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What interviewers really mean when they ask you THIS question

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Lizzie Tasker Tips, Career Advice, Interviews...

Interviews - whether it’s your first or you’ve had plenty, you can never be too sure what you’re going to be asked.

However, there are some tried-and-tested questions that interviewers love to use time and time again, and not without good reason. The role of an interviewer is to establish, in a relatively short window of time, if you’re right for the role – and these ‘favourite’ questions often prompt some of the most telling answers.

In addition, by asking the same questions to everyone, interviewers are able to more effectively compare answers from candidates on a like-for-like basis.

It’s often helpful to remember that these questions are not thrown at you to catch you out. Instead, when you understand what it is that the interviewer is looking for and the meaning behind the question, it’s much easier to craft a relevant response – giving yourself the best chances of securing a job offer.

Tell me about yourself?

This is often used as an opening question, something to get the conversation started and an opportunity to help you find your flow. However, to candidates it can seem ambiguous – how much detail should you provide? An interviewer will be looking to get an initial gauge of what you’re about and for you to provide a succinct and articulate overview of yourself - in relation to the role.

It’s a good one to have given some thought to before the interview, not so it sounds scripted, but because sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and consider everything you do actually have to offer as a complete package and what led you to where you are today.

What you want to avoid is reeling dates off your CV, instead, try to bring it to life by highlighting your relevant key achievements and experiences from your work, education or hobbies.

What are your weaknesses?

In our opinion, this is one of the most hated interview questions and it can really feel like this one is designed to catch you out.

It’s all very well to sit in an interview and talk about all your strengths, but no one is perfect. Interviewers know this and want to see how you deal with delivering something that might be deemed as a negative.

Our advice, don’t try to sneak in a weakness that’s really a positive (i.e. ‘I’m a perfectionist’). Instead, think of an area that is a genuine weakness and follow it up with how you counteract it or what you’re doing to work on it.  

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Another one of those tricky questions which can leave you second guessing on the best way to answer. It can be difficult to know how to pitch this one, and it really depends on the level of the job and size or scope of the organisation you’re interviewing at.  

Essentially, an interviewer is looking to establish whether your long-term goals are going to align with the organisation. Do you have unrealistic expectations? Are you going to be looking for progression more quickly than they can offer?

It’s important to be honest, if you’re ambitious then don’t be shy (within reason), but also, it’s totally fine if you’re not.

Why do you want to work for this company?

Now this one is definitely a test! What an interviewer usually means is let’s see how much you actually know about this company – have you done your research or have you applied for every available role out there without a second thought?

It’s one thing to be able to recite the ‘about us’ page of their website word for word, but what will score you more points is the ability to translate the company’s objectives and align them with your own.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?

This is the interviewer giving you an opportunity to turn the tables and ask them some questions – don’t let it go to waste. It’s usually a signal that the interview is coming to an end. Not only is it your chance to ask anything you genuinely want to know but it’s also a final opportunity to show the interviewer that you’re interested and genuinely want to be working at this firm.