Guest blog: How to prepare for the 6 most common interview questions

If you’ve recently graduated, you may already be thinking ahead to what your next steps might be in terms of your career. As you begin to do so, your mind will start posing questions about the interview process – and that can feel quite daunting if you aren’t sure what to expect.

Read on to find out the 6 most common interview questions, with some tips on how to prepare for them and answer with confidence on the day.

Tell me about yourself

This is always one of the first questions in an interview. The reason you’ll be asked this is not because they want to know about your likes and interests, but because they want to hear what you value most about yourself in your career.

Think of it as a little bit like the overview you give on a CV.

The company will want to hear about your commitments to your career and what kind of person you are as a professional.

It’s useful to find out a bit about the company’s ethos ahead of your interview, so that you can gauge how you should approach this question.

cup-1615074_960_720What is your greatest strength?

If blowing your own trumpet is no easy task, then this question can be a tough one to answer.

The key here is to keep it relevant and think about what the company is looking for in you. It’s worth reflecting on previous jobs where possible (part time, internships and volunteering are all noteworthy), so that you can demonstrate your strengths.

This is a question that could ultimately set you apart from or give way to other candidates, so take this opportunity to closely match the qualities that the company is seeking.

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Interview mistakes to avoid!

According to the Undercover Recruiter, 33% of recruiters know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they’ll hire someone. So what can you do to give yourself the best chance of success? Their top tips include:

  • Research the company. You’ve heard it many times before, but it really is important to understand the job you’re applying to, the company and how the industry works. See our advice here.
  • Be ready to describe your experience. They suggest that ‘Tell me about yourself’ is the most commonly asked interview question. So how exactly should you answer? Well, you’re in luck! We’ve got a blog to help you right here.
  • Be aware of your body language. Failing to make eye contact, crossing your arms and using too many hand gestures are all quoted below as some of the most common non-verbal mistakes. Why not book a 1-2-1 mock interview with a Careers Consultant to perfect your technique?

See the image below for a summary of the findings from The Undercover Recruiter’s research.


Credit: The Undercover Recruiter


5 quick interview tips

handshake-2056023_960_720So, you’ve been offered an interview – congratulations! But how do you start to prepare? Research from CV Library suggests that 87% of UK workers research the company before an interview, 43% practise common interview questions, and 43% also prepare a smart outfit.

We’ve pulled together 5 quick tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research – explore the company’s website and find out what they do, where they’re based and who their competitors are. You could take a look at their social media profiles or look at recent news articles to gain an understanding of what’s happening in the sector. See our recent blog from Careers Consultant Gill for further advice on how to research a company.
  2. Re-read the job description – it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the role you’ve applied to. After all, it could be a while since you filled out that application form. Make sure you understand what skills and experience the employer is looking for, as it’s likely you’ll be asked about this at your interview. Don’t forget to re-read your CV too!
  3. Book a mock interview – we run 30 minute face-to-face mock interviews where you can practise your interview technique and answer questions relevant to the role you’re applying to. These run throughout the week, so call us on 020 7882 8533 as soon as you have been offered an interview, and we can book you in. Please note that you do need to have an actual interview lined up in order to book one of these appointments.
  4. Practise common interview questions – try our online interview simulator (middle of top row) and browse a range of commonly asked questions, and read helpful do’s and don’ts. For each question, there’s also a short video from a recruiter outlining exactly how to ask the question.
  5. Make sure you’re prepared on the day – check your interview confirmation and remind yourself of exactly where you need to go (why not go take a look before the day?), who you need to speak to and allow plenty of time in case of transport issues.

For more information on interviews, see the Knowledge Bank on QMPlus – good luck!

How to research a company

gillGill Lambert, Careers Consultant

This blog focuses on how to research a company, an activity which is needed to make your cover letter stand out and also to answer the inevitable interview question “Why do you want to work for us?”  

I wrote this blog because my daughter recently asked me how to research a company. She graduated last summer and is looking for work through for graduate schemes.  I advised her to use the checklist below to organise the information and then I suggested a number of ways of gathering it. 

Information Checklist 

  • Basics: what the company does, who its customers are, who its competitors are 
  • Size & Reach: how many employees they have, where their offices are
  • History: origins and  defining moments 
  • Industry: trends, opportunities, threats
  • Financials & Operations: how, where and why it is growing (staying stable or shrinking), future plans
  • Reputation: what it offers that’s unique compared to its competitors, its market share, its reputation in the industry
  • News: press releases and articles 
  • Structure: the names of executives and advisers profiled on their employees page, how the company is organised, how the department that you are applying to impacts on the company’s business,  
  • Ethics: values, aims, personnel policies

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Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

21523294814_ddd84475e2_bOften appearing towards the end of an interview, this question seems relatively straightforward. Indeed, the main problem candidates face with this question is not having thought that far ahead! But don’t worry, this question isn’t a test of your prediction skills – it’s a job interview question just like any other. So how do you answer it?

First of all, the panel does not want to hear about your personal aspirations. This includes where you want to live, how much money you want to earn, whether you want to start a family, and even ‘I want to be doing a job that I enjoy’. As with other interview questions, keep your answer focused and professional. Your ambitions should be related to the industry you’re applying for and, if it’s a full-time position, preferably to the company or organisation you’re being interviewed by.

A good strategy is to break your answer down chronologically, beginning with the position you’re applying for. If it’s an internship, how will it provide a stepping-stone to your future career development? If it’s a graduate job, how do you hope to progress within the role? It’s important to stress how you want to develop the skills you’ve already mentioned in the interview, and that you want to become an expert in your field.

Nonetheless, be realistic. Five years may seem like a long time, but it’s not an eternity in professional terms. If you say that you want to be managing an entire team by then, you’ll look naïve rather than ambitious. To avoid such mistakes, it’s a good idea to find out what other people who’ve applied for your position in the past have gone on to do (LinkedIn is a great resource for this). That way, you can find out what’s achievable, whilst tailoring your answer to your own aspirations.

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What is your greatest achievement?

winner-1019835_960_720As with many interview questions, ‘What is your greatest achievement?’ is not as straightforward as it first appears. That doesn’t mean it should be difficult to answer, but you have to know what the interviewer is looking for.

Let’s start with the basics. This does not have to be your greatest achievement in a literal sense, since that may be a personal matter (such as helping a family member). Rather, it should be a great achievement drawn from your professional experience. This includes work experience but also your education and extra-curricular activities.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of having to decide your ‘greatest’ achievement, try to think of an experience that shows you at your best. This, in turn, should provide an insight into your values and motivations.

The choice of achievement is important. The achievement you give should be something you’re genuinely proud of. However, a generic answer such as passing your driving test or getting good exam results says little about what makes you unique as a candidate.

Likewise, don’t give an answer that’s too general and/or can’t be backed up with evidence, such as ‘I’ve learned to be more confident around new people’. Not only is this unverifiable, it seriously lacks wow factor!

Examples of good answers include:

  • a challenge that you overcame
  • a time that you led a team to success
  • a difficult customer that you dealt with (and how)
  • an award that you won (and why)

The structure of your answer should be similar to that of other competency-based questions. As such, you should follow the STAR technique, with the exception that the ‘R’ (result) part comes first. But what the interviewer is most interested in is how you reached that achievement (the ‘action’ part of your answer).

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Do you have any questions?

You’ve reached the end of the interview. You’ve navigated your way through difficult questions with answers that are well-structured, evidence-based and enthusiastic (well, hopefully!) But don’t relax just yet. Almost all interviews end with the seemingly simple ‘Do you have any questions for us?’

Inexperienced candidates may fall into the trap of interpreting this literally, and say something like ‘When will I find out if I’m successful?’ Don’t make this mistake! ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ is just as much an interview question as any other. The only difference is that your answer is a question.

One good thing about this question is, since you can almost guarantee it will come up, you can prepare your questions in advance. So it’s a great opportunity to put the knowledge you’ve gained about that company or organisation to good use. Questions such as ‘How do you think X challenge will affect your company over the coming years?’ are good, but it’s even better if you can insert yourself into the scenario – for example, ‘What challenges relating to X would I be expected to deal with in this position?’ By doing this, you’re creating a connection between yourself and the job you want to get in the interviewers’ minds.

There are many other ways of approaching this question, and some may become clear to you depending on the industry you’re applying to or the experience you already have (for example, ‘Would I be able to utilise my experience with X in this position?’). The most important thing is to show enthusiasm for the role, knowledge about the company or organisation, and preferably also that you’re already imagining yourself there and thinking about what you’ll be doing. These will all create a positive impression.

Of course it’s possible that the question(s) you’ve prepared will be answered over the course of the interview, in which case you’ll have to think on your feet to find another. The best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to prepare at least three in advance of the interview.

The interviewer will usually make it clear whether they want just one or more than one question, but if in doubt, stick to just one. If they want more than one, a combination of a broader question (e.g. ‘What are the main challenges…’) and a more specific one (e.g. ‘What would I be expected to do on my first day?’) can work well.

The questions you ask are unlikely to ruin a good interview, or save a bad one, but they can ensure that the interview ends on a high and leaves the panel with a good impression of you.

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

Don’t forget you can find a range of interview resources on our Knowledge Bank, including a mock interview simulator. If you have an interview lined up, you can also book a 30 minute mock interview with a Careers Consultant by calling 020 7882 8533.