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The most common interview questions - and how to answer them

by Emily Wilkinson at CY Partners

There’s no denying it – interviews are daunting. As the majority of questions don't have a definite right or wrong answer, it can be difficult to know if you have given the response that the interviewer is looking for.

But practice makes perfect. If you are an old hand at interviews, you will know that there are some common questions that you can generally expect to be asked time and time again – so here are a few top tips on how to answer these common questions.

Always read the job description prior to the interview. Make a list of all of the required and desirable skills. It is then a good idea to think of an example of a time that you have performed / developed / demonstrated this skill in a professional context. It is far more impressive to answer questions with an example, rather than just a statement.

Think about your answer from your potential employer’s perspective. An example of how great you are, rather than a statement, demonstrates that you a) have the experience and ability in performing this skill in a real-life context and b) have communication skills and similar life experience to get along well with the team in the office.

Depending on your experience level, this can be in the context of school, university, volunteering or part-time work, but preferably should be from an experience at work if you have been employed for a number of years.

Preparing some good versatile examples of the required skills from the job description prior to the interview will ensure that you give some really strong answers, and that you aren't stumbling over your words during the interivew.

With this advice in mind, how would you go about answering some of these really common interview questions:

“Tell Me A Bit About Yourself”

Often this question is used to start the interview off, but don’t let its broad nature scare you. It actually puts you in control. Don’t waste your first five minutes rambling on about what you had for dinner last night. Surprise your interviewer with examples of a few interesting things you’ve done in your personal and professional life to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded and interesting candidate. If possible, try and think of a few skills and experiences that aren’t on your CV – your potential employer will already be aware of these particular skills and experience, and the interivew is your oppurtunity to show your potential employer that you have that little bit extra.

“The ‘biggest’ question”

This question can range from “what is your biggest strength?” to “what do you think has been your biggest failure?”

Whilst everyone would prefer the more positive of the ‘biggest’ questions, try not to let a more negative question throw you. Admitting your biggest failure or biggest weakness might feel like the opposite of what you are supposed to do in an interview – but try and think about what the question is really asking you. This is a chance for you to show that you are a resilient and optimistic candidate that has the ability to turn a negative into a positive in a stressful situation. Everybody has made mistakes that they have had to learn from and your potential employer is asking to see that you have this ability. As much as you may want to say “I have no weaknesses” this answer will do more harm than good – your potential employer knows that not everybody is perfect.

“Tell me about a time when you…”

The skills-based question does what it says on the tin. Regardless if this question asks for an example of a time when you had to act as a leader, or handled a conflict, give two or three examples in different situations that really demonstrate your competency.

Even though you’ll be nervous, try to give your answer confidently and clearly. You might give the perfect experience to demonstrate, for example, that you have good communicaton skills, but you don’t want to then undermine this by ending your answer with “and … erm … yeah.”

“What do you know about the company”

All in all this question is asking "have you done your research?" Anybody can just learn and recite the company policy from their website. Your employer isn’t looking for you to be an expert but wants to see that you are as passionate about the company as you are for the position.

A good approach to take is to think: “from my research, I have learnt X, Y and Z about your company. I was really impressed by X, and have some experience in Y, but I am really interested to develop my understanding of Z in a bit more depth.”

“Out of all of the other candidates, why should we hire you?”

You may have already answered this question in a round-about way through the “what are your biggest strengths” and the “tell me a bit about yourself” question. A bit of a different approach you can take to this question is to show your interest in the company.

Say that from what you’ve heard so far in the interview, they are looking for a candidate that can do A, B and C, and explain (with examples) how and why you not only have A, B and C, but D, E and F as well.

Knock their socks off.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

This is your opportunity to fill in any blanks that you may have about the role. It’s generally advised not to discuss salary at this stage, but do feel free to ask questions about the rest of the recruitment process, or your potential employers own progression within the interview. If you’re brave, attempt to ask of their opinion on your own interview technique. Always try to ask atleast one question. A good example would be to ask about a topic that has come up in the interview that you wish to discuss in more depth. This shows that you were really engaged in the discussion and keen to learn more about the potential role.

If you have any further questions, we would be happy to provide you with further CV or interview advice - 0191 477 4733, or at www.cypartners.co.uk. Good Luck!

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