Don’t Let Common Interview Questions Cost You The Job

As you leave an interview there are few feelings as frustrating as “I should have had an answer prepared for that”.

Or, worse still, the realisation that, having tripped up, your rhythm and confidence were affected for the rest of the interview.

So we thought we’d put together a list of common questions to minimise the chances you’ll be caught out.

But before you look at our common questions here, I wanted to share a little advice about how best to approach every question you are asked.

Best practice when answering questions

  • If you are unsure whether you understand a question then ask the interviewer to clarify what they mean. If it is complex or multi-part, write it down.

  • Don’t rush into an answer. Take a moment to consider your response before replying. If the pause is going to be awkwardly long then explain you’d like a few seconds to reflect before answering or preface your answer “That is an interesting question…” to buy a little time.

  • Answer the question directly and concisely. Evasive, rambling or waffly answers are often worse than acknowledging what you don’t know or can’t say.

  • Without locking eyes with the interviewer, do make eye contact during your answers if you can. We appreciate that this might be very uncomfortable to do and we're trying to educate hiring managers about neurodiversity and how this can be painful for some. But there's a lot of work to be done and it remains 'expected'. If you can, then it can go a long way.

  • Help the interviewer by ensuring your answers relate as closely as possible to the role you are applying for.

  • Don’t make the interviewer question your professionalism by being disparaging about other individuals/ organisations or by being over-familiar / over-sharing.

General preparation

The job description will highlight the skills and experience the employer is most likely to focus on in the interview so bear that in mind while considering all your answers (see our blog “How to interview well”) however also think about:

  • Challenges and learning – expect the interviewer to ask you about experiences which might have been challenging for you, how you managed them and what you learned.

  • Skills competence – if an interviewer is looking for a particular skill they may ask you to perform tasks to show your abilities. These are known as competency-based interviews and, as a general rule, your recruitment consultant will let you know what to expect. Otherwise, they may expect you to illustrate your skills using examples from your work history.

  • CV gaps & discrepancies – if you have a gap on your CV, a series of quick moves, or discrepancies between your CV and your LinkedIn profile then expect the interviewer to probe around these. It's usual for someone to want to know what motivated you to move on.

Common questions to prepare for

  • "Tell me a little about yourself” – if you are unsure whether the interviewer means personally or professionally then ask them but typically you should focus on why you chose your career path, why you accepted certain jobs and reasons for leaving jobs.

  • “Why do you want to leave your current job?” – your motivations for leaving your current role will always be of interest. Be careful not to bad-mouth a current or past employer. It's possible to be honest and diplomatic.

  • Strengths and weaknesses – interviewers will often ask a candidate to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. For strengths show the impact you have had. For weaknesses describe what you are doing to mitigate them e.g. training.

  • Emotional ‘profiling’ – it is not uncommon for an interviewer to ask you to describe the last time you got angry / felt proud / collaborated. The interviewer will be looking for context including the outcome of the situation to understand how you will fit into the team.

  • “Tell me about a situation where you had to…” – interviewers will often want context to understand how you approach different situations and what motivates you. Common questions focus on managing conflicting opinions or approaches, influencing capabilities, your achievements etc.

  • “What is your current salary?” – candidates often get cagey when asked about their salary. Respond directly and honestly, even if that's "I'd prefer not to say. My expectation is within the salary range that you advertised".

  • “What salary are you looking for?” – if you don’t have a clear idea and you're working with a recruitment consultant, refer the interviewer back to the consultant. Once you have uttered a figure it is hard to reset expectations so it is important to get this right.

  • “What questions do you have for me?” – interviewers expect you to have questions for them – it shows you have options and that the interview is a two-way street. If you find that everything you intended to ask has been covered you can reply accordingly.

  • Your approach to the role – the interviewer may want to understand the thought you have already put into the role and will typically ask questions such as what you think the biggest challenges of the job are, and how would you approach those challenges.

  • Will you fit into the team – the interviewer may want to understand your social side and may ask what you do outside work to get an idea of your personality and general demeanour beyond your technical expertise. Some interviewers will think it relevant to your finding common ground within the team, others will be focused purely on your ability to do the job but asking questions about your outside pursuits helps to build a greater understanding of what interests you. Bringing people into the business with new interests actually helps build a more diverse team with new ideas and perspectives.

  • Your suitability for the role – to better assess your suitability for the role some interviewers will ask directly why you think you are the best candidate for or why you want the job so be prepared to be confident without being arrogant.

Contact us now for a free, no-obligation chat. Contact Clare here.

Clare Wight is the founder and Managing Director of Clarity Appointments, an independent recruitment specialist. She served as a Regional Director for The Employment Agents Movement, supporting other independent recruiters.

She remains an active member of Recconnect (formerly Members Only), a recruitment leadership network promoting high ethical standards, collaboration, diversity, equity and inclusion.

She believes business owners are more fulfilled and higher-performing when they provide emotional and professional business support to other business owners, even those they deem to be competitors. She does this actively, whilst challenging and updating her skills and knowledge of the recruitment sector, enabling her to offer the best advice to firms looking to make their next hire.