How to ace frequently asked interview questions

It doesn't matter who you are or what position you're going for, attending a job interview can be nerve racking. The key to success is all in the preparation - being ready for some of the most frequently asked interview questions can be a game changer. In this blog, we break down the challenges of these questions and how to respond to them, so you can be better prepared and navigate the interview with confidence.

Job interview question - tell me about yourself

Why it’s challenging:

It’s a frustrating and uncomfortable question to many who find it difficult to give an accurate description of themselves that presents them in a good light and makes them an attractive choice as a candidate.  

How to answer:

This question is more about judging if you will fit in with the team, rather than your qualifications or skills. The key here is honesty; after all, if you are not in fact a good fit for the team, neither you nor the team you will be a part of will be happy for very long. You cannot fit a square peg in a round hole, and you shouldn’t lie about yourself just to get a job you may not be happy in.

 
Job interview question - why do you want to work here?

Another common question. Hiring managers want to understand your deeper motivations apart from financial gain. They want to know if you appreciate the company’s mission and culture and have looked into them. 

Why it’s challenging:

While it’s perfectly natural to value pay, hiring managers need to know if you have additional motivations which will make you successful in the long run. If you only value pay, it isn’t a good enough indication that you will be motivated to achieve excellence. 

How to answer:

Try to figure out what has made you want to complete tasks or go a good job in the past. Did you find satisfaction from doing good work? Did you enjoy the recognition that came along with it? Did you do it out of a sense of duty, or did you want to see your team and you succeed? At the end of the day, you’re going to lean one way or another, so all you need to do is figure out which way. 

 
Job interview question - what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Why it’s challenging:

It’s hard to take stock of yourself. It requires humility and the ability to introspect, qualities which are shown when you answer the question. If you can be honest about your weaknesses, it shows character and helps the hiring manager cater to your specific personality. You may be afraid of the consequences of showing your weaknesses, but a good manager will use them to shape your duties to suit you.  

How to answer:

Talking to confidants about yourself can lend perspective. It’s important to have a thick skin, and take any feedback objectively. You may learn something about yourself you never realised, but it’s better to be in the know instead of in the dark. When discussing your weaknesses, avoid character flaws. 

Your employer is interested in your ability to perform your job well, and so is only really interested in weaknesses in your skills or experience. That’s good news because you can work on both of those. Skills can be improved, and experience can be gained, so all you have to do is explain how you’re going to bring about these changes. 

 
Job interview question - can you describe a challenging situation you've faced at work?

Why it’s challenging:

Challenging situations bring out the best (or worst) in us. Relaying a previous challenging situation may show some of your greatest qualities, but also your worst. It’s never easy to talk about difficult situations you’ve faced, and even more difficult if you feel you could have performed better. 

How to answer:

Focus on the positives of the situation, keeping in mind that no one is perfect, and the hiring manager won’t expect you to be either. Even if you didn’t perform perfectly in whatever challenging situation, you were in, you would have had good moments or at least tried to overcome the challenge, inevitably learning something in the process. Reflect on your past situations; you may be surprised at how you grew from them. 

 
Job interview question - do you work well in a team?

Why it’s challenging: 

It can be difficult to judge if others think you work well in a team. You might think so, but objectively evaluating yourself is tough. 

How to answer:

Gaining insights from others you’ve worked with is helpful, especially managers who saw you in a team setting. Reflect on whether you take a leadership role when in a team setting or if you prefer sitting back a little. You may fit in, but do you contribute to the team’s success by taking the initiative? Or conversely, do you dominate social settings, discouraging everyone else in the process? Whatever your approach, chances are you aren’t so bad at working in teams you’re being kicked out of them, so you must be doing something right. Focus on what you do right and communicate this to the interviewer. 

Job interview question - where do you see yourself in five years?

Why it’s challenging:   

The future is always unpredictable, and your values shift over time. You may have a vague idea of where you want to be, but are not confident to lock something down and write your plans in stone.

How to answer:

Do the best you can to picture a future you are happy with, and try to leave room for flexibility. Do your best to communicate this future to the interviewer, and explain the logic behind your choices. For example, “I want to be in a management position in five years, because I’ve felt a taste of leadership and feel like I could really thrive as a leader".

Job interview question - why did you leave your previous job?

Why it’s challenging:

The reasons may be sensitive to you or others.  

How to answer:

Your reason may be as simple as “it was time for a change”, but sometimes it could be something a little less positive. Stay away from emotional language and stick to objective reasons. For example, instead of “my boss was a jerk”, reframe it to “my boss’s management style didn’t suit me”. It’s best to be upfront about your previous situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to go into elaborate detail. Just give the hiring manager an idea of what went down, and tell them what you learnt from the previous position.

 
Job interview question - do you work better independently or in a team?

Why it’s challenging:

You may find pros and cons in both settings. You inevitably will have to work in both settings in your life and you probably have some degree of skill in both, but you will also likely have a natural preference. If you claim you work better in a team, but you really prefer independent work, you may be placed in situations you aren’t comfortable in, and which are not conducive to allowing you to perform at your best. 

How to answer:

Try to figure out which you prefer by reflecting on past situations. Did you enjoy working on a team in the past, or did you just enjoy the individuals in the team? Are you comfortable by yourself, or do you find you crave a helping hand and someone to bounce ideas off of?

Also keep in mind the specific position you will be applying for. If you are applying for a position that mostly requires independent working, it probably isn’t the best idea to say you perform best in a team.

 
Job interview question - what motivates you?

Why it’s challenging:

Everyone is motivated by a paycheck, but they want a deeper reason too. What makes you want to do a good job? Do you take pride in your work, do you want to win awards, do you want to be a part of a successful team?

How to answer:

Figure out what you value. Do you enjoy doing really good work? Do you want to impress people? 

General Tips:

Practice your responses without sounding rehearsed. Display confidence without arrogance. Listen carefully to the questions and respond directly. Use positive language and incorporate company values. Optionally, mention non-work interests that reflect desired qualities.

Job interview question - Can you explain the gap in your resume?

Why it’s challenging:

To some employers, a gap in your resume indicates a lack of experience or shows that you aren’t up to date with the current industry. If you’ve had a year off, that’s a year of not knowing what’s going on in the industry. It’s one of the most infamous questions asked by interviewers, with many frustrated for being criticised for taking time off from work for an extended period of time. 

How to answer:

At the end of the day, interviewers want to know if the gap in your resume is indicative of an underlying problem. Ease their minds by explaining why you weren’t working at the time, and how you benefited from the time off. 

Professional women with contemplative stare into distance

Using the STAR method to answer questions

The STAR method (situation, task, action, result) is a technique for answering questions in an interview. The method gives you a format you can rely upon to answer questions with and tell a story to the interviewer. Here’s how you go about it:

1. Situation 

Explain the situation, setting the scene by explaining the people involved, when and where it occurred, and the objective.

2. Task

Explain how you were involved in the situation – what was required of you by the situation and the others involved. 

3. Action

Describe how you behaved in the situation. How did you meet the requirements laid on you? 

4. Result

How was the situation resolved? How did your actions contribute to the resolution?

Example:

“In my previous role, my old manager left and was replaced with a new one with a very different leadership style. Two of my colleagues resigned shortly after. After giving it one more month, I too decided to depart from the company. The new managerial style did not work for me personally, and so I decided to search for a company which could better make use of my skill set.”

 

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