Whether you’ve been applying for jobs or have already been contacted to progress to the next stage, the first job interview can leave the best of us feeling overwhelmed and nervous. After all, being successful and progressing requires lots of preparation, confidence and the ability to answer any curveballs.
The good news is that many first interviews have a common structure as its main aim is to understand if you’re suitable for the role through your qualifications, skills, potential and culture fit.
Your interviewer will determine and learn these aspects about you through the set of job interview questions you will be asked.
Again, these questions take on a standard form in the first interview, meaning that you’re practically guaranteed to be asked them and therefore, can prepare for them as much as possible.
Here are the 6 of the most common questions that come up in a job interview.
1. Tell me a little about yourself?
This is generally the starting point for most interviews as a way to allow your personality and character come through – breaking the ice, if you will – before getting stuck into the nitty gritty of your work experience. Here, you have an opportunity to paint a brief picture of yourself from both a personal and professional work perspective, an interest, as well as briefly mentioning why you are interested in the role and excited to interview for it. Keeping your response concise but with key talking points should compel your interviewer to come back to those points later in the discussion. It also sets the tone for the rest of the job interview, so be aware that you can influence the beginning of it to your advantage.
2. Why did you apply for this role? / Why do you want to work for us?
This is a common job interview question because the hiring manager may have received hundreds of resumes and CVs, many of which are not suitable for the role.
Your interviewer needs to determine your level of interest for the role itself but ultimately, your interest in working for the company and becoming an employee. Whatever your reasons for moving on from your previous job, or applying for this role if you aren’t currently working, you have an opportunity to frame your response to make it all about the company – and weave that back into why you’ll be an asset to the business.
Start by demonstrating you have researched the company and its values prior to the job interview. There may be interesting aspects about the business mission and culture that you relate to and want to achieve in your career. Continue to draw parallels between the company vision and your values, as well as the job prerequisites and how you meet them.
3. What are your strengths?
The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question is bound to be asked in your job interview. Talking about your strengths is a way to tell the interviewer how you see yourself adding value to your job, what you’re skilled at and also your confidence in executing tasks. The best way to tackle this question is to tie one of your stronger skills to one of the key requirements for the role. Doing this allows your interviewer to start to make connections between you and the role.
On the flip side, imagine if you are fully qualified and suitable for this role but you failed to mention any of your aligned skillsets to the job. It’s your mission to identify these opportunities during the discussion and sell yourself as a valuable asset who will contribute to the company’s success. Remember as well that your interview will run for about an hour so there’s only a set amount of time that you can demonstrate your suitability for the role.
4. What are your weaknesses?
This is a great exercise in framing and spinning a negative into a positive. Instead of using the word ‘weakness’, immediately change your language and refer to it as an ‘area for improvement’. By doing this, you firstly avoid throwing yourself under the bus by exposing a flaw or an aspect of work that you don’t enjoy – this sends your interview down a negative path, and your interviewer may end up questioning you more on this. Secondly, calling it an ‘area for improvement’ shows that you are keen to become better at something.
5. What have been your biggest achievements to date?
The interviewer wants to know what sort of accomplishments and successes you’ve had in previous roles. In addition, were those achievements reached on your own or in a team setting, and were they highly beneficial to the overall business? These are factors to think about and align back to the job you are interviewing for – can you use an example that strongly matches the job prerequisites?
For example, the role may require a lot of team collaboration so responding with an answer about how you achieved a project on your own will not match what the interviewer is looking for.
You should also demonstrate your confidence in what you’ve achieved so far and show that you take pride in your work. The other end of the scale would be coming across as overconfident and smug so take care with this one.
6. Why are you leaving your current job?
Despite so much advice around this question around avoiding a negative review of your current or former workplace, many interviewees and jobseekers continue to reflect on the bad aspects of that job, including their bosses and sharing negative experiences.
It’s a hard one to answer at times, after all, the workplace is where most of us spend the majority of our time and if we haven’t had a great experience, it’s absolutely something we don’t want to repeat in a new role.
The best way to approach this common job interview question is to be as objective and straightforward as possible. That means understanding that you will provide only one brief objective answer and refrain from sharing anything further. That’s it.
Here are some examples:
- I’m ready to progress on my career path
- I think this is a great opportunity for growth
- I want to be challenged in new ways
- I think this role will make full use of my strengths and my potential
Note how these responses did not dwell on any negative aspects and absolutely does not badmouth their current or former employer – the interviewer will understand that your answer means you aren’t getting that experience or opportunity currently.
If your interviewer needs you to expand, simply say that: “My current workplace isn’t able to offer me career progress”, or “I’ve outgrown my role and want to make a real contribution with my skills and experience”.
It’s also another opportunity for you to reiterate how interested you are in the company, and how great it would be to be a part of their achievements, brand and culture.
Looking for more advice? Get further job interview tips for more preparation guidance.