Top tips for frequently asked questions at interview
Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers, looks at how best to prepare for and answer frequently asked questions.
16 August 2020
1. Tell me about yourself...
Alternative versions are “Talk me through your CV” or “What’s your story?” Often in an opening question, interviewers are not looking for your life history or a re-run of the information on your CV. The answer needs to be a summary of your career highlights, key achievements, motivation for this career, relevant training, interests, volunteer work and languages spoken. Also, be prepared for “Describe yourself in three words” and “How do others describe you?”
2. Why are you interested in this position?
Avoid giving a generic answer. Mention what aspects of this company and role appeal to you. Do their values and ethos match your own? Does the organisation offer opportunities for the career progression you are looking for? If you can’t think of any reasons, ask yourself if you should be applying for the role.
3. Why are you leaving your current job?
This is an alternative to the second question above. This is not the time to be critical of your current boss or organisation. Stay professional and focus on aspects such as lack of career progression, geographical distance or a company restructure. Keep the reason brief then move on to why the position you are interviewing for has piqued your interest.
4. What are your weaknesses?
Alternative versions are “What aspects do you need to improve on?” Or “What are you not good at?” These questions test your ability to self-reflect. Avoid traits such as being a perfectionist or work-alcoholic and do not mention core skills required for the role. Talk in terms of ‘areas of development’, or what you are not comfortable with rather than using the word ‘weakness’ in your answer and turn it into a positive statement. For example, “I’m not keen on giving presentations, however, I took a training course last year and was given good feedback about my style.” Prepare two or three ‘weaknesses’, because it is not uncommon for the interviewer to ask for more than one.
5. What are your strengths?
An alternative could be “What are you good at?” You need to focus on a few specific strengths that are related to the role, and back each one up with an appropriate achievement or short example. Be confident and relaxed about your strengths and avoid boasting or being arrogant.
Remember the three Rs
From the moment you decide to apply for a new job, remember: research, relevance, rehearse.
Before you write your CV and make the application, research the role and the organisation thoroughly. The most important document is the job description, particularly the person specification. These outline the skills, competencies and attributes which are important to the role. The company website gives you a useful insight into their values, culture, news and career progression.
Always put yourself in the shoes of the employer and think about what they are looking for. Tailor your application and interview answers accordingly. Choose examples to use in your interview that showcase your skills which match their criteria. Always keep in mind the culture, values and vision of the organisation.
Practice your interview answers out loud. Ask a trusted friend or career coach to give you honest feedback on your performance. Go through your own job description and CV and practice talking through each aspect. Focus on key messages rather than learning a verbatim script. An over-rehearsed answer will not come across well - you need to be able to adapt your answers to the actual questions asked.
CV Writers offer career counselling, interview coaching as well as support with CVs, LinkedIn profiles and cover letters. They provide a free CV review service via their website www.cv-writers.org.uk