Eleven Important Questions and Answers

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that interview questions are designed to identify the most suitable person for the job. Imagine however, if the best person being interviewed was nervous or was unfamiliar with the interview process, that person is unlikely to perform at their optimum and demonstrate their true suitability.

Even with interview experience, if you are not clear what the interviewer is looking for, your answers may not hit the mark.

To follow are 11 important and common questions, each with information about their purpose, as well as sample answers. My intention is for this to act as a guide to help you create and practice your own interview answers to help you navigate through this part of the hiring process.

Tell-Me-About-Yourself1.”Tell me about yourself?”
This is a question which allows the interviewer to assess how structured and focused you are in your approach. The way you answer this question is often as important as the answer itself. Often interviewers ask you this to find out things that are not on your resume. Often people reply by saying “I’m a mum, I have 3 kids, I like tennis etc” – wrong!! Don’t give away person details such as these.

If you are asked this question you could ask, “Is there a particular aspect of my background that you would like more information on?” to give you guidance. This will enable the interviewer to help you find the appropriate focus and enable you to avoid discussing irrelevancies. However, ensure you tie into the answer skills, competencies and achievements you want the interviewer to be aware of. Ensure you’ve read the job advertisement or job descriptions and reference the competencies they are looking for in your response.

This isn’t a question that you can answer effectively off the cuff. Take some time in advance to think about yourself, and those aspects of your personality and/or background that you’d like to promote.

An example might be. “I am a friendly and team orientated person: My background has centered around preparing myself to become the very best HR Manager I can become. I studied at X university.  I have worked in Human Resources for five years for ABC Company. I really enjoy using 123 skills and now I am excited to take the next step in my career”.

2.”What do you know about us and why do you want to work here?”
The employer asks this to assess if you have been proactive and conducted your due diligence. They want to see that you are truly interested in their organisation based on the work you have put into your research.  They also want to know what you have discovered and how well you are able to communicate that with them. In essence they want to know if you just applied to an advertisement or if you are genuinely interested in their organisation. If the latter is true they want to know why.

To answer this question, reply with the research you have found and outline the company’s attributes as you see them. Talk about how this fits into your career plan, why the role appeals to you and what you feel you can offer them. Talk about shared values, aligned culture fit and anything else you feel is important. Remember not to just focus on what they can give you but what you can give them. Communicate that you have made a conscious decision to target this company because of the great things that you know about it (as long as this is true). Tell them you are looking to work hard and contribute, and that you see their company as being the right place for you for the foreseeable future.

Example “I have heard so many good things about your company. From my research I learnt about your recent acquisition and the direction you are going and I believe I can make a positive contribution to your goals, including the need to increase sales and customer loyalty. I have done this in my last two positions and this is where I derive the most satisfaction. I also know you focus on development and I love learning and personal development so I am excited to be able to contribute through my skills development.”

3.“Why should I hire you?”
This question is designed to see if you fully understand what the job role is asking for and if you can sell yourself as the ideal candidate. It’s essential that you have fully understood what the hiring organisation is looking for and what they need the person in this job to achieve.

Your answer should be short and to the point. It should highlight the areas from your background that relate to current needs and problems. If you can, focus on how you can increase sales, save money or increase efficiency (time) – all employers are interested in one or all of these areas.

Example “I am the type of person who loves change and thrives in an environment which allows me to implement process improvements. I have great skills in process mapping and I see that these would enable me to be really successful in this role. Furthermore, I know that your culture would suit my style so that I will be able to do some great work for you and add real value to your organisation.”

I-Quit-500x3504.”Why did you leave your last job?”
The interviewer is looking for incompatibilities, to see if you are disloyal to your previous employers or if you are likely to be a troublemaker. Make sure you stress that you left on good terms. Don’t reveal personal or emotional issues as part of an answer to this question if they can be avoided.

Pay attention to how the interviewer describes their company and the role. That information will help you answer the question. In fact, any statement the interviewers make about the job or organisation can be used to your advantage. Never use as the reason you left your last employer, anything that the potential new employer has or is asking for.

You might say “I really liked everything about the job. The reason I left was to find a position where I could make a greater contribution. You see, I worked for a large company that encourages specialisation of skills. The smaller environment you have here will, allow me to contribute far more in different areas.” Tell them what they want to hear as long as it’s true.

Of course, if you interview with a large company, turn it around. “I work for a small company and don’t get the time to specialise in one or two major areas.”

Other responses could include;

  • I’m looking for a bigger challenge / career growth
  • I am interested in a new challenge and an opportunity to use my technical skills and experience in a different capacity than I have in the past.
  • I was commuting to the city and spending a significant amount of time each day on travel. I would prefer to be closer to home.

5.”What are some of the things that frustrate you at work”?
The interviewer is looking to see if you can handle pressure and assess what causes you frustration. They will be assessing your level of frustration to see if you get frustrated easily or if you can cope with annoyance. It is tremendously important that you show you can remain calm. All sensible employers want to avoid hiring people who lose their cool. This question comes up more and more often the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, and the more frequent your contact is with clients and the general public.

An example response could be “I am generally able to remain calm during most situations. One thing that does cause me frustration is when our computer system goes down, but I’m not alone there”.

6.“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”
Tailor your strengths to the position and the needs of the manager in terms of making their job easier and making them look good. List your strengths first, this is not the time to be modest, list lots. Ensure you include the behavioural competencies they are looking for.

With weaknesses only include one, you can make this really a strength, but be careful not to be too obvious. As an example, “My biggest weakness used to be taking on too much, but I have been working on that and now I am much better at prioritizing to ensure that I deliver on what’s important”

7.“Why have you had gaps in your employment history?”
With the economy the way it is, many people have gaps in employment, however this can still be a red flag to a hiring manager. If you can, make positive statements about it to ease potential concerns. Try to demonstrate that whilst not employed you were doing positive activities, such as new entrepreneurial ventures, volunteering, further education, training, projects, learning new skills and that you kept up to date with trends and developments in your chosen field.

8.“Provide an example of something you achieved and /or are proud of and something you failed at in your last role.”
The purpose of this question is to see if what motivates you is what their organisation provides. If the culture or environment you enjoy is not what the organisation provides you are less likely to be enthused in the role. When you answer this question ensure you match your response to the culture and environment of the hiring organisation.

When answering what you failed at, make sure the answer is something minor and that you turned it into a positive. For example, if you were working on a project that was behind deadline, explain how you adjusted the workload and the timeline to get back on track and ahead of schedule. Or if you were late producing reports because you were slow using the software, that you went on a course out of hours to upskill. If you want to give an example of something more fundamental ensure that you add what you learnt. Sometimes employers want to know you have taken risks, made mistakes but learnt from the process. It’s often the process of reflection and development that’s important to the interviewer.

9.“Describe the work environment or culture where you were most successful and happy”.
The purpose of this question is to see if what motivates you is what their organisation provides. If the work environment or culture you enjoy is not what the hiring organisation provides you are less likely to be successful in the role. When you answer this question  match your response to the culture and environment of the hiring organisation, as long as this is true for you.  For example,

  • If the role requires someone to work in an autonomous environment, then give an example where you worked happily and successfully on your own.
  • If the role requires you to work in a team environment, give an example which involves working with others.

10. “What makes you better than the other candidates we are meeting?”
Your answer should articulate how your skills and experience will contribute to the company’s success. You could say, “I offer a unique combination of skills, experience and knowledge, that will address the challenges your organisation is facing”. Your response should then highlight a number of problems the organisation is facing and define how your involvement with the company will address these issues. If you have completed your homework, you will be confident in your skills and achievements and be able to easily articulate these.

11. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
This is an opportunity to demonstrate your motivation and ambition. Employers want to know if the job you are applying for now will still be of interest in 5 years from now or if you are more ambitious and career orientated. Employers also want to ensure that their new hires don’t start with one foot out the door. Unless this is a temporary position, you want to reinforce that you will at least be there over that time frame.

As an example:
“In 5 years I hope to still be doing the work I enjoy everyday, but from a role that pertains greater responsibility. I am motivated on a daily basis by work that requires complex analysis and correction of problems. I enjoy having flexibility in the job role, and having work which is financially rewarding to both the company and myself. From what I have learned about your company, I believe I am a strong fit for this organisation, both now and 5 years from now.