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A Guide To Common Job Interview Questions And Answers

By: Gail Kenny

I think I'm yet to meet anyone who actively enjoys the job interview process. Sure, there are those infuriating people who suffer from no job interview stress and glide through the meeting as if their careers didn't depend on it, but even they don't actually enjoy it - they just don't let it affect them. And 90% of the time, this external confidence is simply because they know exactly what to expect from the job interview questions.

How do they know? Simply because interviewers are an unoriginal breed and there's a set of questions which have served us fine for years. We won't change if we don't have to! There's the occasional wildcard job interview question, but even those will usually be a variant of these (phrased differently, but looking for the same sort of response) or they'll be so off the wall that they're just looking for honesty and a candidate who isn't intimidated.

This list of job interview questions and answers isn't exhaustive (if it were, this article would extend for several pages), but it provides the basic questions that it helps to be prepared for. I'm going to be writing another article in the future about the very tough interview questions that some vindictive employers ask and how to deal with them, so watch this space if you find this list useful.

So, here's my beginner's guide to answering interview questions

"Tell Me a Little About Yourself"

This is a peculiar one and may serve a few purposes - the most important of these, I believe, is allowing you to get comfortable in the job interview environment. An interviewer who dives straight in to the interrogation is going to see a lot of anxious candidates. There isn't a set answer here, because it's such an open question - just see it as a short speech to promote yourself. Briefly outline your recent work and any significant achievements you've earned along the way.

It's essential you don't go on and on when answering this interview question, babbling about everything from your childhood to your current job - they're looking for an overview of who you are, and if you ramble, you'll have defined yourself as a rambler!

"What would you say your strengths are?"

Every interviewer loves this question, because it gives them quick answers. It's also one of the better ones to be asked in a job interview, because it gives you a free license to shamelessly self promote! The key concern here is not to go overboard - if you do, you'll come across as conceited. It's also wise to tailor your answer to this question to the type of role being advertised. Read the job description carefully, and match your skills to the question - if it's a role that involved a lot of proofreading, then mention your meticulous attention to detail, if it's a copywriting position, emphasise how articulate you are - and so on.

Don't lie here, because it'll be really obvious and embarrassing when you're found out. If you claim to be articulate, but struggle to put two sentences together without misusing a word, your credibility will be damaged and you won't be working for the company any time soon.

"What's your main weakness?"

The flip side to the gift of the 'strengths' question is this beast. A weakness is undoubtedly a bad thing, so why would you want to bring it up in a situation where your aim is to sell yourself. The best way of answering this interview question, in my experience, is damage limitation. Provide an (honest) weakness, but then point out the steps to limit its hindrance. If you point out your lack of organization, but then explain this is why you make liberal use of postage notes to counter the problem, it becomes less of a weakness and more of a strength: you recognize your own limits and make amends.

"Why are you looking to leave your current job?"

Now this is a bit of a mean question. Everyone must have a reason for looking to work elsewhere, otherwise they'd be sat at their desk working and not attending a job interview elsewhere. Often this needn't be a problem, especially if the role you're applying for is in a different industry ("I'm looking for a change of direction") or a different part of the country ("I'm looking to relocate"). The trouble comes when you're looking for work in the same industry and in the same city - the main reasons people looking to move being a low salary, clash of personalities, a dislike of policy or jumping before they're pushed. Needless to say, none of these will impress your interviewer. The best way of countering this is to state your ambitions and point out that you're looking to move up the career ladder at a company with more scope for progression. This shows you're motivated and ambitious, and turns a potential negative into a glowing positive.

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?"

I've seen variants of this where the question is 3, 5 or 10 years time but the point of it is always the same: to scope out your ambitions. If the role has an expected path of progression, then suggesting that you hope to impress them enough to progress upwards in the company will not only state your ambitions clearly, but will express your loyalty by stating you can see yourself here for the long haul.

If the role seems to show less progression and they're asking the question to ensure you won't abandon ship after 6 months, then you can play it safe in another way: "Well, in 5 years I'd like to be managing a team, but it's entirely possible that I will enjoy this role enough to be doing something similar". Just make sure you mention a career thematically linked - the interviewer doesn't want to hear "I want to be an astronaut" if they're hiring for the role of salesman!

"Why do you want to work here?"

Clue: The answer to this one isn't "I saw an advert and it pays well.

What the interviewer is looking for here is evidence you actually give a damn about the company that's hiring. It's actually a great opportunity, disguised as a tough interview question: if you've read up about the company (the internet is the best source for this) then you should be fine. Just make sure you can find a reason why the company's philosophy will be good for you. This is usually very easy, as company websites are written to sell them as benevolent employers at the forefront of their industry.

"Any questions?"

This is often a trick question in many ways, and isn't just the act of courtesy it can first seem. Even if the interviewer has asked it free of any ulterior motive, then it's still a great opportunity to display your enthusiasm once again. If you ask lots of questions about the company, and your rivals meekly reply "no", then you will come across as the enthusiastic candidate with initiative, while they will have failed to distinguish themselves. Make a mental note of any points you'd like them to elaborate on during the job interview and make sure to ask them at the end. If all else fails, the fall-back question of "when will I know" is always a banker.

As I said earlier, this list is far from exhaustive, but the areas the interviewers are looking to find out about you are covered here. If you keep in mind the kind of answers here, you should be prepared for all but the most vindictive interviewer - and I'll deal with how to answer their tough interview questions in my next article.

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About The Author, Gail Kenny


Gail Kenny is the managing director of Puregenie - a recruitment agency for online jobs in the travel industry. The site caters exclusively to talented individuals with skills and experience to succeed in the online environment.
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