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5 of the most common job interview questions (and how you should answer them)



Though the purpose of a job interview is to find out what makes you the right person for a specific role, many of them follow the same structure with very similar questions being asked.

Interviews can be intimidating, so it makes sense to prepare for them by pre-empting the questions they're going to ask

Though it might seem strange that the same question can turn up in an interview for a subsea engineer as a marketing executive, the broad scope of the questions mean they can be applicable to anything and anyone. And the benefit of this to the interviewee is that you can predict these questions and prepare for them.

Here are five of the most commonly asked questions in job interviews, and what you should consider before you answer them.

"Tell me a little bit about yourself" - not an opportunity to talk through your entire life story

"Tell me a little bit about yourself."

This is not even technically a question, but it is often the first thing that the interviewer will say, providing a great opportunity for you to lead the conversation with what you believe to be the most important points.

However, the problem with such an open-ended question is that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Do you run through your lifestory from birth? Do you only talk about your achievements, or does doing so make you seem overly boastful? Do you assumed they’ve read your CV already or do you recite what’s already on there?

The simple answer is to keep it short, simple and relevant to the experience that’s brought you to this interview. Since it’s such a popular question it’s definitely worth having your answer planned out in advance. Treat it like a short sales pitch about yourself, and take the time beforehand to put together a few sentences that will succinctly and effectively get across your primary career highlights. Sum up:

a) Your specialism and/or current or most recent job.
b) Any training or qualifications that got you into that position.
c) Any recent achievements that are relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.
d) Your ambitions for your next career steps (which should align with the job description they’re looking to fill.

The interviewer may ask for more detail on any of the points you make, so make sure you’re confident in all the points that you’re making so you can elaborate further on them if required.

"What do you know about the company?" - do your research beforehand!

"What do you know about the company?"

Another important question that is almost always asked - this serves two purposes for the interviewer. Firstly it lets them know that you’re a serious prospect who has fully considered working in the company, and secondly it allows them to gauge how much they’re going to have to explain before the interview can properly begin.

Before going into any job interview it’s important to do your research. Look at the company’s website, search their social media profiles and look for any news articles about their business. Talking enthusiastically about the company’s recent achievements will show that you’re following their work and positive about their future - which you hope will include you.

Don’t just recite what you find on their “About Us” page either. Talk about what work excites you, what projects you hope to be part of, what aspects of the company drew you to apply for the position in the first place.

"Why do you want this job?" - consider your answer beforehand - you must have a better reason than "the salary"

"Why do you want this job?"

Similar to the previous question, the important thing here is to show your passion for the company’s work and the impact that they have on their customers. It should be a relatively simple question to answer - you would of course not be in the interview room if you didn’t want the job in question - but it’s important to strike the right balance between just saying what you think they want you to say and giving an answer that leans to heavily on employee perks or wages rather than the company’s mission. 

Again, it’s good to plan an answer to this one beforehand. If nothing else it gives you a chance to think hard about what aspects of the job you really do want before you go into the interview.

"What do you consider your biggest weakness?" - strength comes from knowing where your weaknesses lie, not ignoring them

"What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?"

A favourite question among interviewers that seems designed entirely to throw off candidates. Are you really expected to give them a list of reasons not to hire you?

This is of course not the purpose of the question at all, but rather it’s to take in your self-awareness, honesty and sense of responsibility. Think hard about your answer to this one and answer as honestly as you can. 

Don’t try and give yourself a backhanded compliment that you think will secretly please them like “I always put work over my personal life” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist” because they will have heard it before and will see right through you. And definitely don’t say “I have no weaknesses”, because no-one’s impressed by an arrogant interviewee.

The best answers take an example from a previous situation where something you were responsible for has gone wrong, and follow it up with how you would approach it differently if the situation arose again. Show that you can take responsibility for your mistakes and recognise the steps that you need to take to resolve them.

"What do you think we could do better or differently?" - it's good to have a few examples, it's bad to have a long list of criticisms

"What do you think we could do better or differently?"

Just as an interviewer might want you to talk about your weakness, they might also call on you to discuss their own weaknesses, and at first glance it seems like no less of a trap. You’re sitting there because you want to work for this company, why would you want to start off by talking about what they do wrong?

Of course what they’re really asking is what you could bring to the company if you worked there. The best answer would be related to the specific role you’re applying for. You want to get across the impression that while you approve of their ambitions and direction, you can bring your own ideas for improvement.

When researching the company, take some time to note a few aspects that you think you can change. Don’t try and change the direction of the company, but rather search for a missed opportunity or flaw that you have the skills and ideas to amend. They know that they can be doing things better - if they weren’t trying to improve or grow then they wouldn’t need to be hiring someone new. So show them that you are the missing piece that their business needs.Get weekly tips from Career Corner by subscribing today to the EngineeringPro newsletter

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