Although every interview will be different, there are certain questions that are almost guaranteed to arise in one form or another during every interview.
It will help you to understand the motives behind these questions, and what employers expect to hear in your answers
From my experience as a recruiter and interviewer, I have compiled the 20 most common interview questions and will show you how to answer them.
Browse through them and think about how you could adapt each answer in preparation for your next interview.
Interview question 1. Why do you want this job?
Businesses want to hire ambitious people who are enthusiastic about their brand; so this is what you need to convey when answering this question.
Firstly you need to make sure you’ve familiarised yourself with the job description and researched the company in order to answer this question with any substance.
Your answer should include some responsibilities from the job description along with reasons why you would enjoy them and more importantly why you would be good at them.
You should also show an interest in the type of work the firm does and stress that you want to progress within that industry.
You can also flatter them slightly by praising the firm’s reputation as somewhere that is a coveted place to work.
Do Say: “I want this job because I really enjoy the sales element of the role which I’ve previously performed well in at past companies due to my outgoing and persistent nature. I’ve also heard great things about working here, especially the opportunities to progress and the challenging work available”
Don’t Say: “I just need a job after being sacked from my last one”
2. Why are you leaving your current job?
The key to answering this question is to speak highly of your current firm, discuss what you’ve achieved there and explain that they can’t offer you what you need in the stage of your career.
Never badmouth a current or previous employer in an interview; (even if they are terrible!) it’s extremely unprofessional and will often leave the interviewer with the impression that you could be difficult to work with.
Do Say: “I’ve enjoyed my time with them and worked with some great people but they just can’t offer me enough progression within the field I want to specialise in”
Don’t Say: “The boss is a slave driver and the pay’s rubbish”
3. Give me an example of a task you found challenging
Interviewers do not ask this to literally find out which tasks you find challenging.
The real motive behind the question is to find out how you deal with challenging situations.
The idea here is to give an example of a challenge you’ve faced in work previously and show what actions you took to meet the challenge and turn it into a positive situation.
Do Say: “In my previous role I was faced with a disruptive team who were unmotivated and not very customer focused which was damaging our sales figures. I introduced new customer service incentives and gave a series of one-to-one training sessions which saw a huge improvement in team morale and sales”
Don’t Say: “I had a really bad team once”
4. What are your weaknesses?
This question is similar to the previous one as the interviewer really wants to know how you deal with your weaknesses as opposed to simply what they are.
It’s best to mention a fairly minor weakness and then demonstrate how you overcome it to ensure it doesn’t affect your work and also what are you doing to strengthen your skills in that area.
Do Say: “My Excel skills could be stronger so I always get somebody to check my spreadsheets before sending them out to the whole company. I’m currently doing some online training to improve my skills here”
Don’t Say: “I’m no good with Excel, don’t expect any spreadsheets from me”
5. Why should we hire you?
This is probably the most important question and one that will almost certainly be asked in every single interview you attend, so you need to have the answer ready for this one.
It’s important to focus the answer around what you can offer the employer – not what you want from them.
Essentially you need to explain how your skills and experience match the requirements on the job description and how that will ultimately benefit the organisation.
Prepare by making notes on the job description around how you meet the requirements and how you can benefit the company by being there.
Do Say: “I have 5 years experience in accounts and excellent client relationship management skills, I am also very confident with all of your software packages so I feel I could perform well in the role and also look to pursue further opportunities with customers in order to grow sales”
Don’t Say: “Because I need a job”
6. What motivates you?
This question can be quite tough to answer and often throws a lot of candidates off due to its open ended nature, but it actually gives a great opportunity to show how ambitious you are.
Ideally you should demonstrate how the role will tie in with your motivations and how you hope to grow in the role in order to achieve your long term goals.
If you are looking for a long term position then it’s best to go with motives that will make you appear stable and dependable like financial security, learning more about your industry, career progression etc.
Try to give a good expansive answer that looks like you’ve really thought it through
Do Say: “At the moment I’m really motivated by a desire to learn more about online marketing because it’s an area I’m extremely keen to progress I really want to become an expert in the field. I also know that the financial rewards can be really good at senior levels so that’s another key motivation for me”
Don’t Say: “Money, holidays and cars”
7. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This is another question where the interviewer is looking to gauge your levels of ambition but is also looking for a degree of realism and knowledge of the industry.
Your answer should be ambitious but realistic to show that you’re driven but you have an understanding of the speed of career progression and a degree of modesty.
You should also look to tie the job vacancy into your answer to show how it will help you progress to where you want to be.
Do Say: “In 5 years I’d quite like to be settled in to a mid-management level role and ideally have a small team working within the education sector. I really think this position would give me the opportunity to build up my knowledge and client base to allow me to work towards this goal.”
Don’t Say: “CEO of the company”
8. What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?
Everybody makes mistakes; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But how you handle your mistakes is what can really set you apart from other candidates.
When answering this question you need to pick a fairly minor work related mistake and describe exactly how you acted to rectify it and what you have consequently learnt from it.
Do Say: “In a previous job I once forgot to email some event confirmation details to a big client which resulted in the client missing the event – something they were quite upset about. So afterwards I pestered my boss for extra budget to take them to a private event and also made sure we did more to automate our event confirmation from then. Afterwards the client were really happy about the extra effort I had made to rectify the mistake and our new processes ensured that it didn’t happen again”
Don’t Say: “I lost £100k of company funds which haven’t been recovered to this day”
9. How do you handle difficult colleagues?
Most jobs will involve you working closely with one or more people, so it’s understandable that employers will want to know how you interact with others.
In an ideal world, everybody in a team would get along but sometimes colleagues can display disruptive behaviour that threatens the completion of tasks, so it’s important you can show how you deal with them in order to get the job done.
Your answer should ideally be example based and explain how the colleague’s actions were having a negative impact on the job at hand, and how you acted diplomatically to alter the person’s behaviour and get the team back on track.
Do Say: “I was working on a project last year and one the team members was constantly interrupting progress meetings with questions and comments that most people found irrelevant and were causing the meeting to run over time. I had a quiet word with the person outside of the meeting and changed the format of the meeting so that questions could only be asked at the end. This helped us get through the meetings more efficiently”
Don’t Say: “I confront them instantly”
10. Do you ever disagree with your line manager?
A potential employer will be keen to know how you are likely to interact with them and this question should hopefully allow you to shed some light in that area.
Many people wrongly assume that an employer is looking for somebody who will agree with everything they say; but they would actually prefer somebody who can bring fresh opinions to the team and push back to management when needed.
So your answer should really try to highlight that on occasions where you do disagree with your line manager; that you handle it with tact, reason and diplomacy in order to reach a solution that benefits your organisation.
Do Say: “Sometimes I don’t agree with some of the supply chain processes that our team manager puts in place for us to follow, as they can sometimes take up too much of the junior staff’s time in admin duties. I will usually bring the points up in our 1-to-1 meetings by suggesting some more effective processes we can use and talking through them together, rather than just directly criticising her ideas in front of other staff members”
Don’t Say: “I never disagree with my manager”
11. How would your current boss describe you?
This is a fairly open ended question that can be tricky to answer, but the key point to remember is that employers generally hire staff to help them in the running of their business.
So when answering the question you need to describe yourself as somebody who is so helpful that you are quite literally critical to the running of the business.
Do Say: “I think my manager would describe me as somebody who can re relied up on to constantly achieve the results he needs in the team. Also he would probably say that I pro-actively reach out to relieve him from some of his service and admin responsibilities to allow him to focus more on business development when he needs to.”
Don’t Say: “As a nice person”
12. Are you currently pursuing any other job opportunities?
Some candidates think that they should avoid revealing details of other jobs they are applying for in an attempt to appear loyal to the interviewer’s firm – however that is the complete wrong approach to take with this question.
You should be transparent about your other opportunities for 2 reasons:
1) Somebody with lots of interviews elsewhere and interest form other companies is attractive to an employer because someone who is in demand is usually good.
2) Having more opportunities gives you more leverage to negotiate with when it comes to offer time. If an interviewer knows that you are about to interview with one of their competitors; then they may offer you a higher salary to try and tempt you away from the rival firm.
Do Say: “Yes I’ve made quite a few applications for similar roles with a number of firms and I’ve got a first stage interview with Company X tomorrow afternoon”
Don’t Say: “No it’s just your job at the moment”
13. Tell me about yourself
A seemingly simple question but the answer actually requires quite a lot of thought and structure.
Try to keep your answer mainly work focused, discuss your background and then a bit about your career aspirations in a manner that ties in with vacancy in question.
You can include a bit about your life outside of work if you like but keep it brief.
Do Say: “I studied law at university, became especially interested in corporate law and joined Company Z where I worked for a senior lawyer carrying out legal support work which I’ve enjoyed quite a lot. I’ve built up a lot of experience in the field so I really want to start taking on my own clients but there just isn’t any opportunity to do so at Company Z so I ‘m looking for a role where I can grow and take on more responsibility.”
Don’t Say: “I’m a bit of a character”
14. What are your salary requirements?
Although I would never suggest bringing up salary requirements in an interview without being prompted, it’s perfectly fine to discuss salary if the interviewer asks about it directly.
The key to answering this question is to research market rates beforehand and have a clear idea of the salary you can command – you will not impress anybody by providing a wild guess.
Looking through job websites and speaking to recruitment consultants should give you a rough idea of the salary you can achieve. It’s up to each individual to decide where they want to pitch their salary requirements but make sure you are realistic and stay within any pre-mentioned range.
Do Say: “From doing a bit of research into my current value I’m looking to achieve around £30K which I believe is within the budget mentioned on the job advert”
Don’t Say: “I’m looking for a 250% increase on my current salary”
15. Are there any elements of your current/previous job that you dislike?
It’s quite natural that you will dislike certain elements of previous jobs – but employers really want to know more about how you deal with those dislikes to maintain good performance in the role.
Ideally you should pick a fairly common and minor dislike to demonstrate how you work around it and make sure it doesn’t have a negative effect on you or the business.
Do Say: “In my previous sales role I wasn’t hugely keen on keeping weekly sales records but I just made sure that I recorded everything in note form and spent just 20 minutes every day updating the database. Most of my colleagues spent an hour at the end of each week doing it, but that felt like too much in one sitting for me so I broke it up over the week to make it easier”
Don’t Say: “I don’t really like administration so I usually just avoid doing it”
16. Can you explain this gap/short-role in your CV?
Two things that are quite hard to hide in your CV (without lying) are gaps and short roles.
Employers don’t like them because they can sometimes indicate that candidates have been fired from a role or have taken a lot of time out of work.
So where possible, try to avoid gaps by adding details of what you were doing between the roles (maybe you went travelling or completed a personal project) and if you have a very short role (a few weeks etc.) that doesn’t add any value to the CV, then maybe consider omitting it when writing your CV.
However if you can’t avoid this question then try to come up with a good positive explanation that makes you look proactive and competent like the below.
Do Say: “The reason I was only in that role for 2 months is because it was a short contract role to provide cover during a busy period. The firm knew that I would still be looking for a more permanent role so it wasn’t a shock to them when I moved to the next company.”
“During that gap I was actually travelling through America which is something I’ve always wanted to do”
Don’t Say: “I was just looking for work for during that 11 month gap”
“I was let go after 2 weeks in the role for bad performance”
17. Describe a time when you’ve dealt with a difficult customer/client
This is a fairly typical question for candidates applying to customer facing roles and one you will need to answer well in order to show your abilities in turning negative situations around and keeping your customers happy.
Ideally you should explain a time when a customer was irate or behaving rudely towards you (ideally the root of the problem should have been caused by someone other than yourself to avoid looking incompetent).
Then describe how you reassured the customer and rectified the situation by delivering a good service or product sale etc.
Do Say: “I once had a client who was really upset by price rises implemented to his account that were outside of my control. I empathised a lot with him and took the time to meet with him to see if there was anything that I could do to rectify the situation. After meeting with him, it actually transpired that he needed a lot more of our services and I was able to upgrade his service at a discounted rate which meant more revenue for the company and a much happier customer who ended up saving a lot more money”
Don’t Say: “Once I messed up a customer’s order and he shouted at me so I apologised and said somebody else would call him back”
18. Describe a time when you’ve had to make a difficult decision
Your decision making process is crucial to your success in the workplace and sometimes your decisions can have a big impact on your employers, colleagues and clients.
So you need to show that you can think on your feet and have a methodical thought process when making big decisions.
Ideally the result of your decision should provide a positive outcome for your employer to show that your decision making is effective.
Do Say: “In my current job I was faced with a situation where a very important client wanted a refund for some project work that had gone wrong due to some errors by the delivery team. Providing a refund would have meant quite a big loss of revenue for the firm but not providing a refund could mean a very upset client and potential lack of future business from them. So after much discussion with my director and team members I decided not to refund the work but to provide the next project free of charge. This did cost the firm initially but it allowed us to salvage our reputation with the client and secure further work from them in the long run.
Don’t Say: “A made a decision to hire staff once”
19. How do you respond to criticism?
Managing staff can often be a difficult task for employers so your answer to this question should show that you are easy to work with and that you take negative feedback on board.
Preferably your answer should demonstrate the fact that you not only do you handle criticism well, but you use it to improve yourself and build your skill set.
Do Say: “I try to avoid criticism where possible but I listen whenever I receive it and make sure I improve in those areas to avoid receiving the same criticism again”
Don’t Say: “I am never criticised”
20. If you were an animal… which animal would you be?
Although this is quite an unusual question, it is quite well known amongst hiring managers so it could crop up.
The actual animal you decide upon isn’t really relevant – the question is just designed to throw you off track a bit and make you think on your feet.
So pick any animal and describe why its qualities match yours in a way that relates to the job you are applying for in a well-structured manner.
Do Say: “I would be a shark because I’m good at hunting down opportunities and surviving in tough environments”
Don’t Say: “I would be a squirrel because I quite like squirrels”