Although it’s hard to predict exactly what you’ll be asked at a job interview, thinking ahead about likely questions and the answers you might give is a practical way to focus your thinking about how your skills and interests match a specific role. Here are some typical interview questions employers might use to find out about:

  • you
  • your career plans
  • your strengths and weaknesses
  • your academic history
  • your previous employment
  • your interview preparation
  • your industry knowledge.

Interview questions about you

Tell me about yourself.

This is not an invitation to tell your life story but it does give you a chance to introduce yourself. If asked, it will be at the beginning of the interview. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about, so try asking the interviewer if there is something they would like you to focus on. If their response doesn’t help, think about the key aspects of your application. A snapshot is usually sufficient—they will follow up if they want to know more.

What are the most important considerations for you in choosing a job?

This is about your values (e.g. money, location of workplace, colleagues, challenge, knowledge). Be prepared to explain why you value these things.

What motivates you?

This is also about values. Give an example if you can.

Is honesty always the best policy?

Explain why it is, or in which situations it is not the best policy. Be careful—it isn’t appropriate if it involves giving feedback that the other person can do nothing about and/or which is potentially hurtful.

What types of people / situations do you find difficult?

Give an example. Show how you cope with these people or situations so that the outcome is positive.

What types of people do you prefer to work with?

Identify positive qualities. Give examples from people you know if you can.

Do you consider yourself a risk taker?

The answer to this question may depend on the job you’re going for! Identify the range of risks and the situations in which you would be prepared to take them. Reassure the interviewer that you would always consider the consequences and wouldn’t take risks that would compromise the safety of others.

What hobbies/interests do you have? Why did you choose them?

Show enthusiasm and think about the image you are presenting. Do your interests reflect a balanced lifestyle?

How would your friends describe you?

This is the time to talk about your personal qualities. Don’t be shy!

How would your previous managers describe you?

Talk about your strengths, work ethic, personal qualities and so on. Remember that your claims may be checked with a previous manager if they are one of your referees.

Who do you admire most? Why?

The person you choose doesn’t have to be famous but they do have to have positive qualities.

Do you prefer to work alone or with others?

Demonstrate your ability to work both independently and in a team. If you have a preference for one or the other, explain why but be aware of the requirements of the position you’re applying for.

What does teamwork mean to you?

This is about being able to see the value of a team working together to achieve a common goal. An example of a successful team (either a well-known one or one that you have been in) would be useful to illustrate the qualities that are important in successful teams.

Who is the customer?

Don’t forget the other people within the organisation – the internal customers.

Interview questions about your career plans

What have been the most important events (or who have been the most important people) in your career development?

Don’t forget to explain why they were important to you.

What do you hope to be doing in five years’ time?

Show that you have thought about this and have a plan. No one is going to hold you to this, but the employer does want to know that you have looked ahead and have a direction in mind. You don’t need to name a specific job but do think about the skills and knowledge you would like to have acquired in five years’ time. Consider the opportunities for growth in your field or future challenges facing the sector. Do these affect your plans?

What other jobs have you applied for?

Be honest. It’s unlikely that you will apply for only one job (and it would probably be considered short-sighted if you did). Show a commitment to your profession and some consistency in the types of jobs that you have applied for while reinforcing your particular interest in the organisation that is interviewing you.

Interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses

What are your strengths?

Although many people feel self-conscious talking about their strengths, you must be prepared for this question. You are not boasting! The employer needs to know the skills, knowledge and personal qualities that you’ll bring to the job and you’ll need to provide evidence for your claims. Give an example of when you have demonstrated a particular skill. Don’t be frightened to let the employer know that you are enthusiastic and have values that will be positive in the workplace.

Why should we employ you rather than someone else?

This is really asking the same thing as the previous question. Expand on what you have said in your resumé. Relate your strengths to the requirements of the position.

Under what conditions do you produce your best results?

Here’s a chance to focus on your strengths and illustrate that you know what motivates you.

What are your weaknesses?

We do all have weaknesses – the trick is to use as your example a weakness that you are working on. For example, you might say, ‘I have tended in the past to get flustered when under pressure and I understand that in this position I will have to work to tight deadlines. So, what I’ve done over the past year is to practise prioritising what I have to do and breaking tasks into smaller chunks. I’ve found that’s really helped so I feel much more in control now and rarely get as stressed as I used to.’ Always end your answers on a positive note; the word ‘but’ can be very useful! Avoid using clichés like ‘I’m a perfectionist’.

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

What has been the most useful criticism you have ever received?

These two questions are also about your weaknesses. See the hints above.

What’s your greatest achievement so far?

What’s the thing that you are proudest of?

Use questions such as these as an opportunity to reinforce your strengths or personal qualities and to let the employer know what is important to you. You can use an achievement from any aspect of your life – school, uni, work, extracurricular activities.

Interview questions about your academic history

Why did you choose to study……?

This is definitely not the time say that you only chose this course  or field because you didn’t get into your first preference. Be positive. Your answer will tell the interviewer something about you, your interests and your motivation. Show that you have a realistic idea of the industry or profession that you wish to enter.

What subjects have you enjoyed most/least?

Be honest and enthusiastic. End your answer on a positive note (even if you’re  talking about your least favourite subject).

How satisfied are you with your results so far?

Is your academic performance any indication of how you will perform in this job?

These two questions give you a chance to explain any poor marks and to highlight any excellent results and other achievements.

Interview questions about your previous employment

How is your previous work experience relevant to this position?

How has your past experience prepared you for this job?

Don’t worry if (on the surface) the positions appear unrelated. Draw on the skills that you have demonstrated in other positions. Illustrate how they could be used in this position.

What job have you enjoyed most/least? Why?

The interviewer is trying to find out if you are compatible with the organisation. Even if you hated a past job never criticise a previous employer! Focus on what you liked and play down what you didn’t like. Highlight what you learned and the skills you acquired.

What type of manager would you most like to work for?

This question allows you to describe the qualities that you respond best to. Let the interviewer know that you appreciate being given responsibility and receiving constructive feedback. You may also want to emphasise approachability so that you will feel comfortable seeking help. This indicates a willingness to learn.

Interview questions about your preparation and knowledge

Why do you want to work for this organisation?

What do you know about our organisation?

These two questions give you a chance to show that you’ve done your homework and have researched the organisation thoroughly. Identify the company’s key attributes as you see them and highlight the connections between this environment and your own values.

Why does this job appeal to you?

Show that you understand the requirements of the job. Be specific about why you are really enthusiastic about the position, its challenges and opportunities to use and build on your skills and knowledge.

What do you think it takes to be successful in this field?

Use this question to demonstrate your background knowledge and to explain how the skills you would bring are relevant to success in the field.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing our industry/profession?

This is about your knowledge of the field you’re hoping to enter and another chance to show you’ve done your homework.