If you’ve got a job interview coming up, you’re probably fretting about answering a few tough questions. While you can’t always predict what you’re going to be asked, you can prepare yourself for some of the more common ones. That way, you won’t end up gaping like a goldfish in front of the interview panel. The problem with some of those questions is, you’re never sure if there’s some underlying line of inquiry that you’re missing. What if you’re answering a different question to the one the interviewer really asked?
Here are five frequently asked interview questions, and what the interviewer really wants to know, to help you prepare.
Tell me about yourself.
What they’re really asking: why should we hire you?
This is actually pretty straightforward, but we British start to panic when we have to talk ourselves up. It’s your chance to sell yourself. Be concise but make sure you tell your interviewer exactly why you’re perfect for this job. Sometimes, you’ll get, describe yourself in five words, or something similarly specific. It’s the same question, you just have to refine your answer a little. To be on the safe side, be prepared to describe yourself in three, five and thirty-five words.
What can you tell me about our company?
What they’re really asking: have you done your research?
Remember when I told you to do your homework before you go to an interview? This is why. Your interviewer might ask you to tell them about their customers, their competitors or, even, to discuss something you don’t like/would change about the company. All of these questions are testing your knowledge of the company. If you really want to work for them, you should know about their business. Show you’re knowledgeable about the company and you’re certain to impress.
What are your weaknesses?
What they’re really asking: can you look at your own work critically and strive to improve?
Nobody is perfect, except Benedict Cumberbatch, so you must have at least one. Be honest with yourself, what are your shortcomings? Don’t tell your interviewer that you’ve been know to steal other people’s lunch out the fridge or you’re addicted to checking personal emails in work time, keep it professional and relevant. List your flaws, tell them how you’re fixing them, too. If you can turn it back around into a strength, even better.
For example, “I have struggled with time management in the past so now I plan my day ahead and set aside times to deal with anything new that crops up, it’s made me more efficient with my time.”
Or, “When I started out as a manager, I had a very democratic style. This worked well, until we had a crisis and now I’ve learned that I need to be prepared to be authoritative, too, when the situation demands it.”
DO NOT say, “I’m a perfectionist.” It didn’t work for Spud in Trainspotting and it won’t work for you.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What they’re really asking: do you have a long-term career plan?
Do you want to move up the career ladder? Get your PhD? Become a leader in your field? Tell the interviewer your plans. Of course, plans change and no one knows where they’ll be in half a decade’s time, but you need to show your prospective employer that you’re worth investing in. Let them know how you see their company helping you to advance your ambitions and how those plans could benefit the company in the long term.
If you were a tree/animal/ice cream, what would you be?
What they’re really asking: can you think on your feet?
This is your chance to think creatively, get your metaphor on and play with a few puns. “I’d be a dolphin, because they’re smart, friendly and I’m willing to jump through hoops to get this job.” Go a bit philosophical, if you’d rather. “I prefer to think of myself as an acorn, I have the potential to grow into a mighty oak tree and I believe this is the company to nurture me.” There’s no right or wrong answer to this type of question so stay calm, take a deep breath and you’ll be just fine. Be original. The most unique and interesting answer will be the one that gets you remembered.
What’s the toughest interview question you’ve ever had?
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