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Common interview questions - and how to answer them

Published on: 23 Mar 2022

Q: Tell me about yourself
A classic ‘ice breaker’ often used to start an interview and to get you talking. Many candidates clam up when they hear this one but it’s a golden opportunity to show something of your personality. Talk briefly about your career to date, achievements and a few personal (but not too personal!) details to give the picture of a rounded individual. The pitfall is to waffle on for 10 minutes, so keep your answer to three or four sentences.
Andy Dallas, associate director, Robert Half International

Q: Why do you want to work here?
This is an incredibly common question and the answer lies in your research. When answering this you should mention the good reputation of the organisation and positive attributes - such as its training record. This will demonstrate that you have done your research, but also your willingness to get involved in any learning opportunities available to employees. Relate the unique selling points of the company to your skills to prove what an asset you will be.
David Johnston, director, Handle Recruitment , Sundeep Bakshi, director, Venn Group

Q: Why do you want to leave your current job?
Be positive – your interviewer does not want to hear negative comments about your previous company. It will only make them wonder if you will do the same to them. It is better to focus on the future, a good answer would be “I’m looking to take the next step in my career, and embark on a new challenge. There is little scope for progression in my current job”. This will show your ambition.
David Johnston, director, Handle Recruitment

Q: What would you like to be doing in five years’ time?
Avoid vague answers such as: “I would like to grow with the responsibility given’. Display your commitment by stating saying you would like to be working in the same company, by all means, but research career routes and name a role or you aspire to. You need to show some ambition and hunger – but not arrogance.
David Johnston director, Handle Recruitment

Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Many people stumble on this question by too obviously trying to turn a weakness into a strength. Answers to avoid are: “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist”. Reveal a genuine weakness but don’t go overboard and make yourself look bad. Pick strengths that are going to be relevant to the job or to the interviewer. Take your time so it’s not obvious you’ve prepared your answer beforehand.
Darren Hayman, director, Macmillan Davies Hodes

Q: What is the most difficult aspect to manage about you?
Volunteer something – everyone’s human! This is an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. For example: "I’m a very competitive person and strive to be the best. However, if I’m part of a team I will also strive for the team as a whole to be the best.”
Darren Hayman, director, Macmillan Davies Hodes

Q: Give me five adjectives that describe you
Keep them positive and relate them back to the job description. ‘Independent’, for example, may be fine if you are going to be working alone out in the field but might create some doubts if you need to operate in a closely-knit team.
Darren Hayman, director, Macmillan Davies Hodes

Q: What do you like about our website?
I often ask this question and the answer can be quite revealing. Note the question isn’t whether you’ve looked at the website but asks for something more, an objective opinion; this will have required some reflection before the interview. Someone who is too gushy doesn’t tick the box; I like to hear ideas from candidates about how they would improve the site, too.
Ian Mills, chief executive, Transform People International

Q: What have you found out about our company?
A toe-curling one for the candidate who hasn’t done any research - it’s amazing how many candidates expect interviewers to spoon-feed them basic information. Googling the Internet and visiting the company’s website are the minimum. Parroting facts is also unlikely to impress or be sufficient. The interviewer is keener to find out whether its values or ambitions chime with yours and whether there is compatibility and a potential job match.
Ian Mills, chief executive, Transform People International

Q: How would members of your team describe you?
Most jobs will involve a degree of teamwork and you need to get on with your team workers. There’s no right answer as companies recruit many types of people to create a coherent team. But your answer needs to show your awareness of team dynamics and the particular role that you play. Don’t over-egg your answer but be as positive – and realistic as you can.
University of Kent

Q: What appeals to you about this position?
‘I have been watching the company for some time and keeping track of development, expansion and growth; I love the brand and feel I can relate to the customer and better their shopping experience; I’m excited by the job description; I feel that its suits my current skill set and will challenge me going forward; you are a big brand name in the market place and looking to grow in a fast moving environment using Web based technologies – it’s an environment which ticks the boxes I am looking for.’ All of these are good answers.
Claire Croft, HR, ASOS

Q: What has been your greatest achievement?
Reciting academic or obvious work achievements are not the best answers – they won’t distinguish you from the crowd. Instead, say something that will set you apart, that speaks about your aspirations and values. Organising a sport or fund-raising event, taking part in a race, or learning and using a new language or musical instrument are good examples. ‘I was nominated to be a representative to be go-between for our team and the senior management stakeholders’, is another.
Claire Croft, HR, ASOS, University of Kent

Q: How do you feel when forced to compromise?
This question allows the interviewer to dig around to find out how a candidate behaves in a team. There’s no right answer. An employer may be seeking qualities of single-mindedness or conversely the ability to negotiate and compromise. Don’t try to second-guess what the interview wants to hear but instead answer truthfully, otherwise you may end up in a role that’s not right for you.
Kathleen Saxton, founder, The Lighthouse Company

Q: When’s the last time you felt professionally vulnerable?
The bright candidate will say he or she often feels vulnerable. This is because they choose put themselves in situations outside their comfort zone as an opportunity to learn and take on new challenges. The honest and normal response would be to feel vulnerable at these times. If a candidate says they never feel vulnerable, it may indicate that they don’t push themselves or are perhaps insecure.
Kathleen Saxton, founder, The Lighthouse Company

Q: In adversity, how do you cope?
A business psychologist devised this and the wording does open up a whole raft of conversations, when asked. Whether you choose to talk about a disappointment, a disagreement, or a decision that didn’t go your way, employers will be looking at your coping mechanisms and at how robust you are. Did you learn from it, dust yourself down and go on to build on the experience? 

Kathleen Saxton, founder, The Lighthouse Company