6 really common interview questions and how to answer them

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It's a few days before the big job interview, and you're thoroughly prepared. You've done two hours of meditation, a seven-day superfood diet and fifty 'you can do this' pep talks.

But what about the questions you'll be asked on the big day?

However obvious it sounds, you'd be surprised how easy it is to get so nervous that they're the last thing you think about, and get side tracked into spending more time thinking about what outfit to wear.

Wrong choice. Careful question prep is the most important thing you can do, so we asked interview coach Margaret Buj, and Sofie Lundberg, content executive at Milkround, about the trickiest questions interviewers ask - and how to answer them.

  1. 1 'Tell me a bit about yourself.'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Sofie: "With this question, the employer's generally looking to flesh out what they've already learned about you through your CV and any prior conversations.

    "In other words, ensuring that your experience and personality matches the company’s expectations."

    How to answer it

    Margaret: "A mistake candidates often make here is to give a very brief answer - or go to the other extreme and spend 15 minutes giving the interviewer their life story.

    "So instead, begin with a one-sentence statement that summarises your career.

    "Then you can talk briefly about how it developed and add one or two major achievements that clearly highlight a tangible outcome (i.e. cost savings, revenue increase).

    "Finally, end your answer with another one-sentence statement that indicates what you're looking to do next - ensuring, of course, that it matches exactly what the employer's looking for."

  2. 2 'Why do you want to work for us?'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Margaret: "The key to answering this question is to focus on what the company needs, not what you want."

    "You want to show you know lots about company and what you bring to the table - in other words, that you'd really like to work for this company specifically and will contribute in ways that other candidates can't."

    How to answer it

    Margaret: "Your best bet is to express your interest in the company and your knowledge of their business.

    "Focus on a specific aspect of the company that you're interested in - their line of business, the technology they use, a new project they're working on - that illustrates that you've done your research, and weave this into your answer."

  3. 3 'What can you do for our company?'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Margaret: "Again, focus on what you offer the company, and not the other way round. The company wants to make sure that you're the right person for their firm."

    How to answer it

    Margaret: "When a company hires a good person they're making it harder for their competitors to compete with them - so basically, you want to try to answer this question by letting the interviewer know what you can do that other candidates can't.

    "Companies hire people to solve problems, so let the interviewer know what problems you've solved and how your employers benefited as a result.

    "Focus on specific tasks in the job description that are critical to the position and tell the interviewer why you are the person to handle them."

  4. 4 'Why should we hire you?'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Margaret: Here you're expected to let the interviewer know why you're better than other candidates for this job.

    "Just like you did with your CV and cover letter, you need to separate yourself from the pack and illustrate why you're the best person for the position."

    How to answer it

    Margaret: "Focus on answering the question by describing your experience, skills, problem-solving accomplishments and how the company will benefit by hiring you. Tell them why you are the answer to their problem(s).

    "Anyone can say that they have good organisational skills, for example, but if you say something specific - e.g. "I have excellent organisational skills and in the past 12 months I have personally organised and supervised 10 corporate events with up to 300 participants in each one" - you're definitely going to make a better impression than someone giving a generic answer."

  5. 5 'What's your greatest weakness?'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Sofie: "This tests your confidence and self-awareness, and employers are looking for a positive but honest answer."

    "It's a famously tricky one, and easy to be lured into the trap of claiming to be a perfectionist, but this is a disastrous answer as it's a falsely negative one."

    Margaret: "Everyone has a weakness - that's natural - so what the interviewer really wants to see how you answer this question. They may not be as interested in the specific weakness that you mention, unless it's a big one, of course."

    How to answer it

    Sofie: "Focus on an actual weakness you have (IT skills, recent graduate, new in the industry, etc) and outline how you are working to change it."

    Margaret: "If you're taking training courses to improve your lack of computer skills for example, this would illustrate that you are a proactive person who understands the need for self-improvement and that this weakness is under control."

  6. 6 'Do you have any questions for us?'

    What the employer is really looking for

    Sofie: "While this is mainly for the interviewee’s benefit, it also tells the employer whether you've researched the company and position - so having sensible questions shows that you're proactive and genuinely interested."

    How to answer it

    Sofie: "The only clear mistake here is not having any questions to ask! Do your research and have some well-informed questions at the ready before your interview.

    "Preparation will always give you that edge."

    So they key here is preparation, folks; p-r-e-p-a-r-a-t-i-o-n.

    So think about all of the above long and hard, and hopefully when that tricky question comes along, the answer will roll off your tongue.

    And you'll roll straight into the job, you perfect human being you.

    Feature image: YouTube

    Milkround is a brilliant resource for graduates and students. With great careers advice and a huge range of jobs on offer, it could well bag you your dream job. Check it out right here.