How to...Answer Common Interview questions

There are a number of common interview questions that you can prepare for before your interview. It’s good to have a think about what you feel the interviewer is really looking for when they ask these and to have thought about an honest, but positive response for each.

Using ‘STAR’ as a basis for structuring your answers can sometimes help with answering a lot of these common questions:

SITUATION – What was the situation you found yourself in?
TASK – What was the task that needed to be carried out?
ACTION – What action did you (and others) take in order to achieve the task?
RESULT – What was the end result following your actions and the actions of other people?

“Tell me about yourself”

This is a bit of an ice-breaker and should help you settle into the interview. Still, you need to speak confidently and, without launching into a long monologue, cover your background, your accomplishments, why this job is right for you, your future plans, along with a little of what you like to do when you’re not working. It’s a good idea to have thought about this before the interview and make sure that it matches your personal profile in your CV. Do think about how your answer matches the job requirements too, and include some of the skills or experiences that will be needed for the role. You should be speaking for a couple of minutes, but no more really.

“What has attracted you to this company and role?”

This is where your previous research will come in very useful – you will need to demonstrate that you know and understand the company’s values and ethos and that they match yours. You will need to show that the role suits your experience and motivations, which you should discuss in your answer. You will need to show that you have a genuine interest in the role, and that it is a positive career decision to move in this direction (rather than something you have fallen into). Your motivations need to match what this job can offer – you don’t want to talk about how much you want to travel in your job if you are likely to be office-based in this new role for example, (this would obviously be the wrong job for you and hopefully you never get yourself into this position).

“Why are you leaving your current role?”

We will already have discussed this with you in detail, so you will have a good idea how your answer to this question will go. You want to be careful not to badmouth your current employer – it’s just not professional and could leave the interviewer doubting your integrity - while being as honest about your motivations as possible. It can be a tricky balance. If it is just about money, please have a good think about your real motivations. If you have already left your job, you will need to explain why you left and what you have been doing in the meantime. Some things to think about are:

• Looking for new challenge
• The lack of development opportunities in current company
• Being intrigued about what this can offer, even if you weren’t already looking for a new role
• Using your skills in a slightly new area and broadening your experiences
• Seeking more responsibility
• Looking for stability, room for growth and development.

“What motivates you?”

Here the interviewer wants to understand what you feel you need in order to be successful, and that their role and you are a good match.

Have a think in advance about what does actually motivate you when in comes to job roles, companies that you want to work for and industry sectors. You will want to try and cover all three of these in your answer. Please don’t talk about money as a motivator unless you are going for a sales role – in which case, fair enough.

“What are your strengths?”

This is a really important question, and could also be worded as ‘What can you bring to this role?’, or ‘Why should we hire you?’. It’s really important not to undersell yourself here, and you want to stand out from other candidates whose CVs have also been good enough to get them to the interview stage.
You will need to back-up each strength using concrete examples, and think about how these strengths will contribute positively to the role you have applied for – taking a look at the requirements in the job specification will help with this. So, make your strengths relevant, and discuss past results for each one, possibly using transferrable skills if you think your experience could be seen as a little light – probably 3-4 strengths are plenty here.
Remember too that you don’t know what other candidates are bringing to the table – you can only focus on you and what you know has differentiated you from your peers in the past. Be enthusiastic and confident about your abilities, some of which could be, but are not limited to:
• Fast learner
• Hard worker
• Interpersonal skills
• Leadership
• Technical abilities
• Management skills
• Analytical skills

“What are your weaknesses?”

Ugh! I really hope you don’t get this one, and don’t think many people are asking it anymore. Still, if you are asked, you need to answer, but don’t go on at any length and while being honest, please ensure that any weaknesses wouldn’t damage your ability to do the job, or contradict any of the strengths you have spoken about. You should add a short example, but please also make a point of discussing how you have addressed this weakness and have improved/are improving on it. You could think about discussing one of the following:
• I focus too much on the details.
• I have a hard time letting go of a project.
• I have trouble saying “no.”
• I get impatient when projects run beyond the deadline.
• I could use more experience in…
• I sometimes lack confidence.
• I can have trouble asking for help.
• It has been difficult for me to work with certain personalities.
• It can be difficult for me to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
• I have been uncomfortable working with ambiguity.

“What is your greatest achievement? Please describe it.”

You really need to have thought about this in advance, and you should be able to discuss an achievement that is fairly recent and definitely related to the role you are interviewing for. You will need to give detail on the task, the actions you took, the challenges you overcame, the value of it to the organisation and what you learnt from it too.
Interviewers are particularly interested in hearing about achievements that increased profit, reduced expenditure, solved major problems or improved the organisation’s reputation, although specific sectors may also value for example, environmental improvements, so doing your research on the company pays off here too.

“What are your career plans for the next 5 years?”

You don’t want to sound either unrealistic or under-ambitious here, but you want to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have given this some thought and aren’t just winging your way through your career – realistic ambition would be a good thing to aim for.
Your answer should relate to the job that you are interviewing for and probably indicate that you would expect to still be working for their organisation, with a greater skill set and perhaps more responsibility. No-no answers are: taking skills you have learned here somewhere else (or starting your own company), stepping into the interviewer’s shoes or leaving to live a life of luxury.

“How do you handle stress and pressure?”

Your answer to this should relate to stress in the workplace and you should aim to give an example of when you overcame or dealt with a stressful situation in the past, which had a positive result. You can also talk about how you deal with or combat stress in your day-to-day life in order to arrive at work ready to get on with the job, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your answer.

How would your colleagues describe you?

Here, the interviewer is aiming to discover how you perceive yourself and your understanding of how your behaviour impacts on others. This is a place to sell your strengths, and your answer should include feedback you have received from others, which is a good way to back these strengths up. Do have a few well-chosen adjectives ready for this answer – ones that genuinely describe you and that you have anecdotes ready to explain them with.

And finally …

If you’re unsure, maybe from their reaction, that you’ve not given the ‘right’ answer at any time, you can always ask ‘Has that answered your question fully?’ or similar.

After you’ve asked any remaining questions that you may have at the end of the interview, you can always be bold and ask if there is anything else that you need to do to convince them, or ask if they have any doubts about you so that you can answer those now. Do remember to make sure that you have asked all the questions that you need in order to be sure that this is the right job for you too.

Good luck!


30 September 2021