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5 Common (and tricky!) Interview Questions

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There are 5 common interview questions that we regularly see catching people out. Here are our thoughts on the thinking behind these questions and how best to construct your answers.


Question 1 - “Tell me about yourself…”

What the interview is really asking… “How do your skills and experiences relate to this job?”

Think about the key work experience, qualifications or training you have had that best illustrate your suitability for this role, and this company in particular. It is also worth covering your personality fit. What do you know about this company? Is it a friendly place? A super professional place? Find a way of illustrating how you will fit in well there. If it is a sales job that you are interviewing for, this sort of question represents a real opportunity to demonstrate your skills by ‘selling yourself’ so don’t be shy!


Question 2 – “Why do you want to work for this company?”

What the interviewer is really asking… “How serious is this person? Do they really want to work here?”

This is where you need to demonstrate that you and this company/job are ideal for each other. A hiring manager won’t offer you the role if he or she is unsure of why you want to work there, or lacks confidence in the fact that you are seriously keen. A good interviewer will have one eye on finding loyal employees as well as highly-skilled employees. If you fail to get this message across, the interviewer may be concerned that you would leave the company all too soon.

This is where you need to align yourself with this company, perhaps in terms of their reputation or their cultural values. Give the interviewer something that will reassure them that you will be a good fit.


Question 3 – “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

What the interviewer is really asking… “Does this person fit with our long terms plans? Does this person even know where they want to get to?”

First things first… with this question you need to give the interviewer the impression that you have thought a lot about your future career, so stay away from the ‘ultra-flexible’ responses. Equally, don’t say that you don’t have any plans. It is equally important to remember that this is a business question and they are unlikely to be referring to your personal life, unless they have made this clear to you.

Most interviewers will want to see some ambition, though not so much that they consider you to be unrealistic. But most importantly, what you need to do is show that your goals are a match to this job.


Question 4 – “What’s your greatest weakness?”

What the interviewer is really asking… “How self-aware are you, and are you prepared to be genuine and honest with your employer?”

Don’t be tempted to use the many cliché answers that you will read, such as “I’m a perfectionist, which sometimes results in me working too hard” or “I care too much about my work”. All this will show is that you have pre-planned this to be the technically best answer, rather than the truth. Interviewers want to see that people are prepared to be honest. This will give them the confidence that you will be open to feedback and positive criticism and be someone that they can work with going forward.

Go with something real. Perhaps try and think of something that you have been told you need to improve on in the past. This could be absolutely anything. But follow it up with the sentiment that you have already improved on this and are continuing to do so.

We are all human and everyone has a weakness. There should be no reason to fear this question. Just stay away from the ‘deal-breaker’ answers such as “I can be confrontational”, or “I am often late” etc.


Question 5 – “What motivates you?”

What the interviewer is really asking… “Are you naturally hard-working?”

The best employees are naturally highly-motivated and need no-one else but themselves to stay motivated. Of course, a hiring manager will be pleased to learn that you can be motivated by others as well, perhaps via setting goals or targets, or offering rewards etc.

The best responses involve references to high performance and success. For example… “I find being part of a high performing team to be really motivating, especially when I know that I have made a large contribution to the success of that team. Watching the results come in after your hard work only makes you want to do more.” You answer will be even stronger if you can follow this up with an example. 

Written by Guy Johnston

Lead Consultant - Consulting Engineering Division

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