Interview questions and answers: 9 of the most common job interview questions and how to answer - by experts

If you’re worrying about struggling with job interview questions, these recruitment pros have shared their best strategies
  • We asked recruitment professionals for their guidance on effectively answering the most common job interview questions
  • They gave us their strategies for addressing questions about strengths, weaknesses, achievements, and career motivations
  • They also shared techniques for structuring your answers, highlighting your achievements and demonstrating how you align with company values
  • Preparation is key, including researching the company and practising your responses
  • Other tips include discussing work failures and conflicts in a positive light

Job interviews are pivotal moments in a person’s career journey, opportunities to showcase your skills, experience and personality to potential employers.

That means that the task of navigating the questions posed becomes daunting for even the most seasoned professionals.

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But while the prospect of an interview can be intimidating, preparation and understanding of common questions can significantly enhance your confidence and performance.

We reached out to recruitment and job interview experts across diverse fields, asking them about the most common job interview questions, and how applicants can answer them effectively.

They responded with insights and expertise, providing invaluable guidance from articulating your strengths and weaknesses, to demonstrating leadership and problem-solving skills.

Each question offers an opportunity to showcase your suitability for the role. Here is everything you need to know...

(Photo: Pexels)(Photo: Pexels)
(Photo: Pexels) | Pexels

‘Tell me about a failure/challenge/conflict at work’

James Dooley, entrepreneur and founder of James Dooley

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“The ‘tell me about a failure’ question is tricky because nobody likes discussing this. My advice is to pick a real example you've learned from and explain how it made you better. Focus on what you gained, not who was to blame. Employers want self-aware candidates.

“On stress questions, I recommend telling stories. For instance, ‘One busy season, our biggest client requested an emergency project. I felt overwhelmed but broke it into steps, delegated wisely, and we succeeded despite the crunch.’ Examples show your ability under pressure.”

‘Tell me about yourself’

Candice Baker, HR and People Expert at caba

“The ‘tell me about yourself’ question is most probably the one interview question we all dread being asked. But unfortunately, it will inevitably crop up at some point during the recruitment process.

“The best way to tackle this key question and to help you think of how to reduce stress is to prepare for it – and the most effective way of doing that is to perfect your elevator pitch. They’re an executive summary, 60 seconds or fewer, that you can use to sell yourself.

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“Elevator pitches are one of the most simple, yet powerful tools for any professional. The most effective pitches answer the following three questions: who are you? What do you do? What do you want?

“The overall aim is to create an interesting, memorable and succinct pitch that clearly explains what makes you unique and how you can add value. You should round off your pitch by saying what you would like the next step to be.

“Alternatively, you can use your call to action to reinforce the fact you’ve fully answered a question. If you are ending with a next step suggestion, keep it simple.

“For example: ‘I’d love to be able to progress to the next interview stage’ or ‘I could give you a quick presentation that shows my understanding of X, Y, Z.’”

Aidan Cramer, founder and CEO at AIApply

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“This type of question offers you a chance to go through some of the most relevant points of your CV and also serves as an icebreaker to help you open up. How you answer this question could help the interviewer figure out what they’ll ask next.

“Give a concise overview of your employment history and achievements including how they relate to the job you’re applying for and conclude with why you have specifically decided to apply for the role you have.

“Where possible, try to corroborate any claims you make with some evidence to really impress the interviewer.”

‘What are your strengths/weaknesses?’

Ed Johnson, CEO and co-founder of PushFar

“It can be difficult sometimes to come up with strengths on your own, but this question (or a version of) could very well come up in your interview. Try not to be vague, or play your skill sets down, it’s important to be confident in the answer you give.

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“Common strengths could be adaptability, leadership or organisation. If you struggle to come up with something, why not ask people who know you well! When delivering your answer, try to give some reasoning or an example of your strength in action.

[On ‘what are your weaknesses?’] “This question isn’t here to catch you out, interviewers just want honesty. The best course of action however is to provide something you’re working on.

“For example, if you find public speaking nerve wracking, but you’ve enrolled in a course to work on this, it shows active development.

“Another course of action could be to present your weakness as a strength – perhaps you’re too detail oriented and sometimes it can take you a little longer to get the job done.”

Tom Johnson, founder and Director of the Hernshead Group

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“This is always a tricky one to answer as no one likes admitting they have a weakness. The best way to answer this question is to give an honest weakness but explain how it can sometimes be of benefit to you in the workplace.

“This is also a time to discuss what you have done to work on that weakness. For example, ‘sometimes I focus too much on the details when working on a project.

“’I am working to address this and to be less detail-focused, however, sometimes this can offer a real advantage in allowing me to spot mistakes or improvements.’”

‘What is your greatest achievement?’

Ed Johnson, CEO and co-founder of PushFar

“This is your moment to show off so make sure you’re prepared ahead of time. This question could have you kicking yourself if something incredible pops into your head as you leave the room!

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“Prepare a couple of different stories which are both interesting and relevant to the position you’re applying for and remember to add detail. Share what you did, why you did it and the outcomes to really make the story shine.”

‘What makes you unique?’

Aidan Cramer, founder and CEO at AIApply

“Your interviewer wants to know why you’re the best candidate for the role out of all the other applicants. They’ll probably have a lot of people to interview and just want to know why they should hire you over everyone else.

“This is your chance to stand out and shine, especially if everyone else applying has similar career credentials to you. The easiest place to start is the advertised job description - specifically anything related to the type of person they are looking to hire.

“Look at what they need or are looking for and then tailor your answer specifically. You could even get outside input - ask a colleague, close friend or family member what they think makes you stand out.

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“Now gather your evidence - if you are the one that people often come to for help, outline a scenario when this has happened and how you helped someone.

“Always keep your answers concise and to the point, they don’t want a list of strengths - they just want to know what makes you stand out. An example could be - ‘I’m an incredibly organised person, and as a result, I’ve never missed a deadline.’”

‘What salary are you looking for?’

Tom Johnson, founder and Director of the Hernshead Group

“Make sure prior to the interview, you’re aware of the salary and make note if you have already discussed your desired salary with the company or recruiter. Ensure this answer is consistent.

“There is nothing worse as an employer than someone interested in a job at ‘X’ salary and in the interview declares they actually want ‘Y’ salary instead.”

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‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’

James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman and CEO at Tenth Revolution Group

“Don’t be too clinical with this. Even if you do have a clear plan or an intended trajectory for your career, you could risk coming across as too ‘careerist’ and therefore not genuinely interested in the role that’s potentially in front of you.

“So try to answer this more holistically. Rather than referring to a specific role or salary you have in mind, for example, talk about things like work-life balance or the types of projects you’d like to be involved in at that stage of your career.”

‘Why are you leaving your current role?’

Ed Johnson, CEO and co-founder of PushFar

“Don’t fall into a trap here of saying overtly negative things about your current employer, it’s important to be balanced and provide reasons for your decision.

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“For example, do you feel like your current position isn’t challenging enough or there isn’t an opportunity to utilise your skill sets to their full potential?

“When preparing for this question, consider how the job you’re applying for differs from your current role, and the aspects that attracted you to it.”

Tom Johnson, founder and Director of the Hernshead Group

“Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to speak badly of your current/previous employer. Be honest but respectful.

“Explain that you have enjoyed your time and the people you work with, but you are now looking for something closer to home, with more flexibility, or to offer you career progression.”

‘Why do you want to work for this company?’

Aidan Cramer, founder and CEO at AIApply

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This is an opportunity for the interviewer to find out if you’ve done your research on the company. It’s easy to prepare for this question but a lot of people can easily slip up.

“Go on the company’s website and social media - learn about its missions, history and culture and highlight what you liked about it. Be specific to show it wasn’t a quick scan and highlight how you’d be a great fit.

“You could explain how the company’s missions or goals align with your own and then back it up with some evidence.

“For example, you could say, ‘I noticed that your company does a lot of work to help those most in need in the community. I would love to be part of a company that is actively trying to make things better.’”

James Dooley, entrepreneur and founder of James Dooley

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“Some ask ‘Why this company?’ Researching us isn't enough - relate our work to your passions. One applicant discussed our focus on diversity as something driving her since college. Guess what? She got hired!”

Ed Johnson, CEO and co-founder of PushFar

“This question should be fairly straightforward, as you applied for the role! However, don’t get complacent and underprepare. Answers such as I saw you had an open role, or I want a better salary, won’t stand out positively.

“Do some research into the company, and draw on any interesting company benefits, aspects of the culture, or any stand out work they’ve done in their industry that caught your eye.”

Tom Johnson, founder and Director of the Hernshead Group

“Ideally, you’ll have done your research before the interview surrounding the company and the job description. You should be able to talk about the successes the company has had, the projects it is working on, and why you’d like to be a part of it.

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“You should also explain how your qualities and experience will benefit and help the company. Most important is the enthusiasm you show in your answer. How you answer this question is often more important than what you say.”

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