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Interview Questions

Avoid surprises — interviews obviously need preparation. There are some questions however that tend to come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. Alongside the National Careers Service we've gathered together the most commonly asked interview questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start

1. Your skills

Typical questions an interviewer might ask:
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What can you do for us that other candidates can't?
  • What would your colleagues and friends consider as your best qualities?
  • Why should we hire you?
What the interviewer really wants to know: can you do the job? ;

Know your strengths, and try to mention ones that are relevant to the job you're being interviewed for. It's also very important to quote specific examples of when you used these skills.

Typical strengths employers look for are:
  • Communication - the ability to get on with a wide range of people
  • Team working - the ability to be an effective team leader or team member
  • IT skills - most jobs these days need some IT skills
  • Good attitude - hard worker, honest, polite, co-operative
  • Problem solving –an ability to use your initiative to identify solutions
  • Enthusiasm - employers like someone positive
  • Quick learner - so you can take on new tasks
  • Determination - shows you are focused on achieving goals
  • Flexibility - doing a variety of tasks to achieve a common goal.
If you are asked about a weakness, don't list too many - only mention one! Choose a minor flaw that isn't essential to the job. Turn it into a positive, such as how you have worked on the weakness, or alternatively present it as an opportunity for development.  

Good answers:
  • Strengths: 'I'm a good organiser, and I plan everything meticulously. I showed this when I was given a new project, and I had to get it up and running from scratch.'
  • Weaknesses: 'Sometimes I'm too enthusiastic when working on a new project. But I've learned to adjust to everyone else's pace, and not go charging ahead.'

2. The employer

Typical questions:
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • What makes you uniquely suitable for the position?
  • Have you visited our website – what was on there that you liked?
What the interviewer really wants to know: Do you know what we do? Why have you chosen to apply to this company?

The interviewer wants to know that you've done your homework and that you know about the organisation and its business objectives. They want to know you've thought it through and you've chosen to apply to them for a good reason.

Show your knowledge of the company by having some facts and figures at the ready, such as:
  • The size of the organisation
  • What the product or service offering is
  • Last year's turnover figures
  • Latest developments in the field
  • The history, goals, image and philosophy of the employer.
  • When talking about why you want to work for the employer, focus on what you can do for them, not on what they can do for you.
When talking about why you want to work for the employer, focus on what you can do for them, not on what they can do for you.

3. About the job

Typical questions:
  • What are the main tasks, responsibilities and accountabilities in this job?
  • What do you anticipate the main challenges will be?
  • What would you do in the first day/week/month/year?
What the interviewer really wants to know: Do you know what the job's all about?

The interviewer wants to know if you fully understand what the job will involve. They want to know why you think you'd be good at it, and how you'd approach it if they offer you the job. To answer this question well, make sure you read the job description thoroughly and research how the organisation operates.

Good answer:
  • 'The main task is to supervise a team of design engineers to ensure they produce robust design solutions. It's my responsibility to motivate them and to set project milestones, standards and technical solutions.'

4. Your ambitions

Typical questions:
  • What are your personal career goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years time?
What the interviewer really wants to know: How ambitious are you?

This is your chance to show how enthusiastic you are to get on. (You should avoid sounding too aggressive and over-ambitious: 'I want to become managing director in three years'.) Avoid sounding unenthusiastic and passive: 'I'm not sure - I'll see how it goes'.

Short-term and long-term goals. Remember you are at the interview for that particular job - so your short-term goal should be to get that job for the time being. Then you can start talking about moving on higher.

Good answer:

'My immediate aim is to become a recognised subject matter expert in the engineering technology utilised, with my ultimate goal of leading, mentoring or managing other engineers .'

5. Your work history

Typical questions:
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • Tell me about a typical day in your current/previous job
  • What experience have you got from previous jobs?
What the interviewer really wants to know: What have you done in your previous jobs?

When talking about previous jobs, focus on the positives. Even if you think your previous or current job wasn't very demanding, if you jot down the tasks and responsibilities it will sound more impressive than you think. You will have learned something, so mention it. Focus on the skills and experience that are relevant to the job you're being interviewed for.

Don't bring up negative things like having a dispute with a colleague or your boss. And don't criticise previous employers.

Good answer:
  • 'In my current job I have developed my knowledge of computer software packages. But now I'm ready for a new challenge, and want to use these skills in a more customer-focused role.'

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