During a job interview there’s usually always one question we hope we’re not asked. Whether it’s describing your weaknesses or a challenging work situation, some questions are designed to get you flustered, but if you prepare properly you’ll breeze right past. Here are 11 of the most asked interview question – and how to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself
“Tell me about yourself” is often the very first question you’ll be asked. The interviewer’s trying to get a feel for who you are as a person, as well as what you’ll bring to the table professionally. If you appear at ease with yourself – calm, confident and collected – you’ll seem like someone they’ll actually want to work with. Give a brief overview of your background, working history, then highlight how you’ve developed and what direction you want to go in.
Sample answer (for a content manager role): “I’m originally from San Francisco and went to school at UCLA. I first started working in marketing when I joined [company] as a digital marketing assistant, and it was here that I first realized content marketing was my speciality. I took a course, got a promotion… [elaborate on what you learned and how you grew]. Now I’m looking for a role where I can continue developing my content skills.”
2. What are your strengths?
This is where your interviewer is scoping out whether or not you have the right skills and experience for the job. The trick isn’t to rattle off a long list of all the strengths and competencies you have, but to discuss the few key skills they’re actually looking for. Go over the skill set description in the job advert and pick three that apply to you. When you’re talking about these skills, make sure to give an example of how that skill helped you in previous roles.
Sample answer: “I have excellent communication skills, which have been really helpful in my job. I’m able to get my points across succinctly and powerfully, whether it’s in a pitch or a written article. I’m also a creative thinker, which makes coming up with innovative and unusual content ideas a pleasure, as well as something that comes naturally.”
3. What are your weaknesses?
This question is more important than you might think! While it’s a great way for the interviewer to find out if you’re self-aware, it’s also a good way to see how you perform under pressure. If you answer with the stock “I’m a perfectionist”, the interviewer will see straight through it. Don’t be afraid to state a real weakness you have, but always finish by explaining what you’re doing to remedy it; e.g. if you have a fear of public speaking, maybe you’re taking classes to improve. This way you’re showing that you’re not only self-aware and humble, but strategic too.
Sample answer: “I’ve always felt I struggled with public speaking. I know what to say but lack the confidence to deliver it in the way I want. I’ve just started a public speaking course, however, as I want to turn this weakness into a strength.”
4. Tell me about a testing situation and how you settled it
Here your interviewer is looking to see how resilient you are and if you cope well under pressure – but they’re also assessing whether you’re good at using your initiative. Think about an issue you faced at work that became a problem, then walk the interviewer through how you overcame it. Touch on the final outcome, e.g. were any processes developed later to ensure the problem wouldn’t happen again? Make sure you end on what you learned from it.
Sample answer: “We were preparing for an important pitch when a key team member, our analytics expert, fell ill. We only had a day before the pitch and didn’t have time to call a freelancer in, so we broke down the analytics side into manageable tasks. We then asked all the analytics assistants to help out, and by pooling our time and knowledge managed to deliver the pitch successfully and on time. Now we aim to finish pitch work three days before the pitch itself, just in case.”
5. Why should we hire you for this job?
Forget about the ‘why’ of this question and focus on the ‘you’. The interviewer wants to know what sets you apart from other candidates – what do you have that they don’t? It can be tricky to answer (unless you love bragging about yourself), but there’s a right way to do it. Think about what makes you valuable; maybe you’re trained in a particular tool the company uses, maybe you have a “very specific set of skills…” What are your USPs? See this as a two-minute pitch, and pitch yourself in a few key points!
Sample answer: “When I read the job description I couldn’t imagine a job more suited to me. I have a lot of experience using [tool/software], and during my time at [company] I developed all the key skills necessary for this role. Devising content strategies and campaigns plays to all my strengths – creativity, communication, innovation – and after educating myself on [specialist area] and taking some courses, I feel I’m ready for this new challenge.”
6. Why do you want to work here?
If you don’t have a good answer to this question you might as well kiss your chances of getting the job goodbye. You need to show that you’ve done proper research about the company, and are genuinely interested in working for them specifically. Keep your focus on the company – what you like about it, what excites you, and what you can bring them, rather than what they can do for you.
Sample answer: “I’m a real admirer of the ethos at [company] – I really like how the culture is relaxed yet the people are highly driven and motivated. I’ve followed your work for a long time and was so impressed with [name something the company did]. I’d love to become a member of your team and help create the original work you’re known for.”
7. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
For this question, remember that the interviewer is trying to determine whether you’d be a sensible long term investment. If you give the impression that this job is just a stepping stone on the path to the job you really want, what’s the incentive for the company? You need to show that you have plans and ambitions, and these should correlate as much as possible with where you’d go with the company.
Sample answer: “In five years time I hope to have risen in the ranks to a content director. I’d like to polish my strategic skills while working as a content manager, and when I’m ready I see myself in a directorial role, leading a dynamic team and producing top-quality content.”
8. Why are you leaving your current position?
This is a standard interview question and definitely one you should prep for. Rather than focusing on the things you don’t like about your current job or company, stick to talking about why the job you’re interviewing for is even better. Remember you want to seem as though you’re in for the long haul, so if the opportunities for long-term advancement are better at this new company, say so. Never speak critically of your employer or colleagues, though; you’ll come across as whiny and unprofessional.
Sample answer: “I’ve really enjoyed working at [current company], but I’ve outgrown the position now, and as a small company the progression opportunities are limited. One of the things that excites me about this role is the opportunities for development. There are so many ways I can advance here.”
9. What’s your desired salary?
By the interview stage you should have a good idea of the salary range for the position. The key here is to be honest with yourself about your level of expertise and do proper research into the going market rate. Have a read around and see what other companies are paying their employees for the same role. If you have the same skill level then this should be a reasonable rate. Avoid naming specific numbers.
Sample answer: “Based on my experience and the job responsibilities, I’d be comfortable with a salary over [salary].”
10. How do you deal with pressure at work?
The interviewer wants to see whether you’re the type of person who cracks under pressure. Start off by talking about any measures you’ve taken to stop situations snowballing into a high-pressured crisis, e.g. sticking to a schedule, juggling tasks efficiently. It’s helpful to recall a specific time where – in spite of these measures – you still had to deal with a stressful situation. This is the time to talk about how you kept calm and what you learned from it.
Sample answer: “For me, pressure tends to only really set in when deadlines are creeping up, so I try to ensure I’m always ahead of schedule. I’ve found that certain project and task management apps help me stay on track. The best thing I’ve learned in stressful situations is not to panic: speak to your team members, isolate the problems, and then pool your knowledge until you find a solution.”
11. Do you prefer working by yourself or in a team?
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by saying you much prefer one over the other… both are enormously important! It’s cool to have a preference, but you need to make it clear that you’re comfortable doing either. If you prefer working by yourself, think of an example where you worked in a team and it was a success; what did you take away from that experience? If you prefer working as a team, talk about an example where you worked on a project or task independently and what you learned from it.
Sample answer: “I really enjoy working collaboratively, when everyone’s pitching in ideas and playing to their own strengths. You can bounce ideas off each other and develop things together, which is a good feeling. But I do also enjoy working by myself and taking full ownership of a project. It’s very rewarding when you’re responsible for a project from the beginning to the end.”
Can you think of any other frequently asked interview questions we missed? Let us know in the comments!