How to Decode (And Master) Common Interview Questions

How to Decode (And Master) Common Interview Questions

Everyone knows how it feels to be sat in an interview and to freeze on the spot. There’s always that one curveball question you didn’t think about or practice for, or perhaps your mind just went blank in the moment. It happens to the best of us! 

That’s why it’s always best to walk into an interview knowing what’s likely to come up and answer with confidence. Being able to answer a question using the S.T.A.R. structure (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) is great, but if you don’t know which questions could come up, and haven’t rehearsed for them, it becomes infinitely harder to answer on the spot. Here are five common questions you should consider studying to prepare for.

1. “What is your biggest weakness?” 

This question isn’t asking about which sport you’re worst at, or how bad you give in to cravings for that slice of chocolate cake. When an interviewer asks you this, what they’re really asking is “are you aware of your flaws? How do you work around them or intend to improve?” 

When you answer this question, the interviewer is looking for honesty and a constructive self-analysis. It may be good to find a real-life situation, explain how it impacted you and the steps you’ve taken to improve in the future. 

It’s important that when you answer you emphasize your improvement — saying you don’t work too well in teams (and leaving the answer there) won’t impress anybody. For example, perhaps there have been times where you’ve worked too slow and missed deadlines, so you’ve set up a great routine, including note-taking, date and deadline keeping in a diary, motivation techniques, etc. 

2. “Tell me about yourself.” 

This one is extremely popular, and very easy to mess up or get carried away with. The interviewer doesn’t want to know your life story or anything too irrelevant (your favorite video game for example). What they’re really asking is for a brief professional overview of work history, education/qualifications, and anything you do outside of work that requires skills relevant to the job. 

This is a favorite because the question doesn’t just open the book on who you are — it examines your ability to be concise and constructive. Interviewers won’t be impressed if you waffle on for 10 minutes about your personal life, which football team you support, and how bad your boss was in your last job. They also won’t be impressed by someone who panics and can’t formulate a straight answer either. Framing your past with topics relevant to the job is the best way to answer — without just repeating your CV. 

3. “What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

Motivation and goals are important. When an employer asks this question, they’re looking for your long-term goals and whether they fit into their job position. They’re not looking for an “I’m not sure” or “I’ll be leaving this city in six months and just need a job in the meantime.” 

The best approach for this question is to evaluate your long-term goals regarding work and your position to show that you’re considering the future and working hard to get there. Best answers provide a timeline of goals with methods to achieve those goals. 

4. “Why do you want this position/job?” 

Another very popular question. Money is a big factor for why someone wants a job — but leave that out of your answer (they already know this). When they ask why you want this job they’re really asking about your short term goals, which skills you want to gain, and what you want to give back to the company. 

Interviewers like answers that talk about the company and why you’d love to work for them, and then move into why the position itself is appealing. Do they provide valuable on the job experience? Do you have skills and experience that not many other applicants have? Do you know people on the team who you work well with in the past? There are many personal answers you could give. 

5. “What is your biggest achievement to date?” 

This is one question so many applicants struggle with. Some people find it hard to flatter themselves or overcome modesty when looking for their achievements. But this question is asking you to make yourself shine! They’re asking for achievements which would benefit the job and how it brings relevant skills, as well as how successful you are. 

Don’t talk about irrelevant things — talk about experiences you’ve had and how you’ve shined in those moments. Perhaps you’ve helped a team of struggling colleagues to pull through on a make-or-break project, or attended a university competition where your input helped everyone win. The interviewer doesn’t care if you’re not being too modest — they mostly want to picture you achieving great things in your new position, though. Once you know that, tailoring your answer becomes a lot easier.

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