Here’s how to best answer 11 of the most common interview questions

Jobs interviews can be intimidating for most people (Photo: Shutterstock)

Interviewing for a job can always be tricky. Sometimes you feel like you aced it, only to get the dreaded rejection email, or sometimes you feel like you can’t quite find your footing in a face-to-face interview.

So whether you hope to change careers, or are even looking for your first role, these are the most commonly asked questions in job interviews - and advice on how to answer them from recruitment experts at Total Jobs, Indeed and Monster.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

‘Tell me about yourself’

Most employers will kick off an interview by asking this question, but, because it’s so open ended, people can find themselves struggling to answer.

The interviewer will have already gained an impression of you based on your CV or application, so what you should be looking to do is quickly get across the key points from your CV, career history and skillset that’s relevant to the job.

Try not to ramble on or go too in-depth, as you’ll be able to discuss things more comprehensively as the interview goes on. Because you know this question, or something similar to it, is going to crop up, it means you can prepare for it - try writing down your answer and memorising it, keeping it fairly concise.

‘Why do you want to work for us?’

The main thing about this question is that interviewers are looking to uncover your motivations behind applying - are you interested in the salary, is this role simply a stepping stone in your career, are you chasing a job title?

To answer this question well, you’ll need to do your research beforehand and find out for yourself what makes you genuinely interested in the job - for example, the technology the company uses, their techniques, how they operate in their particular field, and so on.

The main thing to showcase when answering this question is enthusiasm.

‘What are your strengths?’

Of course employers want to know what strengths you have to offer, so make sure you’ve read the job description and person specification carefully so you can tailor your answer to highlight key points that fit the role.

It’s likely that this question, or a similar question, will pop up during the interview, which means you have time to prepare.

As well as tailoring your strengths to details in the job advert, make sure you have examples that can back up your statements.

‘What are your weaknesses?’

When employers ask about your strengths, they will invariably ask about your weaknesses as well, which is the question that people struggle with.

You can’t pretend that you have no weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses and denying that could be a red flag to an employer, as it signals that you might be unwilling to learn new things or are lacking in self-awareness.

When discussing your weakness, think about something that you’re actively working on and then tell your interviewer what approach you’re taking to turn your weakness into a strength.

‘Why are you leaving your current job?’

If you’re currently employed and looking for a new job, your interviewer might be interested in finding out why you’re leaving your current position.

If you’re leaving your current job because conflict or any other negative reason, it might be tempting to complain about your current job - however, this is a red flag to employers and something you definitely shouldn’t do.

Instead of focusing on negative aspects of your current position, focus on the future and how the job you’re interviewing for would be a better fit for you.

‘Why is there a gap in your work history?’

If you’re interviewing for a job and are not currently in work, this question could pop up. Gaps in work history happen for a number of reasons and can’t always be avoided, but you can prepare for this question.

The key thing to remember is that, generally speaking, the interviewer isn’t looking to catch you out or intentionally trip you up - they just want to know the facts.

If you can, talk about the positive aspects of your time away from work - any new skills you learned or any volunteer experience you undertook.

Alternatively, if your time off work was to do with personal issues, Stefan Larsen, senior HR business partner at Total Jobs, says you’re well within your rights to say, “I was dealing with something personal and decided to take a break from the workplace to allow me to focus on getting that resolved as quickly as possible. This enabled me to move on.”

‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’

Planning so far ahead into the future can be difficult, but it’s important for employers to know where this position fits into your long term goals. If you have no goals for the future, it might come across badly for employers, as it could seem like you don’t have ambition or won’t be willing to grow within the company.

Instead of saying anything like specific job titles, talk about your goals, such as:

  • “I want to be managing my own team.”
  • “I want to be leading a project.”
  • “I want to be an expert in the field.”

‘Talk about a difficult work situation and how you overcame it’

Similarly to the question about why you’re leaving your current job, this question might tempt you to complain about aspects of your job, such as your customers, your team or your boss.

What this question does is give you an opportunity to showcase your problem solving skills.

The key here is “show, don’t tell”, so instead of simply telling them about a situation, show the interviewer how you came up with a solution and the result of that solution.

‘If you were an animal, what would it be?’

During an interview, most candidates are prepared to talk about their work history, relevant skills and the role itself - so when interviewers throw in random questions like this one that seemingly have nothing to do with the job, that’s when you can find yourself stuck.

The key thing to remember with questions like this is that there’s no correct answer - interviewers just want to see how well you think on your feet, and your creativity.

Kathleen McLeary, HR manager at Blue Digital, told Total Jobs, “We want to see how you would react to an odd question. We are looking at your thought process and creativity. It doesn’t really matter which animal you choose, but it is how you explain the qualities and how it fits into the role.”

‘What are your salary expectations?’

It can be awkward discussing money sometimes, so this question might trip you up.

To best answer this question, you’ll need to do a bit of research beforehand - find out what the average salary is for the type of role you’re interviewing for and use that as a guide.

You could say something to the effect of, “My salary expectation is between £X and £X, as this is the average salary for someone working in this position in this industry and with my level experience, but I’m flexible.”

‘Do you have any questions for us?’

Again, when heading into an interview, candidates are prepared to answer questions and talk about themselves, so when an interviewer throws out this question at the end, it can catch you off guard.

Recruitment websites like Total Jobs, Indeed and Monster all give examples of questions you could ask at the end of your interview, such as:

  • “What do you love about working for this company?”
  • “What are some challenges that people typically face in this position?”
  • “Is there anything about my application that concerns you?”

Having a question prepared lets the interviewer gauge how serious you are about the position, as well as giving you the opportunity to showcase any skills or qualities that you think would be useful in the role that you haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.