What 6 common interview questions actually mean

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We give you advice on how to answer the six most common questions in an interview, so you win that job.

Interviews are an essential part of finding a job. The reason for an interview is so the company can solve a problem, plug a resource gap, or bring in useful knowledge.

Many of the common questions that are part of a job interview have an underlying meaning and reason for being asked. Understanding how to answer them could help you get the job.

Employers don’t expect to find candidates who tick every box, but a successful interview depends on how well you answer the questions.

Let’s take a look at some of the more challenging questions asked at interviews and get a better understanding of what the employer is really asking.

1. What are your strengths?

This seems like a straight forward question, but make sure your answer is relevant to the job. Employers want to hear about your employability skills such as communication, teamwork, resilience and self-management. Focusing on these is a good way to demonstrate you’re adaptable and have the set of transferable skills required.

Talk about your wider experience and skills – for example, if you’re the organiser of your netball team, tell them about it by using the S.T.A.R interview approach method:

  • S – Situation – what happened, what was the problem?
  • T – Task – what was the goal, what did you hope to achieve?
  • A – Action – what did you do to fix the problem, what steps did you take?
  • R – Result – what was the outcome?

Always use STAR examples to demonstrate your strengths. So instead of saying, “A real strength is problem solving,” add some context and include the situation, task, action and result.

Two cogs with teeth interwoven, one cog has strengths and one cog has weaknesses written on it.

Explaining clearly your strengths and weaknesses will impress the interviewer.

2. What are your weaknesses?

What an employer wants from this question is to know who you are, what motivates you, and what training you may need, so this is an ideal opportunity to turn negatives into positives.

Try to talk about a weakness in a positive way. For example, “I believe I would benefit from some upskilling or personal development in sales skills. I think they would be good skills to have in the role.” Talking about one weakness is enough, unless they ask for more examples.

3. Tell us a little about yourself

This is an opportunity for you to discuss your career background. Employers want to hear what work you’ve done previously and how you might fit into their business. Explain specifically what your experience is, what type of work you’ve done, and what your best achievements are.

For example, “At my role with XYZ company I was responsible for all sales. One of my successes was selling $5,000 of the company’s product in one day.”

4. Why do you want to work here?

The interviewers will expect a well prepared answer for this question. They’re looking for you to show commitment to their company and demonstrate you’re genuinely interested in the role. Avoid talking about pay rates and anything negative such as not liking your current job and employer. Make sure you highlight the benefits they would receive by hiring you.

Possible answers:

  • I like the work that your company has done on the XYZ project, and I believe my experience would benefit similar projects in the future.
  • Your company’s objectives are similar to my own personal and professional values.
  • My work at XYZ company was great experience for this role, and I believe I can bring a lot to it, as well as learning on the job and increasing my skills.
  • I am looking to progress in my career and this organisation is one I believe I can learn and upskill in.

5. Why are you leaving your current position?

This is a question you need to answer carefully. Think about why you’re leaving your current role and make these reasons the focus of your answer.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Do I want a more challenging role?
  • Is the company direction wrong for me?
  • Do I really want to work for this new company?
  • Am I ready for more opportunities?
  • Do I want to go into a more specific field?

Don’t make negative comments about your current employer. This is an opportunity to talk positively about what you liked about your role and any areas where you think you could develop or improve.

For example: “It’s been a really good experience and I will be sad to leave. However, I believe it’s time for me to move forward in my career and this new role would be a great opportunity.”

6. Do you have any questions for us?

Always have some questions to ask a potential employer. This is also your chance to find out if they may have doubts about you and to explain yourself.

Possible questions:

  • What is the culture like at the organisation?
  • What do you (the members of the interview panel) enjoy about working here?
  • What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
  • What are the biggest challenges and opportunities within the role?
  • What does a normal day in the role look like?
  • Do you have any reason to think that I couldn’t do the job?

Updated 31 Jul 2019