When it comes to interviews, preparation is the key to your success. One of the most crucial steps to take before any interview is to anticipate common interview questions and think about how to approach them.
How to answer interview questions
Answering an interview question starts long before you enter the interview room. If you want to make the most of the opportunity, you first need to have done your preparation: reflect on your skills, experiences and areas of expertise, and how these align with the requirements of the role; be clear about why you want the role; and be able to articulate your key achievements and how you can add value. What are you particularly good at and what sets you apart from other candidates? That is your unique selling proposition.
How to answer the 5 most common job interview questions
While every interview will be different, many interviewers still use a handful of tried-and-true questions that every job candidate should prepare for. Here are a few pointers for how to approach some of the most common interview questions.
“Tell me a bit about yourself”
This question is still a common opener in many interviews. It gives the interviewer their first opportunity to see how you present yourself, and whether your overall experience is aligned with the role on offer.
While a one size fits all response is generally to be avoided, this is where you need to have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready. Provide a top-line summary of your skills, experience and achievements, where you have worked, and any other relevant details, but be succinct. For example: “I have enjoyed a successful career in finance for the last 5 years, having worked both remotely and office based for one of the largest organisations in the industry (name them). I have been one of my organisation’s most successful employees becoming the go to person for finance and systems.”
It’s important to understand and be able to articulate your ‘personal brand’ – a simple but powerful message to convey who you are professionally and what makes you unique. Are you a financial ideas guru with a flare for devising creative solutions, or the problem-solving logistics wizard who always gets the job done when no one else can? Having a distinct professional persona will make you stand out from the crowd.
“What made you want to apply for this job”
This question allows the interviewer to gain some insight into your motivations – an incredibly important consideration when hiring new employees. They will be looking for candidates with the right motivational fit for their organisation.
Candidates need to explain what excites them about the role and the company – it could be the opportunity for professional growth, or that the company culture aligns with your values and provides a chance to make a meaningful contribution. Highlight the fit between your needs and theirs, and remember that it’s not only about you and what you want, but about mutual benefit.
This question also provides an opportunity to show how much you know about the organisation and how it is positioned in the industry based on your previous research. Has the company been in the news lately, what new products and campaigns have they launched, what results have been published in their latest annual report and what are the larger industry trends? Refer to specific aspects and highlight the skills and expertise you can bring to this context, while impressing with your in-depth knowledge and preparation.
“Why do you think you are the best person for this job”
Here, the interviewer wants to know how you are uniquely placed to meet their needs – more than anyone else. It’s your job to convince them, and you need to provide a compelling case.
This is your opportunity to really sell yourself and leverage your personal brand. Emphasise your unique selling proposition and how your skills, experiences and motivations perfectly match the needs of the business. Every organisation wants people who can help them solve their problems and achieve their goals – so show that you really understand the role, the business and its challenges, and articulate how your experience and skills will help them solve their problems.
“Why did you leave your previous role?”
With this question, the interviewer is attempting to gauge your suitability for the role based on your past behaviour and attitude towards your previous role – what motivates you, what you may or may not enjoy in a future role, and where you might be challenged.
Candidates need to tread carefully here. While it is important to be as honest as possible, you don’t want to come across as negative or as someone who leaves when things get challenging. It is always better to cite positive reasons for leaving a job, such as seeking career progression or a desire to challenge yourself, than negative reasons such as disliking your work or colleagues. Never bad-mouth a previous employer as it will only reflect badly on you.
The skill in answering this question lies in how you frame it, so keep it positive. For example, if you left your previous role because you had a micro-managing boss, you could express it this way: “My previous manager was very detail-oriented and directive, and while this enabled me to learn a great deal, I felt I was ready to take on a role where I could expand and exercise more autonomy. I am at my best when I receive some guidance but am given the scope to manage my tasks and really contribute.”
“What are your weaknesses?”
Interviewers are not naïve – they know that candidates are not going to reveal their worst traits in an interview. But with this question, they can see if the candidate possesses self-awareness, the ability to deal with adversity, and a desire to learn and improve. It’s just as important to be able to talk about your failures as your successes – and it can even work to your credit.
Again, the skill in answering this question lies in your ability to turn a negative into a positive. Try to be honest in naming a shortcoming you are genuinely working on – but not one that would impact excessively on your ability to perform in the role. For example, having a fear of public speaking would probably not be a deal-breaker for someone applying to be an Accounts Assistant, but it might be for someone applying to be a company’s PR rep.
Providing that public speaking isn’t absolutely vital to the role, you could talk about the time you had to give a presentation at work but got excessively nervous, forgot what you intended to say and lost your audience halfway through. This experience highlighted that this was something you really wanted to improve on, so you enrolled on a “communication and presentation” course and have been trying to practise as much as possible, speaking up in meetings and putting your hand up to present whenever the opportunity arises. Because of your efforts, you are now far more comfortable and effective in your presentations, and have received feedback from your manager on how much you have improved.
If you’re a finance candidate within Media, Marketing, Publishing or Entertainment and are seeking a new role, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org