) but you’ll have done a good job. Bottom line here is study, study, study and impress them.

“What are your greatest strengths / greatest weaknesses?”

Your greatest strengths are probably easy to reel off. We all know what we’re good at. Just make a list of four or five and start explaining to your interviewer how awesome you are. Easy peasy right?

Try and obviously make them appropriate to the job and if you’ve won any awards; now’s the time to bring them up to back up your claims too. An example of this may be: “I’m a natural sales person and have always loved sales. In fact last year I was Sales Person of the Year at my last company and featured in the company magazine. Here, let me show you the article.”

However, on the opposite end of the street, everyone hates the greatest weakness question. It’s quite possibly the world’s worst question. It’s a complete trap.

Some people fall in head first and say something trite like: “I’m a perfectionist and work too hard.”

Maybe this works on some interviewers. This is a judgement call on your behalf. industry professionals and recruitment experts are divided on this one. Some say trite works and some say it doesn’t. Perhaps it’s how you deliver it.

However, I am of the belief that a little humour goes along way here. You could say something totally unrelated to the job at hand like: “I’m terrible at golf” or “my wife always cringes when I hit the dance floor.”

I am yet to hear a better answer. If you have one please let us know and we’ll update this article.

“When can you start?”

Be careful here, it doesn’t mean you’ve ‘got the job.’ The interviewer is probably just checking if your schedule works with theirs. They may still have other candidates to interview so assume nothing until you hear from them again.

Be honest about your possible start date and show professionalism. If your current employer is unaware of your looking for a new job, you should tell the interviewer you would have to discuss a transition with your current company and see if they require you to work out your notice (as you obviously wouldn’t want to leave them in the lurch).

However, if you can start right away (and they know you are not currently employed), you certainly can say you’re able to start tomorrow. A sense of urgency and excitement about starting work at the new company is always a great thing.

“Have you any questions for me?”

You may have a few genuine questions about the company or the position you really need to know. If so, fire ahead. But the very last question you should ask back is a clever one. Now pay attention. It goes something like this:

Interviewer: “Have you any questions you’d like to ask me?”

You: “Have you any reservations about me? For example have I failed in anyway to show you how perfect I am for this job? If you have any reservations; I would love to address them now before I leave this interview.”

Said confidently and honestly that answer will impress every time.

Good luck everybody!