The most important part of interview preparation is rehearsing your responses to common interview questions. Knowing in advance how you’ll frame your experiences, strengths and weaknesses can go a long way in calming down those interview nerves.
It may be tempting to memorise word-for-word your responses to these – some of which you’ll find below – but you should avoid it. Instead, memorise relevant details, stories, points, or career highlights that would address them and practice answering these questions with them in mind.
Common interview questions and how to answer them
- Tell me about yourself
- What attracted you to our company?
- Tell me about your strengths.
- Tell me about your weaknesses.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Tell me about a time you encountered a business challenge. How did you overcome it?
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you handle it?
- How do you juggle high-priority competing projects?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker or a supervisor. What did you do about it?
- Why should we hire you?
- Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult client. How did you handle it?
- Why are you interested in working here?
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Do you have any questions for me?
1. Tell me about yourself
This is a classic interview opener. It’s deliberately broad, so it’s easy to go off on tangents and include irrelevant details, but you should avoid that.
Instead, develop a short elevator pitch. And like an elevator pitch, keep it relevant and to-the-point.
Start with where you are now, then discuss how you got there. Link that with the job you’ve applied for, and why you’re a great fit for it based on your experience or interests and passions.
And if you can link all that to your interest to that specific company, that’ll catch the attention of any interviewer.
For example, “I’m currently a marketing communications specialist at a university where I specialise in creating digital marketing campaigns for the science faculty. Prior to that, I worked as an administrative assistant, where my main responsibilities included managing four social media accounts and editing a bi-annual magazine aimed at our clients. I really enjoy developing content that educates and inspires, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity at [non-profit organisation].”
2. What attracted you to our company?
This is your opportunity to show you’ve done your research.
Before the interview, read up on everything you can about the company: their values, their mission, their latest results and news releases, who their executive staff are, their origin story, as well as their products and/or services.
Then, identify what stands out about the company’s mission and values, and how that resonates with you and your own career path. If you’re a fan of their products or services, bring that up too.
3. Tell me about your strengths.
The best way to address a question about your strengths is to ensure it aligns with the job description.
A lot of people tend to downplay their strengths, but they shouldn’t. This is a great opportunity to showcase what you can do.
You must be prepared, however, to back up your strength with a good example. For example, if you say your creativity is a strength, you’ll also want to be able to talk about a time when you used your creativity to solve a problem or address a challenge.
For example, “I think a strength of mine is my adaptability. During my time as an office manager, I supported a small team where being able to think on your feet and be flexible was a real asset. When two members of our four-person team happened to fall sick at the same time and were out of the office for two and three weeks, I worked overtime to support our clients by performing the function of my colleagues while they could not.”
Some general strengths that often work include:
- People skills
- Reliability or dependability
- Public speaking skills
- Ability to take initiative
- Ability to handle criticism
- Communication skills
You could also mention any hard or technical skills that is required in the job ad.
4. Tell me about your weaknesses.
While it’s advisable to ensure your strengths align with the job description, we advise discussing a weakness that will not stop you from doing the job you’ve applied for.
The key to answering this question well is to show that you are self-aware enough – and honest enough – to admit your shortcomings, but also to demonstrate your interest and ability to work on yourself.
For example, “When I get really busy and stressed, I tend to get disorganised and my workspace becomes messy. The problem with this is it’s easy to lose track of the little details or misplace things. To combat this, I’ve taken a course on productivity and organisation, and I’ve learned that when I start to feel that stress coming on, I need to take a step back and dedicate a little bit of time at the end of every day to gather thoughts and tidy my desk. I also keep a work diary and to-do list so I don’t lose track of the big picture.”
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Employers usually ask this question to determine three key things about you:
- Are you likely to remain at the company long-term?
- Do your career ambitions align with the job and company you’ve applied for?
- Do you have a sense of how you want to grow?
Each hire a company goes through with requires a significant financial and time investment, and they want to ensure they get it right. Someone who isn’t ambitious, and isn’t likely to remain at the company for at least a few years, and someone with no clear sense of progression means that investment isn’t well-spent.
The best way to answer this question is to be general, and consider how your interests and goals align with the company’s.
For example, you may want to discuss your interest in taking on a leadership role, or perhaps you’d like to become a mentor for junior roles. Perhaps you’d like to take on a project that you’re passionate about in an area you’ve had little experience in, but have enjoyed in the past.
You may want to structure your response like this: “One of my future goals is to take the lead on a creative project. To do so, I’ve decided to take online courses in project management in my spare time, and I’ve been using Asana to manage my own work so I can familiarise myself with project management software. I would love to put my hand up for these kinds of opportunities within this role.”
6. Tell me about a time you encountered a business challenge. How did you overcome it?
Structure your answer using the STAR method:
- S – situation
- T – task
- A – action
- R – result.
For example: “In my last position as a junior accountant, I found it difficult to keep up with the latest legislation and frequently changing tax codes. I found myself falling behind, so I set up news alerts, and subscribed to industry publications. I strive to stay informed and believe that is key to staying ahead, so I can anticipate changes I’ll need to make as needed.”
7. Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you handle it?
Many people find this a challenging question, but it’s important to remember that no one expects you to be perfect. The trick here is to be honest, show a bit of self-awareness, but to give an example of a mistake you made and a lesson you learned that doesn’t interfere with your ability to get the job done.
Again, resiliency, problem-solving, and how well you think on your feet are all qualities interviewers are looking for you to demonstrate here.
8. How do you juggle high-priority competing projects?
Another common question, interviewers who ask this – or variations, such as ‘how do you handle multiple deadlines?’ or ‘how do you prioritise your work?’ – want to know how you handle your workload and manage your time.
The best way to address this is to talk about your skills in time management. Consider how you schedule your day, how you prioritise different work assignments, and how you maintain a good work-life balance.
For example, “At the beginning of each week, I schedule a time to sit down with my manager to discuss upcoming deadlines and priorities. Then I schedule my week accordingly. I like to get the most difficult or complex task done first thing in the morning early in the week to give myself a buffer in case they take longer than expected or I need to ask for help. A lot of my work involves data entry tasks that don’t have any hard, urgent deadlines, so I make sure I set an hour every afternoon to process that so I stay on top of it.”
9. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker or a supervisor. What did you do about it?
Everyone occasionally disagrees with a decision made in the workplace. But steer clear of any disagreements on a personal level, and stick with professional situations.
The key here is to demonstrate your ability to handle conflict in a mature way and come up with a compromise that is mutually beneficial to the parties involved. Any lessons learned
For example, “In my position as a business consultant, it was my responsibility to prepare reports for clients about possible solutions to their IT challenges. Usually, I have a few weeks to do so, but one day, my boss told me our client would be meeting with her sooner than usual, and told me my report had to be delivered within the week.
Having completed these in the past, I knew that deadline wouldn’t give me enough time to deliver a high-quality report, and I wasn’t comfortable compromising on that. I brought my concerns to my manager, who told me it was impossible to move the deadline.
I knew that, even if I worked overtime, it wouldn’t be possible to deliver, so I asked if there was anyone that would be able to help me. She thought about it and assigned one of our junior assistants to work on the report with me.
We ended up working late a few nights, but in the end, we delivered a great report. Our clients were impressed with our creativity and innovation, and we continued to enjoy a productive relationship with them. My boss told me she appreciated the extra effort that I put into the report, and I learned that it’s okay to ask for help. Once she saw how much time it took to research and write these reports, my manager began to include me in strategy meetings with clients so I was involved at a higher level and thus had more advanced notice.”
10. Why should we hire you?
There are several things you want to tie into this question.
The most important thing to cover is to make it clear exactly why you are qualified for this position. This can include skills, education, professional experience, and any relevant achievements.
If you can, demonstrate that you’ll be a great cultural fit. Perhaps you met some people in the company or the team at an earlier date, or maybe something about the company resonates with you.
If you can, include some concrete results you’ve already achieved. Perhaps you’ve cut departmental costs by 20%, or you’ve increased email open rates by 30%.
Finally, show your passion and enthusiasm for the role.
For example, “From reading the job advertisement, you’re looking for someone who can translate data into actionable insights. My previous position required someone who was comfortable with data analytics. I spent a lot of time studying Google Analytics and various traffic reports. In fact, in my last position, I increased organic traffic to our website by 27% based on what I learned from crunching the numbers and performing market research. I think my skillset would be an excellent addition to your team.”
11. Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult client. How did you handle it?
This question may be more relevant to some roles than others, but what interviewers want to know is this: can you stay level headed in a challenging situation? Are you able to put aside your anger and frustration in order to do a professional job? What do your conflict-resolution skills look like?
A variation of this is likely to come up regardless of whether you have a customer-facing role. It may be phrased like this:
- Have you had any experience responding to unhappy clients?
- Tell us about a time you made a mistake at work.
- Tell us about a time you led a team while there was conflict.
The best way to answer this question is, again, utilising the STAR method.
Describe the situation; outline the task you were responsible for; talk about the action you took and why you chose to response in that way; and end with the result, and perhaps a lesson you learned.
For example: “In my last position as a receptionist, I received a call from an unhappy customer demanding a refund for a faulty product. However, as I worked at the corporate office, I couldn’t process the refund myself; that had to be done at a store level.
So, I expressed my understanding at their frustration, apologised that they had received a product that didn’t work, and told them that their local store would be able to work with them to either provide a working product, or process a refund. I asked them what suburb they lived in in order to provide the phone number and address of the store closest to them.
They thanked me for my service and complimented my professionalism, and I didn’t expect to hear anything more about it, but I later found out they had visited the store I recommended, and asked the store manager to pass on her recommendations to corporate. I later received Employee of the Month as a result.”
12. Why are you interested in working here?
Another common interview question that could be phrased a number of ways:
- Why do you want this job?
- Why are you interested in this position?
However, this question is specifically asking you to keep the company in mind in your response.
A good, well-thought-out response should touch on aspects of the company or job that weren’t on the job ad, or the industry itself, thus displaying your own research.
Some examples of this could be:
- Thought leaders within the company or industry
- Company mission, values, culture, and/or reputation
- Company projects or initiatives (are they especially well known for their community involvement, for example?)
- The products or services within their portfolio
You want to make sure you display your enthusiasm and motivation for the role. You don’t want to be too general – that could imply a lack of research – so you want to be specific aspects of the company, as well as the specific position you are applying for.
For example, “As someone who regularly uses technology products, I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to work on your marketing campaigns. I would be proud to work for an industry leader – and not just in tech trends, but in cutting edge research and development. I also have friends who work here, and I know this organisation rewards innovative thinking. I love coming up with novel, out-of-the-box solutions to business challenges, so I think I could make a great contribution not just to the company, but to the marketing team itself.”
13. Why are you leaving your current job?
This question can be hard to answer, especially if the reasons for your leaving aren’t great.
You should never, under any circumstances, insult or be negative about your prior workplace, boss, or colleagues, but if these things are the reason why you’re leaving – which are legitimate reasons – you need to put a positive spin on it.
You want to:
- Keep it succinct
- Have a positive spin
- Be clear and honest about your reasoning, but not too detailed
For example, “Within my current role, I’ve been able to develop my skillsets in risk identification and programming. It’s recently become clear that these are my passions, and unfortunately, the opportunities for growth in these capacities is limited. That’s why I was so excited to learn about this opportunity. You’re a world leader in cybersecurity, and I would be keen to contribute in a role where these are key skills.”
14. What are your salary expectations?
There’s no getting around this: you need to do your research ahead of time to know the average salary, and what you’re comfortable accepting.
There are many resources you can use. Robert Half’s Salary Guide is a good place to start. You’ll find up-to-date remuneration trends Australia-wide for a number of different roles and industries.
You also need to know what your expenses are, and what you’re comfortable accepting. Knowing what you’re worth will help you get the pay you deserve.
There are a few strategies you can take to answer this question:
- Flip the question and ask what the range for the role is.
For example, “That’s a good question. Could you share the range that would be on offer for this role?”
- Try to delay answering until later in the interview process.
For example, “Finding a role that’s a good fit is more important to me right now than the salary. I’d be happy to provide a range once I know more about the job itself, the company, and the benefits on offer.”
- Provide a range you’re comfortable accepting.
For example, “Taking my experience and expertise into account, I’m looking for something between $73,000 and $80,000. However, salary is only one aspect of this; I’m also interested in the role, the work environment, and the other benefits you have on offer. The job ad mentioned opportunities for professional development, for example. Lifelong learning is very important to me, and it sounds like it is for you too, so I am happy to be flexible for the right fit.”
15. Do you have any questions for me?
Even if all your questions were answered during the interview, it’s always better to ask something than nothing. It shows you were listening and engaged throughout the interview.
Example questions about the role include:
- What does success look like in this role?
- What would an average day involve?
- What does your ideal candidate look like?
- What would you hope your candidate to achieve in the first week/month/3 months?
Important questions about the company:
- What’s something you love about this company?
- What can you tell me about the company culture?
- What are the business goals the company wants to achieve this year?
- How would you describe the management style of the company?
Questions about you:
- Are there any hesitations or concerns you have about my candidacy?
- Are there any qualifications or experiences you think my application is missing?
- Have I answered all your questions?
Spending time preparing for these common interview questions is a good way to calm your nerves and gives you the opportunity to develop thoughtful, comprehensive answers.
But don’t forget that this interview is your opportunity to get to know the company and the role as well.
Once you’ve received a job offer, learn how to negotiate your salary.