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frequently asked interview questions

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The most common interview questions and how to prepare for them

Good interview performance is unlikely to happen by accident but is much more likely to be as a result of thorough preparation.  Here we discuss the top 8 questions and tips for how to answer them, with general interview question tips below.


 1. Tell me about yourself



  • This is best answered in “bullet point” style – succinct, clear and structured. The rest of the interview can explore the issues in depth but this needs to answer early on who you are and what you would bring to the party.

  • It should not repeat what is obvious from your CV and should focus on your professional USP rather than personal or family issues (which may come later).

  • What are the three things that you want the interviewer to remember about you, and tell their colleagues about, that show you are a uniquely strong candidate for this role?


2. What are achievements  are you most proud of in the last five years ?



  • Prepare 5 varied achievements (e.g. not all quantifiable) to choose from

  • The structure should be narrative: what was the situation, what did you (i.e. not we or the company) do then what was the outcome


 3. Why did you apply for this position? or Why are you a strong candidate for this role?



  • You need to have thought about this carefully in terms of the organisation’s needs and how you can be clear about what makes you uniquely appropriate as a candidate

  • Show enthusiasm – this is always good


4. Why did you leave your last job?



  • Keep this brief, impersonal and business related and non defensive in tone. (e.g. “The new boss wanted their own team so we discussed it and I left on very good terms”).

  • You do not want to spend much of the interview time on this issue or give the feeling that you are a difficult person to work with.


5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?



  • Identify, say, five possible strengths and choose three. Be prepared to provide follow up with evidence, ideally third party (e.g. This is what my last appraisal /boss/ colleague said...”)

  • Weaknesses : This needs to be authentic. Put the weakness in the past (“Early in my career I was told…..   I took this on board and learnt from it and so now…”). Only volunteer one weakness.

 6. Give me an example of a difficult working relationship you have experienced.



  • What was the situation, what did you do and what was the outcome ?

  • What did you learn from this ? Choose an example with a happy ending.


 7. How might your colleagues describe you? And on a bad day?



  • Be realistic, ideally supported by examples e.g. from appraisals, comments from senior individuals.

  • Tell a very short story if you can to bring it alive and add credibility.


 8. What are your interests?



  • Unless you and your interviewer share a passionate interest it is unlikely that you will spend a long time on this topic.

  • It is an opportunity to show enthusiasm by talking about something you like and to build rapport

General Tips

  • Do enough research on the organisation so that you can ask intelligent questions and gather as much useful information as you can e.g. from your contacts, Glassdoor, previous employees

  • Check the LinkedIn profile of those that are going to interview you

  • Try and find out how long you will probably have and what the likely interview format will be; try and talk to previous interviewees​​


  • Mentally be prepared for unexpected questions (e.g. “What would you like your epitaph to be?”) Give yourself a few seconds to prepare your answer e.g. “That’s a great question  before your answer e.g.  “He made a difference”. You might be asked “What would you do in this role in your first 90 days?

  • Public sector interviews are likely to be different in style and mainly be about your giving meticulous evidence and examples of how you meet the criteria in the “Applicants’ Information Pack” so that you score more highly than competing candidates. The formality of the process may be trying but you have to follow it carefully.

About the Author

After an international business career, Mike Smith

has coached over 300 individual experienced mature

clients during their career transition, is chairman of

OfficePOD Ltd., (a modular office company), a

non-executive director of Global Secure Accreditation Ltd.

(a hotel security  accreditation business),

and a TEDx speaker on work and well-being

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