While you cannot pre-empt all the questions you will be asked in a job interview, there are a number of areas which you are likely to be asked about. Here we outline a number of popular interview questions, explain why interviewers ask them, and suggest positive ways to answer them.
Most employers will want to know about this, first of all to check that you haven’t been fired, but also to check out your motivation. Even if the reason is that you find your current job boring and hate your colleagues, put a positive spin on it; mention, for example, career development and progression, opportunities to learn new skills, taking on a more challenging role etc. Whatever you do, do not criticize your current employer, boss or colleagues - interviewers will rightly see this as unprofessional.
Again, employers will be assessing your motivation and how much you have researched and thought about the particular job. Don’t come out with generalised answers, for example, say "because I love books" for a job in publishing. Also avoid telling the interviewer that you are attracted to the role because of the company - they are asking you about the job itself. Really focus on the details of the job and what is appealing about what you will actually be doing.
The classic! With this question, interviewers are trying to find out how self-aware you are; they are looking for a balanced and honest assessment, rather than a character assassination or gushing tribute. Pick out three or four strengths, matching these to the qualities and skills required for the post, and one or two weaknesses.
Be honest, and don’t deliberately pick weaknesses that could be construed as a strength - for example perfectionism. Interviewers will usually ask you to elaborate further, giving you a chance to explain why you see it as a weakness and the steps you have taken to improve in that area. Be self-analytical and pick genuine weaknesses - for example, lack of knowledge about the company’s internal policies and systems is not a weakness, all the candidates will be in this position!
By asking this question, employers want to find out about your ambitions and aspirations; how focused are you, how clearly have you thought about the future and are your expectations realistic? It is worth preparing an answer for each timescale in this question. Be reasonable in your future plans - for example, in two years you are unlikely to have been made MD, but you may have learnt new skills, be fully competent in your role and be ready for your next career move. Be wary about giving the impression that you want to move on too quickly, as this can be interpreted as a lack of commitment or that you see the job as a foot in the door.
The interviewer is asking you to think outside the box and is also seeing how aware you are of how others perceive you. They are trying to find out more about your personality and how you appear to and relate with others. Be particularly careful with the friends question - however true it may be, don’t answer that they see you as the life and soul of the party, first at the bar and last to leave at the end of the night. Think instead of answering with words such as; friendly, supportive, helpful, loyal, reliable etc.
Another spin on the weaknesses question, the interviewer is asking you to assess yourself against the competencies for the job and analyse in which areas you are not as strong and where you might need to brush up your skills. Again, think about the job itself and one or two of the core skills, rather than knowledge about the company’s systems, procedures or products, which any new jobholder would need to be trained in.
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