Every interview is different. A good interviewer will tailor their questions to the company, the role, and to you.
They’re looking to find out as quickly and as effectively as possible whether you’re suitable for the position. At the same time, you’re trying to figure out whether the role is suitable for you.
Despite this, there are plenty of questions that you will come across again and again, largely because they are relevant to a range of jobs, companies and people.
You need to be able to give well researched and well thought-out answers. When the same questions crop up many times, it pays to have prepared thoroughly for them.
Put the time and effort in beforehand, and you can come up with a handy list of questions you’re likely to be asked. And being prepared for a question is a million times better than trying to scramble for an answer on the spot.
So, in this article we’ve prepared a list of 50 of the most common interview questions, structured by category, and with explanations on how to answer that type of question well.
You are certain to come across a good number of these, so take a look at each category and make sure you have a decent answer ready for each. Many of these questions have their own dedicated article; click each link to see that article.
Even before writing the application, an ideal candidate has a good knowledge of what the company does, what they will be doing in the role they’re applying for, and why they want to take that role.
It’s almost certain that you’ll be asked some variant of at least one of these questions:
The reasoning behind these questions is to ensure that you know what you’re getting into.
If your expectations aren’t aligned with the employer’s, then both sides are in for some problems.
Talk to people who you believe have similar jobs and find out what they typically do on a day-to-day basis (LinkedIn may be useful here). Perhaps even contact the HR department of the company you’re applying to and find out exactly what the job entails.
Not only does this approach mean you enter into the interview with the right expectations, it also allows you to prepare better.
When you know what you’re in for, you can ensure you have the proper skill set and prepared examples that demonstrate that you’re the best person for the job.
Likewise, it pays to have wider knowledge of both the employer and the industry they operate in. Every candidate has access to the internet and will have read the company’s website. That level of information alone is not good enough if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.
Make sure you research the firm in relation to their future plans and recent developments. Find out who their competitors are and what relationships they have with them. Read relevant trade/industry press to learn about current industry issues you can discuss at interview. The more information you have at your disposal, the better placed you are to answer difficult interview questions.
This knowledge also demonstrates that you’re highly prepared and highly motivated. You take an interest not only in the work in front of you, but in what your work means for the company and what role it plays in the wider industry.
You’re likely to be asked questions along the line of these:
5. Why do you want to work for our company?
6. What do you know about us? Or, what do we do?
7. Why do you want to work for a small firm?
8. What draws you to this industry?
9. What do you think of our competitors?
These are questions that are very, very difficult to answer on the spot without preparation, so you’ll be caught out quickly if you try to wing it.
Make sure you’re ready for these questions by doing your homework. Find the company online and read through their website, then move on to their competitors and media within that industry. Be prepared to give a critical analysis of a firm's competitors. Do not criticise them for no reason, and if you like them then do say so (and why).
It’s also likely that the interviewer will ask some potentially tougher questions about your application process within the industry. Such as:
10. What other careers have you considered/applied for?
11. Where else have you applied to/interviewed at?
12. Tell me about your previous employment
It can easily sound like these questions are designed to catch you out. Do you tell them that you’re applying for other companies, and how those applications are progressing?
It’s good to start with what not to say in response to these kinds of questions.
For example, it might not be a good idea to say that you don’t really know what industry you want to work in, or what career you want.
It’s fine to say that you’re not 100% sure, or that you’re happy to try some different things, or that you have considered completely different paths in the past. But you don’t want to imply that you’re only applying on a whim.
If you mention other industries or careers, make sure to steer your point towards the common threads. What interests you about both areas? That can go a long way to showing that you’d still be engaged by and dedicated to the role you’re being interviewed for.
If you talk about other companies who are interviewing you, be diplomatic. Saying: “Oh they were horrible, just awful, you guys are way better than them” will sound sycophantic at best.
Instead, talk about how you like to use the interview as an opportunity to see if the company is a good fit for you, as well as the other way round.
When asked about the number of applications you’ve made, you also need to be careful.
It’s generally best to say that you select the companies carefully and would prefer to be able to put all your energy into a smaller number of interviews. If you say you have made lots of applications, it may suggest you do not know what you are doing, or are trying too hard to get a job.
If you’re applying for jobs and want to get an edge in the application process, this guide to mastering graduate interviews might be useful. When you know the tips and tricks to use, you can walk into the interview room with much greater confidence.
Every role demands some combination of leadership, teamwork and communication. Employers are keen to find evidence of leadership skills in job candidates, particularly for managerial positions such as management-focused graduate schemes. It is also important for employees to possess teamwork and communications skills to discuss problems and reach solutions with other people.
For that reason, you will almost certainly be asked something about these skills, eg:
13. How did you deal with a demanding conflict?
14. Are you a leader?
15. Describe a situation where you worked as part of a team
16. Describe a situation in which you influenced or motivated people
17. Describe a time when you led a team
18. What would you do if you had a personal issue with someone else on your team?
The key to answering these questions is to have plenty of examples ready.
Anyone can say that they are great at working within a team, or can lead any group of people to success. The important thing is to have evidence.
For each of these questions, try to come up with two examples you can use.
When describing these examples, it’s best to use the STAR technique to ensure you cover all the important points.
First, you describe the situation – the context of the project or piece of work that your example is situated in.
Then, you talk about the task: the specific thing that needed doing. This is the core of your example.
Then, you tell the interviewer what action you took towards that task – the steps taken to overcome the problem you were facing.
Finally, you wrap up with the result. What happened as a consequence of your actions? If you can, statistics work wonders here, eg that as a result of your action profitability increased by 15%.
This technique will help ensure that you adequately and concisely describe any example in a way that tells the interviewer exactly what they need to know.
Many jobs revolve around analysing and solving problems. If this is a central part of the role you’re applying for, you can expect a few questions on your approach to problems.
In these instances, you may also be given a work-based scenario and asked what you would do, requiring you to visualise a problem and a way of solving it.
Questions in this category include:
19. How do you go about solving problems?
20. What do you do when faced with an unfamiliar problem?
21. Are you an analytical thinker?
The key here is that often employers care less about your answer and more about your method.
If you can show that you consider problems in a systematic, reasonable and effective way, then you are demonstrating that you have a great foundation for your problem-solving abilities. The necessary facts or techniques to reach the right answer can come later.
If you’re asked about your approach, think about how you would conduct the research and gather the relevant facts. Consider whether or not you’d talk to anyone else to learn from their insight or expertise, and also think about what resources you’d need.
The best problem-solvers are able to zoom in on key details and prise out the nitty-gritty, but can also zoom out and see the big picture and where everything fits into it.
Even the most skilled, most intelligent employees can fall behind if they lack motivation. Employers know this.
For any job, you will most likely be asked about what makes you tick, and what you aspire to.
They want to see that you’re a driven person who cares about their work not only because it gives them a pay cheque at the end of the month, but also because they care about delivering solid work.
For these questions, they are looking into what drives you forward on a day-to-day basis. What kind of things are you proud of doing? Why were you not getting that at your previous job? Why do you think you can get that at this job?
You could say that you enjoy challenges and love the feeling of satisfaction you get from producing great work, even though it may have been difficult and there may have been intense pressure. It would also be good to mention that you enjoy working as part of a productive team and contributing to successful projects.
If you can, try to show that you are self-motivating. Give examples of times when you have pushed yourself to achieve success, for example: completing university coursework, setting up your own business, or organising a sports team. You do not want to appear as someone who always needs someone else to tell you what to do. Show that you are prepared to achieve success.
If you can answer these questions in a passionate and genuine way, then you’ll soar in the employer’s estimations.
25. What do you expect to be doing in five years’ time?
26. How would you describe your ideal job?
These questions are more tailored towards long-term aspirations, and so are especially relevant in entry-level jobs that are likely to lead into a career.
It’s important that you show that you’re always striving for better, but also that you care about the role in front of you.
Try to show that this role is a crucial stepping stone for your career path. You’d find the work satisfying and fulfilling, but you want to prove to yourself and the company that you can develop to more advanced work.
Be realistic about where your career could go. Show that you are motivated by success and promotion. Many people say that they would like to be managing a team and having more input into work processes and company policy.
Talking about ourselves can often feel unnatural and uncomfortable, especially when we’re being asked to big ourselves up. Doubly so when we’re being asked to talk ourselves down in a scenario where that feels like exactly the opposite of what we’re supposed to be doing.
But, partly for those reasons, employers love asking candidates about their strengths and weaknesses:
27. What are your strengths?
28. What are your weaknesses?
29. How would you describe yourself?
30. What is your biggest weakness?
31. How would a friend or colleague describe you?
32. How would your worst enemy describe you?
Regardless of what those strengths and weaknesses actually are, candidates who answer these questions well show the employer that they are self-aware, self-critical, and willing to improve.
And those three traits should form the cornerstone of your answer.The point you’re trying to get across is that you can reflect on yourself critically, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and have the motivation to improve.
When talking about your strengths, the balance you’re attempting to strike is between coming across as too arrogant on one side, and being so humble on the other side that it seems like you don’t have any significant strengths.
Make sure to pick strengths that are honest, relevant to the job, and can be backed up by examples.
Being asked to talk about your weaknesses is perhaps even more scary. You’re trying to put across your best self in the interview, not discuss the things you aren’t so good at.
It’s a fine line to walk, but answering this question well can set you apart from other candidates who will inevitably struggle with it.
Talk about a genuine weakness – don’t try to avoid the question. Of course, make sure that the weakness isn’t critical to the role. For example, don’t say you’re just awful at working with numbers and figures if you’re applying for accounting.
Instead, use your weakness as a springboard to show that you are self-reflective and self-aware, and talk about the steps you’re taking to mitigate or address that weakness.
By acknowledging that you are not perfect you are showing humility, which is in itself a strong quality to possess. For example, you could say something like:
“Before I got to university I was quite shy in social situations. I quickly realised that it was important to be more confident and consequently joined several sports teams and groups to force myself to meet people and be more outgoing. In my second year I joined a drama society and my friends say that ever since then, I've never stopped talking.”
Everyone has weaknesses and your interviewer will understand this. They will certainly have their own. Be prepared to be truthful, albeit measured in your responses to these questions.
The best way to prepare is by reading as many interview questions and answers as possible. Interview Gold can help you with a method of preparation that enhances your chances of success.
For most jobs, coming across as trustworthy and conscientious is a huge advantage.
So, it makes sense that you’ll be asked about it:
33. Give me an example of a time when you failed to hit a deadline
34. How do you deal with adversity?
35. What was your biggest setback?
36. What do you do when you are late for work?
Again, the biggest advantage you can gain here is if you have examples.
Anyone can say that they are trustworthy, or good at coming back from a setback. The real question is whether you can back it up with evidence.
Think back to any time when you had to deal with a tough deadline or deal with a difficult situation. Come up with as many concrete examples for these as you can, and be ready to talk about them.
The same goes for your negative experiences too. If you’ve had a setback in the past from which a project you were involved with didn’t recover, then you can talk about that too. Just frame it in terms of what you can learn from that failure.
Everyone fails at some point – success comes from being able to learn from those failures.
Being asked about salary and benefits can easily feel awkward. Especially if you weren’t expecting it.
For many jobs – especially at entry-level – the salary is fixed and largely non-negotiable. But that’s not always the case.
The key to being able to confidently talk about your salary requirements is research. Talk to others in the industry and do some digging. Use Glassdoor and industry media. You should be able to find out what a reasonable salary is in your area for that role, and from there you have a strong negotiating position.
37. Are there any benefits we offer you would like more detail on?
38. What sort of salary are you ideally looking for?
Once you know the average salary, match your expectations to that. For instance, if the average salary is around £25,000, then if asked about it say that you’re looking for a salary that’s around £24,000 to £26,000.
It’s important that you get this right. If your salary demands are too low, you could be seen as undervaluing yourself. Too high, and you could be seen as either overvaluing yourself, or as being too motivated by money, to the point where you’d be liable to leave the job as soon as a higher-paying position came up.
In general, you shouldn’t talk about money as a prime motivator for you. Of course, you need to put food on the table and want to be properly rewarded for your work, but you don’t want to give the impression that it takes precedence over everything, like being interested in the work itself.
You should also avoid asking about salary yourself. It makes it appear like you’ve not done your research, or that you’re interested in the job purely for financial reasons. Let them bring up the subject.
An exception to this could be commission-based roles, such as sales and recruitment. In these industries, employers often want people who are highly motivated by money, as that will incentivise them to work harder for more commission.
If you’re a recent graduate looking for a graduate role, it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked about your time at university.
You’ll be asked about what you learned there, why you went there, what experience you gained, and so on.
Likely questions include:
39. Why did you choose your university, and what factors influenced your decision?
40. Did you enjoy university?
41. Why did you choose your degree subject?
42. What do you think graduates in your degree subject have to offer this kind of role?
The less vocational your university degree was, the more difficult these questions are to answer.
Of course, someone with an Engineering degree is going to have skills suited to being an engineer. But if you’ve studied a subject like English or History, you might need to think more carefully.
It’s not that less vocational subjects have less to offer – far from it – it’s just that the skills they develop are less specific to a particular job or industry.
You’ll need to put the pieces of the puzzle together to argue what skills you gained from your degree, and how they can help you perform the role in question.
As always, prepare some examples from your time at university that demonstrate the skills you developed there. Do some research online to find out what kind of jobs graduates in your subject end up at, and think about how your subject helps to prepare you for the role you’re applying for.
These questions also become more important if you’re applying for a role that’s a significant departure from your degree. For instance, if you’re an English graduate applying for an accounting position, then you’ve got some explaining to do.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing – there’s plenty someone with a degree coming from a different angle or perspective can offer other fields – but you will need to be prepared to explain why you changed tack, and what skills you can transfer.
Employers often ask about your hobbies and interests as a way to glean less obvious information about yourself and your approach to life.
It can also be a fantastic way for you to make yourself stand out as a candidate, by using your hobbies and extracurricular activities to demonstrate a whole new set of skills and achievements.
Here are some questions that might lead you down this road:
43. How would you describe yourself?
44. What are your hobbies?
45. Where you involved in any teams or societies at university?
The important thing to remember here is that, ironically, talking about your hobbies is not a chance for you to put your feet up. The best way to tackle this question is to talk about the hobbies you have that are more involved, and that develop further skills.
For instance, watching films on Netflix isn’t a good answer, but talking about the movie review blog you run is.
That’s because watching Netflix isn’t an active activity that engages your brain – it’s something you do to switch off (though we all need that once in a while). Writing about movies and running a blog, however, takes that same hobby and applies some active engagement to it; some critical thought and organisation.
Sports, writing, literature, drawing, painting, making music, attending talks, carpentry, home brewing, exercise, learning languages… All these and many more are fantastic examples of activities you can talk about that demonstrate a wide variety of skills, and all take some amount of dedication, organisation and learning.
46. What are your computing skills like?
This is a similar question, but one that is slightly more to-the-point.
Many jobs will require at least a basic knowledge of computer skills, so make sure you have a good grasp of Microsoft Office. Of course, some jobs will have specific computing requirements, so be aware of those before you apply.
If you can, concrete examples of times you’ve used various software packages is a big advantage.
Before you apply, make sure you know the travel or relocation requirements of the job. Both of these (particularly relocation) can often be a deal-breaker, so there’s no sense applying if it’s not for you.
If it’s a requirement of the job, you’ll likely be asked about how you feel about travel.
47. Do you enjoy travelling?
48. How would you feel about frequent travel?
49. Would you like to work in a foreign country?
50. How would you feel about relocating?
If you are happy to travel frequently – such as to see foreign clients – then talk about times in the past when you’ve successfully moved away from home, eg going to university.
Show your enthusiasm by talking about how much you enjoy seeing new places, getting different perspectives and meeting new people.
If you’ll need to relocate (and you’re happy to do so), you might want to also mention that you have nothing tying you down at the moment.
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