How to answer 8 common interview questions
The biggest mistake you can make in any interview is to turn up unprepared. It’s like going to a race without training: you might get lucky and win, but you're more likely to place runner-up.
According to The UK Careers Fair, most companies in the UK now invite six people to interview, so it’s important to stand out from the rest. We’ve put together a cheat sheet using the STAR technique where necessary to outline why recruiters ask common interview questions and how to answer them.
1) Tell me about yourself
‘Tell me about yourself’ is often used to begin an interview and can be daunting for job seekers. Recruiters often start with this question to get an impression of your personality and whether you fit the company’s culture. The question also acts as a test to determine your communication skills by how well you articulate your skills and experience.
Alongside your list of skills and experience, talk about your hobbies and interests outside of work to build a relationship with the hiring manager:
“My name is Tom, and I grew up in London. My mother is a nurse, and my father is a teacher, which inspired me to join the public sector and pursue a career in education. I’ve worked in the sector for three years now in primary education and I love what I do. Outside of work, I enjoy playing five aside football, cooking and landscape photography. I'm a hard worker and always eager to learn new things. I'm also a team player and enjoy helping my colleagues.”
2) What made you want to apply for the role?
This interview question seeks to find out if you've done your research on the company. Prepare for this answer by learning about your potential future employer's mission, history and culture. If you can show that your personal ambitions complement the goals of the company, you can stand out as a good potential fit.
“I'm really excited about this opportunity because I've been following [company name] for a while now and I'm really impressed with the work you have done in the social housing sector, in particular the recent work you have carried out as part of the government’s social housing decarbonisation fund. As someone who cares about improving the energy performance of housing stock in the UK, I would love to be a part of the team that is involved in the rollout of this imitative and others in the future.”
3) What are your strengths? STAR
Recruiters ask this question to assess what you are good at, what you are passionate about, and what you can contribute to the company. They’re looking for someone who is self-aware of their strengths and how they have used them to their advantage in the workplace.
Be specific and provide examples of how you have used your strengths in the past. You should also focus on strengths that are relevant to the role you are applying for.
“I believe that I am a skilled communicator and organiser. I can convey my own ideas clearly and concisely, and I am also a good listener who values the contributions of others. In my previous role, I was responsible for creating our monthly newsletter.
"I displayed initiative by creating each feature and communicated informal conversations with staff in a clear way to customers as part of a wider content strategy. As a result, traffic from the newsletter to our product pages increased by 42% in the first quarter of 2022.”
4) What are your weaknesses?
In addition, recruiters ask about your weaknesses to find out if you’re self-aware of your skills gaps and whether you’re willing to improve those weaknesses. They also want to assess how you handle challenging situations at work and whether you have the interpersonal skills to work as part of a cohesive team.
Whereas it’s important to link a strength to the role you’re applying for, try to list a weakness that won’t directly affect a role.
“One of my weaknesses at work is that I sometimes have trouble speaking up in meetings, even when I have something valuable to contribute. I've been working on this by being more assertive in smaller groups and role-playing with friends and family.
I've also become more mindful of my body language in meetings and I recognise that my contributions can add value to discussions.”
5) How do you stay motivated? STAR
Employers want to find candidates who will be enthusiastic and engaged at work each day, so they need to know if you'll stay motivated over the longer term. To show your enthusiasm, give specific, real-life examples of times that you've felt motivated at work.
“I stay motivated at work by setting goals for myself and tracking my progress. I set a goal to increase my quarterly sales by 10% and created a plan to achieve my goal, which included setting specific targets for each month. I analysed my progress towards my goal on a weekly basis by using a spreadsheet to track my sales and compare my results to my targets. I was able to achieve my goal and increase my sales that quarter by 12%.”
6) What are you most proud of?
Based on your answer, recruiters can assess how ambitious and goal-driven you are and what skills have helped you to reach your achievements. This question provides an opportunity to explain how your skills led to your success and whether your definition of success aligns with their company culture and values.
“I'm most proud of the time I led a team of engineers to develop a new product that was successfully launched on time and under budget. The product was a new type of software that helped businesses to manage their inventory more effectively.
"I was responsible for setting the project goals, managing the team, and ensuring that the product met the needs of our customers. It was a challenging project, but I was proud of the way that the team worked together to overcome the challenges and deliver a successful product. The product was well-received by our customers, and it helped to improve their inventory management processes.”
7) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hiring managers want to know if you're likely to stay long-term or if this job is a stepping stone in your career journey. Even if you're not planning to make this job your career, talk about how your goals align with the company's mission. Share specific goals that you have for yourself and be positive about your ambitions for the future.
“In five years, I see myself as a certified nurse anaesthetist working in a busy hospital. I'm particularly interested in working in the operating room, and I'm excited about the opportunity to provide anaesthesia care to patients who are undergoing surgery, and opportunities to teach and mentor other nurses.
"I've been working towards this goal for the past few years. I have a degree in medicine recognised by the General Medical Council and have completed a two-year foundation programme of general training.”
8) Tell me about a time you overcame a difficult work situation. STAR
Behavioural questions like this are commonly asked to assess skills like critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and time management. Answer them in the STAR format, addressing the situation you had to deal with, the task at hand, the actions you took and the results of your efforts.
“I was teaching a KS2 class of 30 and one of the students was struggling to keep up with the material and was becoming disruptive. I had to find a way to help the student without disrupting the rest of the class.
"I set up a one-to-one chat with the student to find out what they were struggling with specifically and we set up a personalised plan which involved some extra help during the week. As a result, the student started to become more confident in class and they were able to understand the material and participate more actively.”
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