Got a job interview coming up? Here are 10 of the most asked interview questions - what they really mean and how you should answer them.

Tell me about yourself?

What they’re actually asking

What can you tell me about yourself that will make me believe you are a good fit for this role?  

How to answer them

Keep it focused. Tell them five things about yourself that are relevant to this job. This could include experiences, skills or traits in your personality. Write yourself a short script. Practice it. Nail it.  

What do you know about our organisation?

What they’re actually asking

How interested are you in working here, really?  

How to answer them

Be prepared for this question by researching the employer. Look at their website and social media pages. Read their About Us section back to front. Google them - what comes up? Look out for recent company news. Has anyone reviewed them? Who are their competitors? Make notes on what you find. By doing this you may also find you have some questions of your own for them.  

What are your main strengths and skills? 

What they’re actually asking 

Are you the best person for this job?  

How to answer them 

Take a look at the job description and identify what strengths and skills they are looking for. Now sit and brainstorm your main strengths and skills and think of some examples to back them up. Don’t be generic and nonspecific about your strengths and skills - think creatively. If you don’t know what your strengths are - ask your best friends and colleagues - they might see a side to you that you didn’t even know existed. 

What are your weaknesses?

What they’re actually asking 

Do I need to worry about you?  

How to answer them 

There are two ways to answer this question. One: Find a way to turn a weakness into a positive. E.g. “My knowledge of Excel is a bit rusty but I’ve identified some useful online tutorials that should bring me up to speed.” Two: Show some self awareness by highlighting something you do in certain situations (and definitely not at all times) that could be construed negatively by other people, then talk about how you are working to reduce that from happening. E.g. “I’m aware my tendency to respond quickly to emails may sometimes make people feel like I’ve not thought them through. In situations where it’s important that is clear, I know I have to take care and slow down.” 

Tell me about an achievement you are proud of? 

What they’re actually asking 

What are you capable of achieving as an employee?  

How to answer them 

Think about your achievements to date and pick one that is most relevant to the job you are applying for. E.g. Tell as story about overcoming a road block at work, or talk about critical customer or buyer situation that you handled brilliantly. Avoid using personal achievements unless you can find a clever way to spin your story to make it particularly relevant to the role you are interviewing for.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  

What they're actually asking 

How long do you intend to stay with our organisation 

How to answer them 

Reassure them by telling them how this role fits your career plan – this will show your long-term commitment to the company. 

How would friends and colleagues describe you?

What they're really asking 

Will you fit into my team?  

How to answer them 

Talk about the qualities your future employer might expect to see and use this answer to show them that you are a team player who is able to build positive, professional and productive relationships. Don't be afraid to show them your personality here, when asking this question – your interviewers are also looking to get to know you better and understand how you perceive yourself. 

Why did you leave your last job?

What they're really asking 

Can we trust you? 

How to answer them 

Whatever the situation with your previous job, you should always answer this question positively – under no circumstances should you criticise your previous employer, as this will make you appear unprofessional. Focus on what you achieved in this role and finish with something along the lines of... "having successfully done that, I'm ready for a new challenge."

Why do you want this job?

What they're really asking 

Why should we hire you?  

How to answer them 

The most important thing to remember when answering this question, is to show how enthusiastic you are about this job. Leave them in no doubt about your interest in this job sector, their company and how your skills and experience match their requirements. 

What are your salary expectations? 

What's they're really asking 

Can we afford you?  

How to answer them 

If you can, try to be tactical and avoid the question by saying something like, "I'm sure we can come to an agreement that suits everyone once you've decided whether or not I am right for this role." If they push you for a number, be realistic and honest. Do some research before hand by looking at similar job vacancies in your area and see what their salary rate is. Provide a range rather than an exact figure and make sure you emphasise what they will get in return – reiterate how many years of experience you have, as well as the qualities and qualifications you bring that give you an edge over your competitors.

Need help to prepare for a big job interview? Call 0345 658 8647 to make a free appointment with one of our advisers or call into your local Inspira Centre.