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Common job interview questions

There are a number of common job interview questions you can expect to be asked in a well designed interview.

Knowing what these typical interview questions are, and being able to confidently answer them are basic job interview skills that you'll need to master.

More importantly however, answer these common job interview questions with confidence and you'll reinforce the positive impression you have planned to make in the first few minutes of the interview.

Most interviews will contain some general exploratory questions. These will be in addition to a range of behavioural and situational questions that are likely to be asked.

Types of questions in interviews

Interviews for jobs in government positions and in corporate life tend to be highly structured.

This means that a variety of interview questions, AND interview techniques will be used in your interview.

Most well designed interviews will contain a mix of:

  • General exploratory questions - examples of such common job interview questions appear below
  • Behavioural questions - these are deeply probing questions designed to explore past approaches, contributions and achievements, with a focus on the 'how'
  • Situational questions - these can be either real or hypothetical situations you might encounter in the job you are applying for

It can be extremely difficult to anticipate and prepare answers for behavioural and situational questions.

There is however a high probability that you will be asked at least some of the common job interview questions that are featured on this web page.

10 of the most common job interview questions

Here are 10 of the most common job interview questions that form part of general exploratory questioning:

  1. Tell us a little about yourself
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  4. Why have you applied for this position?
  5. What do you know about us?
  6. Why did you leave your last job?
  7. Why should we hire you?
  8. What did you like and dislike most in your last position?
  9. What have been the most significant accomplishments in your career so far?
  10. What are the most important things to you in your life and your career?

How to answer common interview questions

When you understand why the employer is asking a question you'll be in a better position to give an answer that will makes a positive impression with the interviewers.

The golden rule for answering is always to find a way to present and promote:

  • Your capabilities
  • Your desire to be doing this type of job, and
  • That you will be a good fit their their organisation and/or team in which you'll be working.

Let's look at the first 5 the common job interview questions and why they are asked. To help you to extend your job interview skills we've also included some suggestions for answering.

Question 1: Tell us a little about yourself

This is very often the first question asked in an interview. This is one of those typical interview questions designed to relax you and ease you into the interview. Think of it as a discussion starter.

Important job interview advice

Don't underestimate the importance of how you answer this question. The interviewers are still forming first impressions about you. This is your opportunity to give a strong positioning statement.

Practice, practice, practice giving your answer to this question - particularly on things like maintaining eye contact and speaking in a confident and enthusiastic way about who you are the professional.

Remember it's not just what you say, it's also how you say it!

Aim to give a 60-90 second answer which might include:

  • A word or two which describe your functional expertise, expertise important to this job - is there some label you can give yourself? e.g. I'm a logistics specialist.
  • Some of your strengths - mention two or three of your greater strengths, especially those which have appeared in the selection criteria.
  • How your career has evolved - explain some of the key steps in your career, try to give the impression that you have been working to a plan, that you know what you want in terms of your career direction.
  • Why you are now applying for this position - bring your answer to a close by briefly describing the ideal next steps and environment you are now seeking in your career.

Question 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses

This is often a two part question. First you might be asked to describe your strengths, then surely as night follows day, the next question will be "so what are your weaknesses?"

There are many reasons for this question. Employers can conclude from your answer how self aware you might be. This is especially important in relation to talking about your weaknesses.

The interview panel will certainly want to confirm that your strengths are closely related to their selection criteria.....so make sure that the skills, knowledge and experience you claim as being your strengths matches what they are seeking.

In terms of answering the question about your strengths, here is some job interview advice:

  • Have a least 2 or 3 examples from your past work, or life, that demonstrate how you have successfully applied your skills.
  • As you nominate a skill provide an example - "I have excellent planning and organising skills. In my present job my customers are relying on me to meet the deadlines that I have promised. This means I have to organise people, tools and material to be at a certain place and on time, otherwise it could cost my customers a lot of money.
  • Where possible try to explain the relevance of a particular skill to the job you are applying for - use the words "which means" to do this. For example - "I have well developed interpersonal skills which means I'm able to easily and quickly develop good working relationships with people. I think you'll find that I'll fit into your team pretty quickly." This is called benefit selling.

How do you explain your weaknesses I hear you ask?

The golden rule is..... never to admit to a weakness that might disqualify you for the position. For example if the selection criteria requires that you be an excellent planner and organiser, it wouldn't be very helpful to your cause if you admitted that you're not very organised.

More important job interview advice

Never suggest that you don't have any weaknesses.

Everyone has them, and employers want people who know what their weaknesses are.

There are a couple of schools of thought about the weaknesses question. One is to choose a weakness that can also be viewed as a strength.

For example, you might claim that you are something of a perfectionist with a tendency to fuss over details until you get it exactly right. This trait of course can be seen by some as a good thing. Experts say however that this type of response is losing favour with interview panels.

A better approach is recommended.....Nominate a weakness and explain how you have learned to manage it.

For example - you might explain that you have difficulty in dealing with conflict. Your explanation about how you have learned to deal with conflict might be "I've learned to tell myself not to take things personally, rather to focus on what the problem is and what can be done to fix it.

Question 3: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Many people dread this question, mainly because they haven't though this far ahead, or they literally don't know.

This question isn't necessarily to find out how ambitious you might be. Rather, it's more to do with the interviewers assessing your fit with the organisation.

The answer you give will be determined by your understanding of the type of organisation and environment of your prospective future employer. For example, is the organisation sufficiently large to accommodate progression into higher positions?

Being interviewed for a job in a small to medium sized organisation? If you indicate that you are highly ambitious, and will be actively working towards a promotion in the organisation it isn't likely that you'll be a good fit. Why?.......because the organisation probably won't have the scope to meet your needs for promotion, increasing the chances that you won't stick around for very long.

Job interview advice

Here's one suggestion for a 'safe' answer to this typical interview question - "Where I see myself in the next 5 years is working in a position where I can use my skills and knowledge, that I'm enjoying my work, knowing that I'm making a valuable contribution to the organisation.

Why is this a safe answer?

The definition of a motivated and satisfied worker is one who is doing work that they love and who is getting sufficient feedback that what they are doing is valued. This answer covers those bases!

Question 4: Why have you applied for this position?

This is one of those common job interview questions which explores both your motivation and potential fit with the organisation.

You might explain your motivation or fit as follows:

  • You're seeking new challenges
  • This role is an area where you have particular expertise to offer
  • This role is close match with key areas of your professional interest and capabilities
  • You're looking to join an organisation whose values for.....match your own values
  • You're passionate about the product or service they are delivering and want to be in on the action

Question 5: What do you know about us?

The last of the common job interview questions we'll cover on this page explores both your motivation and fit. You'd be surprised how many interview candidates aren't prepared for this question and answer "I don't know very much."

The first point here is to at least meet the expectation of the interviewers that you at least have done some homework - that you've taken the trouble to find out a few things about the organisation.

Not being able to give an answer to this question basically indicates that you don't care who you work for, you just want a job, any job.

Some job candidates on the other hand can give comprehensive answers to this question......and they often get the job as a result. The quality of their answer communicates to the interviewers "I really want to work for your organisation, and I want THIS job!"

So what sort of information should you research to enable you to give a comprehensive answer? This page on job interview preparation will give you some ideas.

Summary
The 1st five common job interview questions

In most interviews there will be some exploratory questions - we've covered five of the 10 most common job interview questions and some suggested answers here.

Go to more common job interview questions for the suggestions about how to deal with the final 5 typical job interview questions.

As you will have seen job interview questions and answers aren't just about the skills and knowledge you are bringing to the job.

Interviewers will want to know why you want the job, why you want to work with their organisation, and investigate if you are likely to be a good fit.

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