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We all know that good preparation is the key to success at interview. One aspect of this is thinking through the type of questions you are likely to be asked and having a killer answer up your sleeve. To get you started, we have compiled a list of the top 10 most common questions asked at interview and some pointers on the kind of approach you could take to answer them.

1) Tell me about yourself

Here, your ability to think on your feet is being tested with a deliberately vague and open ended question. Simply outline several of your strong points and accomplishments and don’t be disconcerted if the interviewer remains silent when you pause. If you get really stuck think how your best friend would describe you! If you are relatively new to the job market, tell them about your educational achievements. Excellent grades, academic prizes or winning a scholarship are all good qualifications. Extra-curricular activities can also be selling points for some jobs. When you’ve run through your strong points, briefly sum them up then stop talking. If the interviewer continues to pause, stay silent and patiently wait for the next remark. He or she may be mulling over what you’ve said, or be testing your reaction to stress.

2) What qualifies you for this job?

Employers are looking for a fluent description of your background. To impress the interviewer with your quickness and intelligence memorise the key facts and dates on your CV, then prepare some success stories for each and drop them in casually as though they were spontaneous thoughts. Always make your opening line your most major achievement – it is often what makes the biggest impression.

3) Why do you want to work for this organisation?

Being unfamiliar with the organisation will spoil your chances with 75% of interviewers, according to one survey, so take this chance to show you have done your preparation and know the company inside and out. You will now have the chance to demonstrate that you’ve done your research, so reply mentioning all the positive things you have found out about the organisation and its sector etc. This means you’ll have an enjoyable work environment and stability of employment etc – everything that brings out the best in you.

4) Why do you wish to leave your present job?

Never say anything negative about your present employer and don’t mention money as a motivator either. The interviewer will reason that if you’re prepared to leave one organisation for money, you might leave his/her company if another waved a bigger pay cheque in front of you. The safest track to take is to indicate a desire for greater responsibility and challenge, or the opportunity to use talents you feel are under-used. Make sure your abilities are relevant.

5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Replying ‘in your chair’ is dangerous!

A few managers might be intrigued or amused but many will be annoyed by your arrogance or intimidated by the fact that you may be right. Mentioning any specific goal can be risky as it may not fit into the career path in that particular organisation, or may cause concern that you’ll be discontent until your goal is achieved. Instead, frame your reply along these lines:

I would hope that by then my hard work and enthusiasm would have led to increased recognition and responsibility within the organisation.

6. What sort of salary are you looking for?

When you’re talking about money, never describe your salary demands as what you actually need but rather as what the job is worth. Always give a range (e.g. £40,000 to £45,000). If you’re unsure of what the job should pay give your current salary and state “but money isn’t my motivation for changing jobs”. Since organisations use your current salary as a guide line as a basis of what to offer remember to include bonus, annual raises if you are about to receive one etc.

7. What are your weaknesses?

The best “weaknesses” are disguised as strengths, such as “I dislike not being challenged at work”. Another good approach is to mention a weakness that is irrelevent for the job or one that can be overcome with training. Try to keep these to one weakness, explaining why you think it is a weakness and what you are doing to overcome the problem – a well thought out strategy you have developed to deal with the issue will turn this potentially tricky question into a positive.

One common variation on this question is to ask about any problems or failures you’ve encountered in previous positions. In describing problems, pick ones you’ve solved and describe how you overcame it. Show yourself to be a good team player by crediting co-workers for all their contributions. To distance yourself from failure, pick one that occurred earlier in your career when you were still learning. Don’t blame others – simply explain how you analysed your mistake and learned from it.

8. What’s the worst problem you’ve ever faced?

Here the interviewer is offering you the two ways to trip yourself up:

  • First of all, the question doesn’t confine itself to the workplace, so there is temptation to reveal a personal problem. Don’t! Restrict yourself to employment matters only.
  • Second, you are being asked to reveal a weakness or error again. You must have a good response ready for this question, one which shows how well you reacted when everything depended on it.

Always show a problem you have solved and concentrate your answer on the solution not the problem.

9. What are your strengths?

Your answer should highlight the qualities that will help you succeed in this particular job. (Back up each point with something specific). Give examples and quantify how your strengths benefited your previous employers. You should also demonstrate reliability, and the ability to stick with a difficult task yet change courses rapidly when required.

10. How would you describe a typical day in your current job?

You are eager to look good but don’t make the common mistake of exaggerating your current position. Mentioning some of the routine tasks in your day adds realism to your description and show that you don’t neglect important details such as paperwork. Put yourself in the interviewer’s place as your answer. When you’ve been doing a job for years it becomes second nature to you, and you must be aware of all the tasks you undertake. You should spend a few days making notes of your activities at work to regain an outsider’s perspective. Try to show that you make good use of your time, that you plan before you begin your work and that you review your achievements at the end of it.

Author: Gill Buchanan is co-founder and director of Pure Resourcing Solutions, which specialises in permanent and temporary recruitment and retention solutions in the Accountancy, Financial Services, HR, Marketing and Office recruitment markets. Gill has gained over 20 years specialist recruitment expertise working in Sydney, Australia and in Cambridge.

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