• Author:Tom du Pré
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Common interview questions

If you’ve got a job interview coming up you need to prepare for it. Whilst it’s tough to predict which technical questions you are likely to be asked, you can prepare well for the non-technical questions which are almost entirely predictable. The ones listed below are the most common ones. Most questions are variants of these. The key is to prepare at least two answers for each one of them, with examples, and then to recognise which question you’re being asked, even if it’s worded differently.

When preparing for each question, don’t write your answers down like a script unless you want to sound like a bad actor, get lost and then dry up completely. Write down bullet points, and always think of examples to back up each one of your answers. Good interviewees always back up their claims with examples.

Tell me about yourself
What did you do in your last job?
What challenges did you have in your last job?
Why are you leaving your current job?
What can you offer this company?
What are you looking to get out of this job / What are your expectations of this job?
What are you strengths?
What are you weaknesses?
What is your greatest achievement?
Tell me a joke
B*llsh!t question
Do you have any questions?

Tell me about yourself

Lots of people get stuck on this simple ice breaker. The interview just wants to hear you talk. Give a brief life story that increases in detail as it gets closer to the present day. Depending on how much experience you have  you don’t need to explain everything. If you’ve just left university then it might be interesting that you were head of the AV club at school, but if you’ve got fifteen years experience this fact is unlikely to be of any interest. Focus on your achievements that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

What did you do in your last job?

The mistake many people make here is to bang on about their last company, what the product was they were working on or what technologies were being used. What the interviewer really wants to hear is what your inputs, responsibilities and achievements were. Speak about yourself, not the company.

What challenges did you have in your last job?

The interviewer wants to hear a story or two about how you identified  a problem, found a solution, did some stuff to resolve it (ideally inspiring a team effort) and demonstrated a lasting improvement. If this story is obviously true, then so much the better.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Bear in mind that references can and will be checked, so be honest. It’s a bad idea to slag off your previous employer, even if they thoroughly deserve it. You need to leave the interviewer with the impression that you are positively progressing in your career, you are  not a job hopper and you don’t go around bad mouthing people behind their backs.

What can you offer this company?

Keep the examples flowing here. A list of positive attributes is utterly meaningless unless you can back them up with evidence. Pick examples that demonstrate your technical and problem solving  skills as well as your interpersonal and team working skills.

What are you looking to get out of this job / What are your expectations of this job?

Be realistic here. The interviewer will know the actual career progression opportunities available in the company, and if your expectations are way in excess of that you’ve highlighted a mismatch. They will also know what sort of training budget is available, which might not be very much. It would therefore be a bad idea to start saying how you expect to be sent on lots of courses and you expect promotions every year and expect to be running the whole department in two years. You’re best off saying how you want to be able to achieve your full potential and demonstrate you are worthy of any training and progression the company can offer you. Be ambitious but realistic.

What are you strengths?

This is your invitation to shamelessly sell yourself. Don’t be shy. Go for it. Focus on the things you are actually really good at, not the things you would like to be good at. A good interviewer will probe you here. For example, if you claim you are great at using SQL to query databases, don’t be at all surprised if the interviewer asks you a difficult SQL question next. Again, examples, examples examples.

What are your weaknesses?

This is a rubbish question that everyone knows is likely to generate a rubbish answer. “I work too hard! Ha ha ha!” is the text book answer. I would advise you to make a better joke of it and pick a weakness entirely unrelated to the job. This will show you are not so arrogant to think you’re perfect, but doesn’t invite you to prove you can’t do the job.

What is your greatest achievement?

Again, this is a great opportunity to sell yourself so go for it. You must have prepared not just two answers for this, but a whole album of greatest hits to play out on command. If you don’t get asked this question you can use these examples in other questions too. Even if you haven’t been asked, look for opportunities to shoe-horn them into the conversation. You absolutely don’t want to ever leave the interview thinking “Damn, I never got the chances to tell any of my really great stories.” If you can get away with it, spend the whole interview telling these stories.

Tell me a joke

Some David Brent-a-likes will put this one in to see if you’ve got a sense of humour or not. Even if you don’t, its’ a good idea to have a joke up your sleeve anyway. Keep it short and non-offensive.

B*llsh!t question

Some interviewers delight in asking utterly irrelevant and pointless questions to “put you on the spot” or “see how you deal with unexpected situations”. How many ping pong balls can you fit in a whale?  This sort of thing is just an excuse for the lazy interviewer to watch you squirm and feel superior to you. Sadly there’s nothing you do about this, nor can you really prepare for it. Just roll with it and bear in mind they’re not looking for the right answer, they’re only looking for how you approach it. Chances are all they’re really doing is waiting for you to finish so they can tell you the right answer and prove to you how much more marvellously clever than you they are.

Do you have any questions?

You must have some questions, however exhaustive the interview has been. Prepare a list of questions that will help you decide whether or not to accept the job, in the event you are offered it. Not to have any, or to only have incredibly basic or irrelevant questions just shows that you’re not really interested in the job. Everyone likes to be flattered and talk about themselves so how about turning the tables and interview the interviewer for a bit?

This is of course not a list of all the questions you will ever be asked. Nor is it necessarily a set of “good” interview questions.  But if have carefully prepared  answers up your sleeve for these questions, they will serve you well and help you represent yourself to the fullest. Good luck!

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