One of the biggest fears most people have when seeking a new role is being asked an interview question that they have not prepared for and have no idea how to answer. To help you avoid disaster in your next interview, here are the top 10 most common interview questions and the best way to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself
This is an opportunity to sell yourself to the interviewer. Keep it concise and avoid rambling. Things you should mention include your current job title, industry, the types of roles/industries you have worked in previously, personality attributes that match the person specification, your key skills and experience that match the role you are interviewing for and perhaps why you are seeking a new opportunity.
Eg. I have eight years of experience as a Financial Controller, having worked for a small law firm, financial services company and now leading the finance team at ABC. I hold experience in revenue and expense analysis, VAT returns, liaising with auditors and external parties, reconciliations and credit control. I am a focused and driven professional with high attention to detail and enjoy leading and mentoring a team. I’m currently seeking a more challenging and varied role which led me to apply for this position with XYZ company.
2. What do you know about our company?
You should be well prepared for this question after having researched the company website, social profiles and any recent media articles they have featured in. Also check to see if you have any connections at the company who can provide you with extra insight and advice. Things you should include in your answer are primary products/services, number of employees, current or recent projects/announcements and company culture or values.
Eg. Goldman Sachs is a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm that provides a wide range of financial services to a diverse client base that includes corporations, financial institutions, governments and high-net-worth individuals. Founded in 1869, your head office is in New York and you employ around 33,000 employees globally. You consider your people your greatest asset and hold excellence, profitability, creativity and professionalism at the core of your business.
3. Why did you leave your last job?
You could also be asked “why are you looking to move from your current role?”. Even if the circumstances surrounding your departure were difficult, or the reasons you want to leave are negative, do not criticise your employer or colleagues. This only serves to reflect badly on you and may lead the interviewer to make assumptions about your integrity and professionalism.
Eg. As a driven professional, I am seeking a role with a wider array of responsibilities and more opportunity to learn and develop my skills, as I feel I these aren’t available to me with my current employer.
4. Can you summarise your responsibilities?
Concisely explain your responsibilities and try to tie the majority of the what you mention in with those listed in the job description for the new role. That way, the employer will see that you have the necessary experience to perform well in the role.
Eg. My role is varied and involves leading a team of five. I overseeing the production of monthly financial reports, manage the preparation of full year budget and financial forecasts, year-end accounts, annual reports and balance sheet reconciliations. I also perform financial analysis and constructively challenging the business to maximize results for the organisation as a whole. I am also responsible for developing and maintaining key working relationships with external auditors and advisors for VAT and TAX as well as key stakeholders within banks. Additionally, I perform the ongoing coaching, mentoring and performance management of my team.
5. What major challenges did you face? How did you handle them?
This is a competency- based question designed to test how you implement your skills and use your experience in certain situations. You should follow the STAR technique for these types of questions.
Start by outlining the situation, explain the task you faced, describe the action(s) you took in response and then highlight the results you achieved (try to use facts and figures here).
Make sure to speak about what you did specifically and avoid using ‘we’ as the interviewer is only interested in how you handled the challenge as an individual, not your team.
Also try to choose challenges that utilised skills relevant to the new role. Lacking this, choose a challenge you dealt with that you believe could also be faced by the employer based on your research of the company.
E.g. An important client was at risk of leaving us for our competition due to A, B, C (situation). I was responsible for ensuring the client was retained (task) so I organised a face-to-face meeting to discuss their expectations and areas of improvement moving forward (action). I implemented X, Y, Z changes to suit the client whilst also maintaining our compliance with internal regulations and processes (action). As a result, the client was successfully retained and generated £X revenue for the business (result).
6. What are your three biggest strengths?
Again, correlate your answer to the skills that the job requires and provide examples where possible to back up your claims. Employers may follow up on this question and ask you how your strengths will help you perform in the new role.
E.g. I am a results-driven professional and am proactive in ensuring my team’s activities are aligning with organisational objectives. For example, last quarter my team needed to achieve A, B, C so I created an incentive designed to D, E, F which resulted in G, H, I.
7. What is one of your weaknesses?
There are several different ways you can answer this question.
To minimise the chance of putting the wrong foot forward, mention skills that are not critical for the job or skills that you have improved on, turning your answer from negative to positive.
Eg. Recently I have been working hard to improve my negotiation skills, as this was an area that I hadn’t had much experience in. In the past few months I have attended several training courses and have shadowed my colleagues in their negotiation discussions to ensure I continue to improve in this area.
8. Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
The best way to respond to this is to relate your goals to the position and the company you are interviewing with.
E.g. I see myself developing my skills to progress to a leadership position such as a Procurement Manager in a large retail organization, like this one. I would hope to be responsible for contract management, supplier negotiation, cost analysis, waste, process improvement, systems management, overseeing the tender process and mentoring a team.
9. Why do you want this job?
Refer to your experience and skills which align with the role and how your personal attributes are a good cultural fit for the company. You can express that you are seeking longevity in your next role and want to stay with the company because of the role, culture, industry, opportunities etc. Do your research so you can show the employer that you have a genuine understanding of the role and business.
E.g. I really enjoy using my creative, analytical and research skills and this role seems like a great opportunity to implement and develop these. You also seem to really value and reward your people which is very attractive to me as an ambitious, results-driven individual seeking to join a people-centric organisation.
10. Do you have any questions?
Always ask questions as they show that you are genuinely interested in the role and company. Here are some great examples you can write down and bring into the interview with you:
Things to avoid asking about include leave entitlements, salary reviews and expenses.
Armed with these, hopefully the next time you go for an interview you won’t be your own worst enemy.
Keen to put these skills into practice right away? Why not browse our latest jobs to see if your next great opportunity is advertised!