The key to every successful job interview is preparation, preparation, preparation.
Although you do not know which questions you will be asked in an interview, there are some common interview questions you can expect. Practise and master your answers to these questions until you are able to answer them with enough confidence to sell yourself to the employer.
Use the following questions and answers as a basic structure for formulating your own answers. Do not use an answer just because it sounds good. Make it your own, and give examples from your own skills, experience and competencies.
1. Tell me about yourself
Most interviews start with this question.
Divide this question into three parts: past activities – 10%; current information (present activities) – 80%; and future activities – 10%.
Past: Talk about your educational background. Explain why you chose a certain university, and why you chose the course you studied.
Present: Focus on what makes you different from all the other candidates, and on your suitability for the job in question. Showcase your skills, achievements and past experience, as well as the lessons you have learnt from this experience; your leadership skills/positions; academic performance; community service; etc. Do not only mention what you did, but explain why you did it, and what you have learnt from doing it.
Future: Indicate your availability, and explain how your interest aligns with what the company is offering, as well as why you applied for a position at that company.
Do not summarise your CV. Rather, mention those things that make you perfect for the position. Please make an effort not to sound rehearsed!
2. What do you know about our company?
The employer wants to determine whether you did your research about the company, and how serious you are about the position. Start by researching the company online. Visit the company’s website, specifically the “About Us” section, and its LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages. Talk to people who work at the company. Do not only search for the company’s mission and vision, but also be on the lookout for any available information on your prospective employer.
3. What are your strengths?
Discuss your strengths that complement the job requirements, and that will distinguish you from other candidates. Focus on specific skills, and avoid general strengths such as “I am hard-working”. Provide examples of situations in which you displayed those skills, and use positive words in your discussion. Do not mention a particular strength merely because it sounds good.
4. What is your greatest weakness?
Be honest, and select a true weakness that you are currently working on overcoming. Mention skills that are not critical for the position, or turn a negative aspect into a positive one. Remember that you have control over which information you want to share with the employer. Be honest, but do not be so honest that it costs you the job.
5. Why are you the best candidate?
Sell yourself by using your previous experience, skills and best qualities – tell them what makes you unique and different from other candidates. Motivate your answer with examples. Do not make promises or beg for the job.
Refer to how your skills match this position/industry, and include the requirements stipulated in the job advertisement in your answer. Make sure your field of interest corresponds to what the company does. Concentrate on how you can add value to the company. Do not compare yourself to others, and do not criticise the other candidates.
6. Where do you see yourself in two/five/ten years?
Listen carefully to the period stipulated in the question, and make sure your answer is realistic. Keep your answer relevant to the industry and the position for which you are applying. Your response should not be too vague, but should clearly illustrate ambition, together with short- and long-term goals, and an indication of how your career goals align with the company’s vision. Point out certain skills you will have to develop before continuing.
7. Do you prefer to work on your own, or as part of a team?
Keep in mind that you do not have to choose one option over another. Illustrate your flexibility, and incorporate the positive aspects of both options. The best thing to do is to decide ahead of time which of these ways of working (i.e. in a team or alone) is most needed for the job to which you have applied. Alternatively, you can choose your preferred method of working, but explain that you are also able to work the other way. Provide examples of situations in which you were successful in either or both of these options.
8. Tell me about a problem you have encountered, and how you dealt with it
Decide on a problem you have experienced that had a positive outcome. Choose a problem related to the work environment, such as time management/organising/creativity, and not on a personal problem. Choose an example that best demonstrates your problem-solving skills. Do not mention any names, or speak ill of someone else.
Use the STAR format as a framework for your story:
ST – Situation/Task;
A – Approach;
R – Results.
ST: Provide a brief background of the task or situation. Provide only enough information to place the situation in context, and to help your interviewer understand the difficulty and importance thereof.
A: Talk about the key actions that you took to address it. What exactly did you do, and why?
R: End of with the positive results. Talk about a real past experience.
9. How do you handle stress/pressure?
There are plenty of approaches you can follow to answer this question. However, be honest, keep it positive, and focus on how you will be an asset to the company. You may thrive in a stressful environment, or you may not like pressure. Concentrate on how you will use that stress to succeed in the job, or describe the steps you will take during stressful times. Provide examples of how you handled a specific stressful time, whether at a job you had, or during a difficult time during the course of your studies.
10. Tell me about your dream job
To answer this question successfully, compare your interests, skills and goals as they relate to the requirements of the job listing. Identify those things that overlap, and talk about a job where you can apply those skills, goals and interests. Your response to this question will be slightly different for each interview, as it will be tailored to the job at hand. However, it should always be honest, and should add value to the industry.
Updated: 21 August 2017