How to effectively answer job interview questions

Common job interview questions

& how to answer them!

Job interviews can be nerve wracking. Being sat in the hot seat and expected to summarise your career, strengths and weaknesses, all in a single conversation, while also fielding (and perhaps posing) rapid fire questions isn’t always a fun time.

By preparing for common questions, you can build confidence and make it much easier to answer any of the curveball questions that might normally throw you off. Interviews might even start to feel much more conversational and productive, and you’ll get more offers.

Here’s a few examples of common questions, and some of the best ways to nail the responses to them.

Tell me about yourself

This is probably the most common interview question of all, and it's the first question in many job interviews. Having a strong answer to this question gives a great first impression and will help you to build momentum for the rest of the interview, so it’s important to be properly prepared for it.

How to answer this effectively

  • Stay brief, save things for later. Remember, you’ll still be fielding questions and will likely have to make a stronger case for yourself later in the interview. Resist the urge to blurt out your qualifications upfront so that you will still have impressive things to talk about later in the interview.
  • Customise your answer to the specific job. Think about the context of the role you’re applying for and what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate. Adjust your answer accordingly. How does your education and experience make you a great fit for this role? This rule should really be applied to all interview questions.
  • Show some personality. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that “tell me about yourself” is a casual small-talk question and they start talking about their childhood, pets, family, and hobbies. Injecting a little personality is great but keep 80-90 percent of the reply to this question on your career, skills, and how your qualifications apply to this specific job, with only one or two quick interesting personal facts that might get across the point you will be an interesting person to spend time with.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is meant to gauge how ambitious you are, and whether or not the position you’re applying for is something you actively want to do — or just a pit stop while you pursue something else you’d rather be doing.

When people enjoy what they're doing, they do great work and it's more likely that they'll stick around for the long haul.

How to answer this effectively

You might say something like:

“Since I would be entering your organisation at a junior management level, my goal is to gain the skills and experience necessary to be at the mid-management level and have a team under me within five years.”

Bonus points if you can go into detail regarding the specific skills needed to reach that level.

Why are you leaving your current position?

Take care, this can be a dangerous question. It’s designed to give you the opportunity to say negative things about a current or former workplace, current or former boss, or colleagues. Of course, this will only reflect poorly on you.

Regardless of whether you have legitimate gripes it’s unprofessional to air dirty laundry and could give your interviewer the impression that you’ll run into similar issues in your new workplace, and who is likely to be moaning behind their back about it too.

How to answer this effectively

Answer the question based on what appeals to you about the new opportunity. Mention the things you're looking to do or what you want to accomplish, perhaps potential growth, career opportunities, training and development, or something else. Anything you mention about your current job, or your last job should be kept brief and to the point.

What is your most significant strength?

Leave the generic and canned answers at home. Things like “I’m a hard worker”, or “I’m very honest and loyal” are great strengths to have — but that’s not what you’re really being asked. Be sure your answer involves a strength that would be a major asset in the job that you're interviewing for.

How to answer this effectively

The strength you discuss as your greatest or most significant may vary from one job interview to the next because the qualities you'll need for each job will also vary.

Don't simply answer the question by listing your strengths. Go a step further and provide a real-world example from your professional background that demonstrates that strength in action. Prove to the interviewer that you have the strengths needed for this job. For example, if you’re applying for a customer or client services role you might say something like:

“My interpersonal communication skills are very strong. I’m great at relating to people and anticipating their needs which has really helped me to excel in client-facing positions. By being proactive and reaching out to clients with new offerings, I've been able to increase revenue by 15 percent while also building strong rapport.”

What is your biggest weakness?

This question is tricky because you need to be real, but you also don’t want to overemphasise actual weaknesses. The point of the question is to gauge how open and honest you are, so if you say your biggest weakness is that you “work too hard”, you might hurt your chances and come across as unoriginal and dishonest.

How to answer this effectively

Everyone has weaknesses, so it's best to show some self-awareness and honesty by discussing a vulnerability. Ideally, the weakness you mention will not be one of the most critical aspects of the job (example: if you're interviewing for an accounting position, don't tell the interviewer that you're bad at numbers or attention to detail!).

For extra points, mention what you're doing to improve the weakness. You could be taking an online course, getting coaching, volunteering somewhere to get better experience, or making sure that you ask for feedback from co-workers.

What interests you about this role?

There are lots of jobs you could apply for, so why this one? What is it that appeals to you? Why do you think it's an excellent opportunity? Why is it a good fit for you?

How to answer this effectively

You'll need to research the company (or organization) and the specific role if you want to answer this question effectively. Once you've done that research, this is a perfect opportunity to sell yourself and why you're an ideal fit for the role.

This is another opportunity to talk about how your skill set makes you a good match for this role and talk about what new skills you’re hoping to develop.

How would your colleagues or boss describe you?

This is another one of those questions that is an opportunity to brag, but if you go overboard, you’ll come off as insincere and cringeworthy.

How to answer this effectively

Remember that the interviewer wants to hire someone who will work well with others, become part of the team, and take responsibility and accountability seriously. Focus on issues related to these things and show that you'd be a valuable addition to their team. Use real-world examples whenever possible.

How do you handle stressful situations?

Most jobs involve stress and pressure from time to time, and the interviewer wants to know how you work in these situations. No one is immune to stress, so don't claim that stress doesn't impact you or that you just ignore it and work right through it.

How to answer this effectively

Answer by talking about your approach to managing and overcoming stress or achieving success in high-pressure situations. Be sure to have some specific examples in mind to provide evidence rather than giving a theoretical example.

Why should we hire you?

A lot of times interviewers will end on this question, so think of this as your closing arguments.

This is the perfect opportunity to sell yourself and convince the interviewer that you're the right person for the job. Do a quick recap of the major points you’ve made so far and be sure to highlight anything relevant that hasn’t already come up yet.

How to answer this effectively

When you're answering this question, be sure to exhibit confidence. If you seem like you're unsure of yourself, it will send the wrong signal. As is the case with all interview questions, being specific is key. Have your response prepared ahead of time and be ready to explain why you're right for the job.

The bottom line – nail your interview questions

Interviews can be stressful, but just like most things in life, the more prepared you are the more confident you will be.

With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be able to walk into an interview calm and confident so that you can leave feeling like you nailed it.