15 Most Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Answering interview questions well can be a “make or break” situation when it comes to getting a job. Knowing what your interviewer is likely to ask is important but knowing why they are asking something is even more essential.
There are a few common interview questions that you can expect and prepare for. Often the questions should not be taken purely at face value as they indicate that the interviewer is trying to reveal deeper information about your character and work style.
Here are some of the most common interview questions, and how you should go about answering them.
- 1. “Tell me about yourself”
A common starter question, this is a great way of getting the interview going. Although it may seem like a ‘soft’ question, it’s really a loaded phrase to show how you think on your feet, summarise yourself and relate to the interviewer’s personality. Keep your answer short (two or three sentences) and your answer upbeat and positive.
“I’ve been working in management-level marketing positions for over five years now, for global and local brands. I have been dealing with high-profile stakeholders, both in account management, planning and campaign execution. In my last role, I was responsible for managing a team of six people, covering everything from design to strategy. My passion is marketing analytics and customer relationship management, although I have a personal interest in creative design and graphic components.”
- 2. “What was the reason you left your last job?”
Again, make sure your answer is upbeat. Highlight what you have been doing since, and focus on your goals moving forward, rather than on any problems in your last role. Do not lie about why you left your role, but pre-prepare your answer to paint yourself in a positive light.
“After a period of budgeting review there were some cutbacks and re-structuring, and unfortunately I was one of dozens of redundancies. Rather than stay with the company in a role I felt had limited capacity for growth, I decided to pursue other career avenues. I still have a great relationship with my former direct report; as you can see he is one of my referees. I maintain a good relationship with my former co-workers but I’m excited about the future possibilities of working with Company X.”
- 3. “What do you know about the company?”
This is an essential chance to demonstrate that you have been doing your research, so again, don’t make your answer too long; keep it short and simple and try to pull out a piece of information that demonstrates that you have done some deeper research into the framework of how the company runs. Demonstrate interest and industry knowledge.
“I’ve always been attracted to the brand and culture and brand of Google, and I’m particularly drawn to the fact that Google is an innovator in the marketplace. I’ve also been very impressed at your Women in Leadership program, and I was responsible for coordinating a similar group within my last role. I consider myself a team player, and I am attracted to the way that the company talks about the “Google Family” and I feel that I would be a good cultural fit for the organisation. I like the fact that Google is a leader in the marketplace and always finds the best talent. I would consider myself to be ambitious enough to add value to your organisation.”
- 4. Why do you want to work at this company?
This should be directly related to the last question. Any research you’ve done on the company should have led you to the conclusion that you’d want to work there. After all, you’re at the interview, right? Put some thought into this answer before you have your interview, mention your career goals and highlight forward-thinking goals and career plans.
“I have a personal goal to be at Strategic Account Management level within the next five years, and I have experience working with major global brands and cultural icons. I see Google as the best avenue to help me realise my professional goals. I am attracted to the workplace lifestyle and the culture of Google, but more so to the potential avenues of engagement within the Asia Pacific region, which is an area of personal interest of mine. From the research I have done, I have uncovered that Google is a company that “really cares” and I find this appealing. I also regard myself as a passionate person, and I see myself as a good fit for a passionate, visionary company.”
- 5. “What would your previous co-workers say about you?
This is a time to indicate that you are a team player and that you get on well with colleagues. This is not a time that you should be airing any gripes or speaking ill of the culture of your last workplace. Use this moment to talk about how you enjoyed spending time with your co-workers and how you are easy to get along with. This is not a trick question!
“I have always enjoyed good relations with my co-workers and I have many recommendations from past colleagues on my LinkedIn profile, from several of my last roles. I held a position on the Corporate Social Responsibility board in my last job, where I worked with a small team of volunteer staff to bring innovations to the company board relating to the ethics and performance of the company in the marketplace, and internally. I am friendly, hard-working and diligent, and I try to help others out when I can, even if it’s something as simple as helping a colleague with a computer problem.”
- 6. “What are your key strengths?”
Again, this is a great question to think about in advance. Think of three or four major elements of your personality that make you a stellar employee, and try to give two concrete examples of work you’ve done in a previous role. Keep your answers short, there’s no need to waffle on for a long time. This should be the place where you highlight and summarise three of your best work-life achievements.
“During my last role I demonstrated my ability to multi-task effectively; with keeping several high-profile client campaigns on the go at one time. Simultaneously, I was involved in the pitching of Coca Cola Amatil’s new ABC campaign, while I also had direct responsibility for X and Y clients in the Asia Pacific region. Not only did these clients experience solid outcomes with the campaigns, reaching their key performance indicators, but I was awarded an internal achievement award for the considerable media coverage that the initial campaign received in the press. Going above and beyond the call of duty is one of my key strengths”
- 7. “What are your weaknesses?”
Another good question to prepare in advance, what this question really means is, “I want to see how you will respond to a difficult question under pressure.” The trick here is not to be too negative, but not to give a dishonest response such as, “I’m a workaholic” (unless you are!).
Remember that you should be specific and avoid any answers that would automatically make your an unsuitable candidate for the role. Mention a specific example and how you are aware of and working on this weakness.
Another to remember is that weaknesses are sometimes strengths. You could always say that you prefer to let others take the lead in a meeting situation, but that as a consequence you are brilliants at taking minutes and actions and communicating after the meeting, or that you’re a great listener. Try to offset the negative with a positive.
“I know that I do have shortcomings, but I feel that communication with my managers is the best way to overcome any negatives arising from these, as if I am aware of a problem or an issue, I put my whole attention into rectifying it. One specific example I could give would be that sometimes I have found that it’s more effective to get feedback on a project along the way, even if it is not completely finished. My goal would be to strike a balance between getting things done perfectly the first time, or being open to receiving input from others who might have valuable contributions towards the project to make.”
- 8. “Why have you had so many roles?”
Your answer should be specific to you and as honest as possible; focus on the fact that you are ambitious and always looking forward. Mention that you have been focused on a period where you are learning new skills.
“The marketing sector is very fast-paced and I have always been ambitious, looking towards the next goal. I have always chosen to move on from past roles when I felt that I had achieved all I could in that position, rather than spend more time in a job I felt was not propelling me forward. I have more experience now, and I am more willing to commit myself towards a singular goal and company. Many of my earlier roles have been at a lower management level and I am willing to do what it takes to progress up the chain of command. I see this position as a perfect way to do that.”
- 9. “Where do you see yourself in five years time?”
Answer this question with the job role in mind. You need to demonstrate that your long terms goals are commensurate to the position and the company that is hiring you.
“Ideally I would be working for a global brand in a management level marketing role dealing with stakeholders at a high-engagement level. I see myself continuing to manage others, and I would be seeking to hone my project and people management skills with the right employer. Personally I would like to be closer to my goals of owning a home and building a career reputation in the global marketing sector, especially focussing on my area of interest, the Asian Pacific.”
- 10. “Do you work well under pressure?”
Answer ‘yes’ and give a specific example of how you coped with pressure in your most recent role. Keep your answer short and to the point and show how you won’t be fazed by anything that this proposed role can throw at you.
“During my most recent role I had to take over the AB campaign when my direct report was dispatched overseas at short notice to deal with a client issue. This involved taking over negotiations with top-tier management at our client’s Melbourne office, requiring me to present the campaign faithfully, and to deal with high-level negotiations on behalf of my previous employer. The campaign was a success and the client signed on for another two quarters.”
- 11. “What motivates you to do your best on the job?
This is not the place to talk about money, climbing the corporate ladder or ambition. This is a good time to focus on the mission statement of the company, and the company’s ethos and vision of the marketplace. Demonstrate that you are motivated by noble pursuits that are in line with the company’s direction.
“Meeting my employer’s, my client’s and my own expectations collaboratively motivates me to do my best on the job. I enjoy project-managing small groups, and knowing that others are relying on my good results motivates me to do my best. I tend to achieve when I can be involved in a creative role with a large organisational and client-contact component, where I can have some input into contract negotiation and the day to day operations of a unit. Having variation and clear goal parameters helps keep me motivated to do my best, so I make sure that I set these for myself in collaboration with my direct report.”
- 12. “How good are you at working in a team?
Your answer here should be ‘yes’, and you should also come up with a specific team-oriented goal that you achieved ion your recent career history. Think about the size of the team you’ll be working in for the role you are interviewing for and try to think of specific examples demonstrating collaboration in a team of around that size. How you perform with a team of five may be different to how you manage in a team of 20, or 100.
“As this role is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations for the Creative Lab in APAC, including staffing, HR, contracts, and resourcing, I feel confident that my people-skills would be up to task. I have considerable experience in this area as demonstrated in my past role for X Company, where I managed a team of 20. I have proven experience coordinating multiple experiments with external agencies and in shaping strategy. I have a proven record in steering people and projects.”
- 13. “Have you ever had an issue with a previous boss?”
This could be a question to determine whether you had any bad relations with your previous employer. This question could indicate that the interviewer is looking for warning signs. Unless you had a major issue with a past employer that might come up (for example being fired or getting a bad reference) then keep your answer upbeat and don’t allude to anything deeper.
“I have one role on my resume where I worked for a person who did not share a similar work ethic, creative passion and vision that I did. After several months of trying to work with her to put a plan into place to manage her expectations for the projects I was working on, we discovered that we were a poor strategic match. Fortunately I was able to negotiate a move to a different department where I felt my skills in copy, design and people management were being utilised more effectively. This then opened up the opportunity for me to integrate more client engagement into my portfolio, so the move ended up being beneficial to all. Managing our working relationship was a big help in this scenario, as it provided the best outcome for all parties.”
- 14. “What salary expectations do you have?
This is a very tricky question to answer, as it’s asking you to put all your cards on the table first. Check a salary resource such as Payscale.com or Hudson Salary Guide to get some idea of what someone with your experience should be entitled to. This is a good thing to research; check with other contacts you may have or scour discussion boards on sites such as LinkedIn.
“At my last role I was on a package of X plus X in super and X in benefits and entitlements. Now with my further skills and experience I would be satisfied with X annual pay but I am happy to negotiate on the particulars of any contract. I am flexible and very excited about the possibility of working for Google.”
- 15. “Do you have any questions to ask me?”
This is a question you are almost guaranteed to get – so think of an answer. This question is really asking you to show how much you have researched the company and the job role, so you need to be able to ask a few specific questions about it that have not already been covered in the interview.
Always have questions ready, as having no answer here can make you seem unprofessional or under-prepared.
Some examples of things you may want to ask here are:
- Ask about the position and the department you report to.
- Request clarification of general information about the company, or ask any questions you thought of in your researching.
- Summarise your understanding of the role and check that this is on track.
- Clarify what you believe to be the main ‘focus’ of the role.
- Add anything else relating to your experience that has not been covered yet.
- Mention anything you need to know such as when you are likely to hear back from them, when they are making a decision, or even how many candidates they are considering.
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