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Receiving a call back from your potential future employer is exciting indeed. But, now that you have one foot through the front door, the next step is where the real work begins.

After all, a job interview is the first time you will face your potential employer, which is the perfect, if not, the only, opportunity to set an excellent first impression on your potential manager.

Your interview answers, too, reflect who you are and give important insights into how you can contribute to the role and fit in with the team and the company’s values.

As such, you want to be as prepared as you can. The good news is that you already know to a reasonable extent what your interviewer will ask you.

Therefore, the next step is to prepare succinct, relevant responses to some of the most common job interview questions that a hiring manager will ask you during your conversation and practise them with a friend or a mirror.

Here’s a quick video interview tip: Write your answers down ahead of your interviews and keep them next to you during the interview. Throw in hand gestures so you don’t look like you are reading off a list. Practise the delivery of your answers while making sure you sound as natural as possible.

Related: How to use the STAR method (or technique) to excel at job interviews

10 most common job interview questions and how to answer them

1. Tell me about yourself

After the initial pleasantries, a self-introduction is in order. While you may think this is your opportunity to tell your life story or share your favourite travel destinations, it is not.

Nobody wants to know which school you attended or the details of your first job because the hiring manager already has your resume and your career and education background.

This is the part of the hiring process for you to highlight specific achievements while you do a quick summary of your career and passion and how they have led you to apply for this particular role in this specific industry. Craft a brief, punchy response to this question.

Tailor it to the role you are applying for, and having a personal brand in place will leave the interviewer interested and wanting to know more.

The point of this question is to evaluate your presentation skills. (Read this dedicated article for an in-depth explanation.) you are still being assessed between the lines to see how well you fit into the company’s culture (or not).

Related: Why do I need to tell recruiters and employers my last-drawn salary when making a career move?

2. Why do you want to work here?

Most hiring managers ask this question because they want to know how enthusiastic and knowledgeable you are about the company and the role you applied for.

In response to this interview question, you should give specific examples of things that piqued your interest in the company and the job description in the first place. Next, elaborate on your strengths, achievements and skills, then link them back to the job you are applying for.

If the company has an expansive presence online, one easy way to learn more is to go through past news releases to find out the various projects and initiatives the company is involved with. These nuggets of information are ammunition you can use to ace this question.

Related: How to know when it’s time to resign - and how to leave well

3. What are your strengths?

The interviewer wants to know what tasks you are particularly good at and how you, as a new hire, will fit into the role. You can pick a few key strengths relevant to the role and then give past examples to support those examples.

These strengths could include everything from leadership and teamwork to your ability to work on tight deadlines or multitask. Go easy with your answer, though, because going off on a question like that risks coming across as too boastful — not a quality that most interviewers necessarily gravitate to.

When talking about your strengths, one easy way to avoid being too boastful is to give a past example of how you faced a difficult situation and the skills you engaged in handling the problem. Stick to the facts; you will naturally display your strengths without being overly confident about them.

Related: 3 impactful resume templates for your job search

4. What are your weaknesses? (or what is your biggest weakness?)

And with the question on strengths comes the one on weaknesses. Instead of using the word ‘weakness’, think of it as ‘areas for improvement.

For example, if you lack a particular skill set, you can mention it and outline the steps you are taking to overcome the said shortcoming (i.e. online courses to upskill during your free time).

The idea here is to be honest about where you fall short and show that you are proactively trying to fill those skill gaps. Lastly, never say that you don’t have any weaknesses. It comes across as arrogant and that you have a lack of self-awareness.

5. What have been your achievements?

This question is bound to come up, so prepare examples and keep two or three key achievements in your back pocket, complete with some facts and figures to back them up.

On top of that, give a summary of the situations that led to those achievements, the actions you took under those circumstances, and the skills you utilised to achieve the positive outcome. You could have a shortlist of these accomplishments at hand at all times, so you can rotate them based on who you are talking to or the job you are applying for.

Related: How to negotiate for a higher salary

6. What did you like or dislike about your previous role?

Asking you this question is the interviewer’s attempt to determine your key interests and whether the job on offer has tasks or responsibilities that you will like or dislike. For the positive aspects of your last position, things are pretty straightforward.

First, focus on the parts you enjoyed the most, explain what you learned from them, and then talk about how they made you develop as an individual.

On the flip side, you left your last job or planned to resign from your current job for a reason — sometimes a variety of reasons — but the key is not to take this opportunity to air your grievances. Instead, be mindful of criticising your previous employer. Even if your former boss was a toxic individual, complaining about them can come across sometimes as you pushing the blame on others.

Choose examples that do not reflect on your skills, such as company size or the team you were working with, or reveal a positive trait (such as your distaste for the lengthy decision-making process and bureaucratic tapes). The trick is to turn even the negatives, such as a toxic boss, into a positive.

Related: What to expect in your second interview

7. What are your future goals?

Variations of this question could include “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”, “How do you envision your career path?” or “How do you see yourself developing in this company?”

No matter the delivery of the question, the purpose is the same: to probe your ambition and the extent of your career planning.

In response, describe how your goal is to continue to grow, learn, add value and take on new responsibilities in the future that build on the role for which you are applying. Avoid replies like “I see myself being part of the company” because that’s why you have a job interview in the first place.

That is not to say that interviewers will only ask you a standard set of questions. There is a whole host of unusual interview questions or behavioural questions that they can ask. However, once you have your bases covered with the common ones, your foundation is set for more challenging, complex interview challenges ahead.

8. What do you think we should do differently?

A variation of this common question could be, “What would you first, 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this role”? Essentially, the interviewer wants to determine your priorities with this question when you begin your work with the company.

This is also a common interview question for start-ups, as hiring managers typically want to know that you not only have some knowledge of how the company operates but that you’re able to think critically and bring fresh new ideas to the table.

For example, it could improve the company’s social media presence, a technology-first approach to customer service, or even a policy you want to implement within your team. But, again, the point is to share your opinions and show interest.

Related: How to handle the conversation about your resignation

9. Do you have any questions for me?

Being asked if you have questions for the interviewer does not mean the interview is over. But unfortunately, this seemingly harmless rhetorical question is commonly asked — and saying ‘No’ is one of the worst answers you can give.

Use this opportunity to find out how you can better align your skills with the role or learn more about the company culture. Asking the right questions can help you stand out from the other candidates.

Questions to ask the interviewer at a job interview:

  • What do you enjoy about your role?
  • Is there anything I clarify for you about my work experience and qualifications?
  • What are the biggest challenges of this job?
  • How does the company integrate DE&I (or ESG) policies into its business strategy?
  • Do you have a policy for helping new team members get on board?
  • Can you tell me more about the existing team I would work with if I get the job?
  • What are the prospects for growth and advancement?

A job interview is a two-way street. Instead of the interviewer asking your typical interview questions, this is your opportunity to know more about the company, the role you are applying for, and how you fit into the grander scheme of things.

After all, asking the right questions separates exceptional job seekers from the average.

Related: How to decline a job offer gracefully

10. How do you think the interview went?

Not every question from the interviewer is supposed to be an interview question. However, since it is better to be safe than sorry, it is better to assume that the interview doesn’t end until you are out of the office.

A question like this is to gauge your overall self-awareness, to see if you know that you’ve done a good job (or not). If the interview went as well as expected, you have nothing to worry about. Let the interviewer know what you enjoyed about the conversation, and perhaps ask about the following steps.

After a job interview

If the interview didn’t go as well as planned, be honest about it and let the interviewer know. For example, maybe he asked for a specific case study or example that you couldn’t quite remember the details of a past project with a client that isn’t part of your standard portfolio.

Just remember: a less-than-perfect interview is not the end of your assessment. So take this final opportunity to show your sincerity, and fill in the blanks as much as possible with follow-ups.

About salary expectations: Salary negotiations usually come after the company has expressed interest in hiring you and may come up if a recruiter first approaches you. Nevertheless, keep salary discussions out of your initial interview. This would usually be managed by the HR person or the recruitment consultant.

Are you ready for your next career move? Get in touch with our specialist recruitment consultants.

Read more:
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15 ways to prepare and succeed at virtual job interviews
10 important career lessons most people learn too late in life