Of course, every interview is going to be different. But there are some things most employers want to know and common interview questions that many interviewers will ask.
For example, anyone who hires you will be curious about why you applied for the position. In addition, your future employer will want to know what type of person you are and how you get along with other people. While the position may be remote and autonomous, it will still contribute to a bigger picture.
Seven common interview questions to prepare you for any interview
Take your time to work through these common interview questions and consider what your answers tell your interviewer. People often do this exercise after an interview when it’s too late to go back and revise the answer. The activity will give you the basis to answer any question that might come up on the day.
1. “Tell me about yourself?”
Please don’t take this as an invitation to ramble! If you need the interviewer to narrow the topic down, ask: “Is there a particular aspect of my background you would like more information on?” They might ask to hear more about your career history or personal interests but don’t feel you have to give every detail.
For example, if talking about your career as an IT professional, you might plot your work history along these lines: “My love of engineering started at school when I joined the Robotics Club. I went on to get my Master in Electrical Engineering and have spent the past seven years gaining experience in C++. For the last three years, my team have been developing the Surgibot, a feat in medical robotics making brain surgery less invasive.” Note that this story has a beginning, middle and end and points of interest, but it’s not overly detailed.
Whichever direction your answer takes, and even if it’s a personal story, be sure it’s relevant to your professional endeavours. Your tale must show, or refer to, one or more of your key behavioural profiles in action, e.g. honesty, integrity or being a team player. If you choose “team player” (e.g. you’re the star player in your tennis group), you can tell a story about yourself outside of work that speaks volumes about your professional capabilities.
In part, your answer should make the connection between the two, such as, “I put my heart into everything I do, whether it be sports or work. I find getting along with teammates–or professional peers–makes life more enjoyable and productive.”
Of all the common interview questions, this one is the most difficult to answer effectively off the cuff. Give plenty of thought to the qualities you want to feature for your interviewer.
2. “Why do you want to work here?”
To answer this question, you’ll need to have researched the company. What did you take from your research? Don’t just repeat what you saw on the website, forums or social media. Instead, really think about how the company’s vision and mission align with your own values.
For example, you might have noticed that the company gets excellent reviews from previous employees. Or, you might note that they’ve been in business for a long time. These findings might lead you to believe that the company can provide you with a stable and happy work environment.
In this case, you might say: “I’m not just looking for a paycheque. I enjoy my work and am proud of my profession. Your company produces a superior product/provides superior service. I share the values that make this possible, which should enable me to fit in, do my best work and complement the team.”
3. “What did you like/dislike about your last job?”
Note that the interviewer is looking for incompatibilities. So, for example, if you were going for a position as a trial lawyer and said you don’t like arguing a point with colleagues, that statement would weaken – if not immediately destroy – your candidacy.
Most interviews start with a preamble by the interviewer about the company. So pay attention: the information they provide will help you answer this question (and likely many others).
Say, for example, you liked everything about your last job. This answer in itself isn’t enough to paint a picture. So, you might say your company taught you the importance of specific business functions or allowed you to achieve a goal or build your professional profile.
While we absolutely encourage you to be honest and authentic, it’s better to be diplomatic and use professional discretion when discussing negative experiences. If you didn’t like something, be open about it, but talk more about how you handled the experience. If the interviewer can identify with the situation and your response, it could be an opportunity to build rapport.
Even in a negative, there’s often a positive. For example, you might feel that you were pigeon-holed in your last position and never had an opportunity to learn or grow outside your specialisation. In this case, you might say: “I like the team and the challenges we get to solve. However, I want to find a role where I can contribute across business areas. You see, I work for a large company that encourages specialisation. The smaller environment here will allow me to meet that goal.”
4. “What would you like to be doing five years from now?”
The safest answer contains a desire to be regarded as a true professional and team player. Of course, you can ask what opportunities exist within the company before being any more specific: “From my research and what you’ve told me about the growth here, it seems operations is where the heavy emphasis is going to be. It seems that’s where you need the effort and where I could contribute toward the company’s goals.” Or: “I’ve always felt that first-hand knowledge and experience open up opportunities that I might never have considered. So, while at this point I plan to be a part of [e.g.] operations, it is reasonable to expect that other exciting opportunities will crop up.”
5. “What are your biggest accomplishments?”
Share job-related or personal experiences that demonstrate competency in an area your employer is looking for as well as reflection, self-analysis and grit. You could phrase your reply as:
“Although I feel my biggest achievements are still ahead of me, I am proud of my involvement in the major infrastructure project” – to show that you have a growth mindset.
“I contributed to the team and learnt a lot in the process. We did it with hard work, concentration, and an eye for the bottom line” – to show that there’s no ‘i’ in team.
6. “Can you work under pressure?”
You might be tempted to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer, but don’t. It reveals nothing, and you lose the opportunity to sell your skills and value profiles. Honestly, this common job interview question often comes from an inexperienced interviewer because it is closed-ended. As such, the question does not give you the chance to elaborate.
Whenever you’re asked a closed-ended question, mentally add: “Please give me a brief yet comprehensive answer.” Do that, and you will seize an opportunity to sell yourself. For example, you could say: “Yes, I usually find it stimulating. However, I believe in planning and proper management of my time to reduce panic deadlines within my area of responsibility.”
Always give answers with demonstrated competencies. If you believe in planning and time management, how do you live up to that value? For example, in addition to the above, you would say: ‘As an example, in my previous role, we were required to achieve 95% utilisation across multiple projects with many different clients. I consistently achieved this while maintaining the quality of my output, and was recognised with a companywide award for global employees.’
7. Why should I hire you?”
In a dot point or two for each, tell the interviewer:
- How have you solved your hiring organisation’s most pressing pain points or met similar opportunities in the past
- What would you aim to achieve for the prospective company
- What unique mix of technical and interpersonal skills you have to realise this goal
- How all of the above will benefit the existing team
These common interview questions should give you a good basis for interview preparation. Read our showcasing your professional capability article for more of the behavioural questions that are likely to come up in your interview.