Common interview questions

Common interview questions
To demonstrate at an interview that you are the right fit for the role, preparation is vital. Below we’ve listed some of the most common interview questions, so you can prepare succinct, relevant responses, matching your skills and attributes to the needs of the company and role wherever possible. We’ve reached out to some industry insiders for their unique perspectives on these questions to share some really great advice with you. 
 
In addition to having answers at the ready, remember to also prepare a suite of compelling examples to help convince the interviewer that you are the best person for the job. Preparation, positivity and proof are your keys to interview success.
 

Q. Tell me about yourself.

This is a commonly asked question designed to break the ice. A strong, succinct answer will quickly gain the interviewer’s attention and separate you from other candidates who may be tempted to divulge their life story. Give a brief, concise description of who you are and your key qualifications, strengths and skills. Tailoring your answer to the role on offer and declaring the strongest benefit that you offer an employer will leave the interviewer compelled to know more.
 

Q. Why do you want to work here?

The interviewer is trying to gauge your enthusiasm for the role as well as your level of knowledge about the company. Give specific examples of things that attracted you to the company and elaborate on your strengths, achievements and skills and how they match the position description, making you the right fit.
 

Q. What do you know about us as a company? 

We spoke to Adam Houlahan about this question. Adam is in the top 1% most viewed profiles on LinkedIn and CEO of the highly successful boutique agency, Web Traffic. Here is Adam’s advice:
 
“The interviewer is looking to see if you have performed any research about their business; they are looking to see if you have done more than just view the homepage of their website. Do a Google search on the company and find some interesting information such as awards won or a particular newsworthy article written about them. Look for information that is not on their website - that shows you have gone a little deeper than most people do.”
 

Q. What are your strengths?

The interviewer wants to know what you are particularly good at and how this would fit into the role. Choose a few of your key strengths that are required for the role and give examples of how you have demonstrated them successfully in the past. Strengths could include the ability to learn quickly; composure under pressure; ability to multi-task; team focus or your ability to work autonomously.
 

The interviewer wants to see that you have composure, problem solving skills and can stay focused in difficult conditions. Give an example of a time when you were faced with a stressful situation (not caused by you) and how you handled it with poise.

Q. What are your greatest weaknesses?

The interviewer is trying to gauge your self-awareness. We all have weaknesses so it’s best not to say you don’t have any. Avoid using the word ‘weakness’ and instead talk about an ‘area for improvement’ that is not vital for the job, or specify a ‘challenge’ that you are working to overcome. Demonstrating a willingness to develop yourself and face challenges turns the answer into a positive. 
 

Q. What have been your achievements to date? 

The interviewer wants to know if you are a high achiever and ascertain how your accomplishments will be beneficial to them. Select one or two recent accomplishments that are directly related to the job on offer. Identify the situations, the actions you took, skills you used and the positive outcomes; quantifying the benefits where possible. Show how you can bring what you learned to the new role. 
 

Q. What is the most difficult situation you have faced at work? 

The interviewer is trying to find out your definition of ‘difficult’ and whether you can show a logical approach to problem solving. Select a tough work situation that was not caused by you. Explain the way you approached the problem, including the actions you took and the solution you applied to overcome the problem. Give your answer with the air of someone who takes setbacks and frustrations in your stride, as part of the job.
 

Q. What did you like/dislike about your last role?

The interviewer is trying to find out your key interests and whether the job on offer has responsibilities you will dislike. Focus on what you particularly enjoyed in your last role and what you learned from it, drawing parallels to the new role. When addressing what you disliked, be conscious not to criticise your last employer. Choose an example that does not reflect on your skills (such as company size) or which reveals a positive trait (such as your dislike for prolonged decision making).
 
Mandy Johnson, a business adviser and lecturer for MBA-level students and a best-selling author, gave us some input on this question as well: 
 
“Telling the recruiter what you think they want to hear doesn’t work either. For instance, applicants who say they would love to travel all the time when applying for a job as a travelling salesperson, yet have been in a sedentary job for the last fifteen years are demonstrating a real discrepancy between their words and actions. Most recruiters look at past history as the best determinant of future behaviour so give past actions more weight than future plans.”
 

Q. Why do you want to leave your current employer? 

This should be straightforward. Reflect positively on your current employer but state how you are looking for more challenges, responsibility, experience and a change of environment. Explain how your current role can no longer provide you with these things, but how you believe the role on offer presents an opportunity for growth that will make full use of your strengths and potential.
 
A strong, succinct answer will quickly gain the interviewer’s attention and separate you from other candidates who may be tempted to divulge their life story. Give a brief, concise description of who you are and your key qualifications, strengths and skills.

Q. What are your goals for the future? 

A sense of purpose is an attractive feature in an applicant, so this question is designed to probe your ambition and the extent of your career planning. Your commitment is also under question, but avoid blankly stating that ‘I want to be with your company’. Instead, describe how your goal is to continue to grow, learn, add value and take on new responsibilities in the future that build on the role for which you are applying.
 

Q. You would be working in X department, we recently had X issue occur. How would you have dealt with this?

Here’s what Adam Houlahan has to say:
 
“The interviewer is looking to see if you can think and act quickly, and that you really are knowledgeable in this field. This can be a challenging question that puts you on the spot. A good response if you cannot immediately relate to that issue is to speak about a crisis you may have dealt with in a previous role and the outcome once you resolved the issue.”
 

Q. How do you respond to working under pressure? 

The interviewer wants to see that you have composure, problem solving skills and can stay focused in difficult conditions. Give an example of a time when you were faced with a stressful situation (not caused by you) and how you handled it with poise. Describe the context, how you approached the situation, the actions you took and the positive outcome. Demonstrate how you remained calm, in control and got the job done.
As an applicant, the main thing to remember is that all recruiters are looking for is someone who is a good fit for the role. So pretending you have certain attributes to try and get a job… won’t suit either you or the employer long-term.

Q. If you weren’t successful for this position what other roles would you be applying for?

Mandy Johnson’s perspective:
 
“The best answers are similar roles in similar companies to the one on offer. Even if you are toying with many different ideas on jobs, don’t show this as it lets the employer know that you haven’t worked out what you really want yet.This is also a question recruiters ask to find out what other interviews really good candidates have in the pipeline so they know the time frame for a job offer.”
 

Q. Tell me about a successful team project that you have been involved in. What was your role and what made it a success?

The interviewer is trying to gauge your interpersonal skills and team contribution. Outline the project objectives, your responsibilities, the actions you took to assist the group and the successful results. Provide evidence of how you were a keen collaborator and how your contribution was critical. You also want to demonstrate that you value teamwork and understand its key attributes such as honest communication, a shared purpose and effective problem-solving.
 
More on this from Mandy Johnson:
 
“As an applicant, the main thing to remember is that all recruiters are looking for is someone who is a good fit for the role. So pretending you have certain attributes to try and get a job – that is trying to be a ‘pear’ when you are really an ‘apple’ is poor strategy, because even if you get the job, it won’t suit either you or the employer long-term. The best approach is to find a role that is the perfect fit for you. Think about your true capabilities and if you are an ‘apple’, look for a company that really needs ‘apples’ and where you can really add value to their operation.”
 
Below you’ll find the background information of our two contributors, Adam Houlahan and Mandy Johnson:
 
Adam Houlahan is a social media guru and speaker and is in the top 1% for viewed LinkedIn profiles. He is a featured columnist for the Australian National Business publication MOB Magazine and works with clients throughout Australia, New Zealand, North America, Singapore and The Middle East. As a CEO and the owner of six companies, Adam knows the ins and outs of working with people – and hiring them. 
 
Mandy Johnson is a business advisor, speaker and author. She’s the youngest ever director for Flight Centre Limited and a guest lecturer for MBA-level students at a number of universities. She has been interviewed by every big name business publication in Australia and has two bestselling books in the business-entrepreneurship category. She knows what it means for a company to find a fantastic candidate and she knows how to spot them.
 
Summary: 

While every interview is unique, there are some common interview questions that anyone looking for a job should be aware of. Be prepared for your next interview with questions about:

  • Your past successes and failures (and what you’ve learned since)
  • Why you want to leave your current role and company
  • Your goals for the future
  • What you know about the company looking to hire
  • Your personal strengths and weaknesses