Common interview questions and how to answer them

Why do you want to work for us?

Here is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge of the employer’s business. You might want to begin by outlining some of your achievements in your current role and explain why you now want to change jobs. Perhaps you can’t see any further opportunities for promotion or any way to progress in your current role. Perhaps the employer’s business offers a more extensive range of products or services than your current employer.

Whatever your response you must have a well thought out reason for wanting the job.  If you are a graduate or school leaver with limited work experience then use your life experience and other non-work related achievements and emphasize how these achievements fit in with the requirements of the job. For example if the job calls for someone with strong customer service skills then perhaps you could relate this to holiday job working in a shop or bar. If organizational skills are required then again think of events that you might have organized at school or university.

Why should we offer you the job?

Think back to the job description and then take each item one at a time. Work through the job specification pointing out that you have the required qualifications and experience. Where appropriate provide examples of some of your achievements that match the role.  For example:

“You asked for candidates with good experience of business development. In my current job I’ve increased sales from an average of £25,000 per month to over £50,000. I’ve done that through a combination of hard work and winning new accounts. I’ve been nominated salesman of the month twice in the last six months”.

How will you add value to our business?    

Again you can demonstrate your knowledge of the business and perhaps find areas where your experience will count. For example:

“I notice from your web site that you’ve recently started doing business in France. I speak French fluently and I believe that this would be a real asset to your business”.

OR

“I’ve recently completed my MBA in International Human Resources. I notice that you are expanding your business internationally and I believe that my knowledge and training in international HR would enable me to really add value when you are transferring your staff overseas or negotiating overseas employment contracts”.

What are your key strengths?

This is a difficult question to answer particularly if you happen to be British! But a job interview is not the place for false modesty. Go ahead and spell out your key strengths.

For example:

“I’ve got a good degree in IT from the University of Greenwich. On my degree course I specialised in computer forensics which I believe is a key requirement of this job.  I’m currently taking another course in Software Testing which I think will also be a major asset. In my last job I was able to use my strengths in problems analysis to discover a major flaw in our billing system and my solution saved the business over £50,000 in lost revenue. Finally I’m a really good team player and I enjoy working with colleagues and constantly developing new skills. I’m a very quick learner”.

What are your weaknesses?

A very difficult question to answer! Everybody has weaknesses and I can recall one candidate who answered this question by saying that he “didn’t have any weaknesses” being turned down for a senior job. Much better to own up to some weaknesses but make sure they are “good” ones!

For example:

“I have a sharp eye for detail and a tendency to try and do too much myself. I’ve recently completed a two day course on delegation and this has really helped me to let go of some of my responsibilities and trust colleagues and members of my team to take on more of the work load”.

 Notice how in this answer the candidate has admitted to a “weakness” but has recognised it and has already taken steps to remedy the problem by attending a course in delegation. Always try to use this model to answer this type of question. Admit to a weakness but make clear that you are taking steps to rectify the problem.

 Dealing with difficult questions

 You’ve changed jobs quite frequently. How do we know that you are going to stay in this job?

Well this is a promising question. If the interviewer wants to be sure that you want to stay in the job then presumably he or she is thinking of actually offering you the job. But beware! Why have you been changing jobs so frequently?  You need to reassure the interviewer with your answer.

“Yes, I have changed jobs several times but that has been a deliberate strategy. I wanted to gain experience in a number of different areas. I’ve come to the end of that process now and I can bring that experience to your company. I’ve also recently married and I want to settle down in a stable job. I’ve done a great deal of research on this company and I know that you can offer me job security and a long term future”.

You’ve been unemployed for quite a long time. What have you been doing?

Try to give a detailed reply to this question. Remember that the average time to find a new job is 3-6 months. There are plenty of people in the same position and everybody knows that the job market is tough. You might also want to point out any personal projects that you have undertaken during your period of unemployment. If you were made redundant then you may have received a tax free payment that enabled you to take some time off to travel or spend time with your family. If you have done any voluntary work then mention this and also mention any personal projects where you were able use your professional skills, for example acting as Project Manager for a property renovation or organising a charity event.   Also mention any training that you have undertaken that will be relevant to the job.

Dealing with bizarre questions at “extreme interviews”

 What colour is Wednesday?

How many bicycles were sold in the UK last year?

How do you weigh an elephant without a weighing machine?

Yes, they’re genuine interview questions! These rather bizarre types of questions are much favoured by University Dons who are probably rather bored and decide to add a bit of spice into the interview process. But increasingly interviewers from outside the academic world are using these extreme interview questions just too see how you respond.

If you follow the advice given in this book then you will be very well prepared to answer most types of interview question. Of course being well prepared is one of the key factors in interview success. But by using these types of questions interviewers are asking a question for which there can be no preparation. You can have no idea what kind of strange question the interviewer might ask. And that’s just the point; the interviewer would like to see how you think on your feet and how you respond to something that is completely unexpected. And of course there is some logic to this; dealing with unexpected situations might actually be a key requirement of the job. There’s no “right” answer to these types of questions so my advice would be to relax and take the opportunity to have some fun and come up with the most amusing and memorable response you can. Spending a whole day interviewing candidates for a job can be tough and all of those “perfect” candidate responses can sometime become tedious.  Make the interviewer’s day and give a response that sticks in his or her mind. The chances are the interviewer will remember you and your response ahead of all the other candidates and you will have had the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you can think on your feet, rise to a challenge, be funny and creative and, most importantly,  deal effectively with the unexpected.

Illegal questions 

Bizarre questions are one thing but sometimes the interviewer can overstep the mark and ask you questions that are actually illegal. There is strict legislation in the UK (and in many other countries) that means that questions about certain areas of your life are “off limits” at job interviews.

Questions about your ethnicity, religion or place of birth

Employers (and recruitment agencies) are required to confirm that you have the right to live and work in the UK; however this question should be applied to all job applicants and not just to those with a foreign sounding name. Employers can ask for information about your ethnicity on application forms but this should be used only for monitoring purposes. So questions like “Where are you from originally?” are almost certainly illegal. If you have the right to work in the UK then your country of origin should have no bearing on your ability to do the job.

 Your sexual orientation

The employer cannot ask any questions relating to your sexual orientation.

Your politics

Employers cannot question you about your political beliefs or about your membership of (legal) organizations.

Family life

Although it is normal for employers to ask about your marital status on an application form, an interviewer cannot question you about your family or (for example) about your plans to have children.

Age

There are now strict age discrimination laws in place. You do not need to put your age or date of birth on your CV or on a job application form. Questions about your age or when you plan to retire are not permitted. There are some exceptions to the age discrimination legislation and some jobs may legitimately have a maximum age requirement or indeed a minimum age requirement. Examples of these would be airline pilots who are currently required to stop flying commercially at the age of 65 and “young workers” who may only undertake certain types of job until they reach school leaving age.