Ever been asked about your greatest weakness and felt like you were standing centre stage in a one-person show? We’ve all had that ‘deer in the headlights’ moment where we’ve been put on the spot and had to scramble for a good response.
It’s not fun, but how do you avoid it happening? Preparing for unexpected questions can feel a bit like cramming for a surprise pop quiz — but thankfully, there are common themes and questions you can rehearse.
Interviewing is an art, and like any art form, it’s all about preparation, practice, and a dash of creativity. With the right strategies in your toolkit, you can breeze through interviews while showcasing your skills, experience, and personality in the best possible light.
Ready to nail your next interview? We’ve got you covered with 15 of the most common job interview questions, and example answers to get you started. We’ll also share the reasons why interviewers ask these questions — keep these in mind as you craft your responses.
How to answer the most common interview questions
1. Tell us about yourself
The classic interview question, “Tell me about yourself,” is a fantastic opportunity to shine from the start.
Here’s a four-step guide to acing it:
- Introduce yourself briefly, letting your personality shine through.
- Share your education and work history, tailored to the role you’re applying for.
- Provide a brief overview of your current situation and explain why you’re applying for this role.
- Be honest about your future goals, whether short-term or long-term, and make your expectations clear.
- Follow these steps, and you’ll nail that question every time!
“I’m Sarah, a highly organised and people-oriented individual with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. With two years of experience as a receptionist at XYs Company, I’ve mastered customer service and administrative tasks. I’m excited about this opportunity because it aligns with my career goals and passion for exceptional service. In the next 12 months, I aim to build strong relationships and contribute to the company’s success. Long-term, I see myself growing within the organisation, potentially taking on leadership responsibilities in the hospitality industry.”
2. What do you know about our business?
The key to this question is research, research, research. Take some time in the days leading up to the interview to have a look on the business’ website and social media. Typical pages to read would be ‘About us’, ‘Products/Services’, ‘Careers’, and one more you might not have thought of: ‘News’. Mentioning in your answer that you saw a recent achievement or milestone for the company will show you’ve done your research. Where possible, try to mention something that resonated with you —tying your personal values to the company’s mission and achievements shows you’d be a strong cultural fit.
“I looked at your website and social media before attending this interview today, and I know from my research you’re a restaurant chain with 17 locations across the country. I saw that you recently won an award for Best Customer Service in the state, and that really resonated with me, because I want to work somewhere in which I can really ‘wow’ customers.”
Swag Tip: With the Swag App, you can directly ask hiring managers questions to find out whether you’re a fit for the job. You can see what type of person they’re looking for in the role, which will help you with your research and prepare you if you land an interview.
3. What interests you about the position?
When you’re asked about what interests you in the position, it’s your chance to show the excitement and cultural fit that you presented in your job application. You want to let them know that you’re genuinely interested and have thought about how you can contribute. Again, this is your chance to flex the research you’ve done. It’s also a good chance to mention your long-term goals.
“I’m really excited about this role because it combines my passion for IT with your company’s impressive focus on innovation. It’s a chance for me to bring my technology skills to the table and continue growing in a field I’m enthusiastic about. What really excites me is the chance to contribute while learning. I’m not just looking for a job, but a place where I can grow and make a lasting impact. This role aligns with my long-term career goals.”
4. How is your previous experience relevant?
This one might seem simple, but if you’re not prepared, you run the risk of eating up interview time with irrelevant anecdotes. The key word in this question is ‘relevant’. It’s important to show you’ve done your homework. Start your answer by saying, “I reviewed your job description”, and then highlight a few key criteria that relate to experience and moments in your career that you’re proud of. It’s great if you can throw in some numbers or metrics to quantify your achievements. And remember, keep your answer short and sweet, so you don’t lose the interviewer’s interest. Aim to stay within 45 to 90 seconds.
“My past experience lines up really well with this role. In my previous role as a project manager, I was responsible for juggling teams from different departments, making sure everything stayed on schedule, and hitting project goals right on the mark. I feel those skills are relevant to this role, where teamwork and getting things done efficiently are crucial.”
5. Why did you leave your previous job (or why are you leaving your current job)?
This one can be a bit tricky, because you want to remain honest, but also positive and professional. Never speak negatively about your previous employer, coworkers, or work environment (even if they kept microwaving fish in the staff room). Instead, emphasise the positive aspects of your decision to leave, and say why you’re looking forward to moving onto this role specifically.
“I decided to leave my previous role because I felt like I was ready to take on some new challenges. I had a great time there, and I’m proud of what I achieved, but I’m ready to grow in my career. I believe this role is a perfect match for my career goals because it offers exactly the kind of challenges I’m looking for. I see a great opportunity here to continue learning, growing, and making a real impact. And that’s why I’m excited about the possibility of joining this team.”
6. What are your strengths?
We may sound like a broken record, but this is particularly true here: be honest. The worst case scenario isn’t missing out on the job. It’s getting hired based on a skill you don’t have, and then you have to scramble to develop 10 years of Microsoft Excel experience over a long weekend. Everyone has their own unique strengths, so consider yours before you step into the interview to ensure you can answer this one with confidence. And always try to link back to an example or an achievement as proof of this strength.
“I believe my two biggest strengths are my problem solving and time management abilities. There have been many times in my career where I have needed to come up with creative solutions on the fly. One example of this is just last month, when a client came to me with a complaint about the project only hours before the deadline. I used my strong communication skills to address the key point of concerns and fixed the issue before the end of the day to ensure the client remained satisfied.”
7. What are your weaknesses?
Although this question includes the word ‘weakness’, it’s not about speaking badly of yourself. Instead of turning it into a negative, flip the script and make it work for you! When interviewers ask about your weakness, they’re looking for self-awareness, honesty, and a desire for self-improvement. Don’t lie or disguise strengths as weaknesses. Instead, strategically address a genuine weakness with optimism and a growth mindset.
“One area I’ve been working on is finding the right balance between my work and personal life. I tend to get pretty invested in my projects, and that sometimes means I stretch my working hours. But I’ve realised the importance of maintaining that balance to stay refreshed and focused, so I’ve been actively setting boundaries and allocating specific time for both work and personal activities.”
8. What is your preferred work style or management style?
It can be tempting to just say whatever you think is most compatible with the business you’re applying for. But this question is a great opportunity to set your boundaries, because if your preferred working style doesn’t match the dynamic of the team, you may not enjoy this new role. It’s best to understand what working environments work best for you and be honest in your response.
“My work style revolves around a mix of independent responsibility and collaborative teamwork. I believe in setting clear goals and managing my time efficiently to meet deadlines. At the same time, I value open communication and brainstorming with colleagues to achieve creative solutions. Regarding management, I appreciate clear guidance paired with the freedom to explore innovative approaches. I’m proactive in seeking help when needed, and I’m excited about your reputation for valuing collaboration and innovation, which aligns well with my approach.”
9. What are your salary expectations?
Questions about salary expectations can be nerve-wracking, but you don’t need to worry. You can navigate them smoothly by being prepared. Start by doing your homework and researching what others in similar positions are earning in your industry and area. This will give you a solid starting point. Then, instead of blurting out a specific number, consider offering a salary range to demonstrate your flexibility and willingness to negotiate. And remember, it’s essential to showcase your value! Highlight your quantifiable achievements, share positive feedback you’ve received, talk about your problem-solving skills, highlight your adaptability, and let your passion for the work shine through.
“Considering my research and the role’s responsibilities, a competitive salary range for me would be around $70,000 – $77,000. However, I’m also interested in the entire compensation package, including benefits and growth opportunities. I’m confident that my graphic design background can bring unique value to your team, and I’m open to finding a fair agreement that aligns with both my expertise and the company’s salary structure.”
10. Can you give an example of a time you demonstrated leadership?
Even if you’re not applying for a management position, it’s important to understand that management and leadership are two different things. Anyone in any position can show leadership in their role, through ownership and innovation. Your goal when you’re answering this question is to showcase your ability to lead, motivate, and bring a team together to achieve successful outcomes. Use a short, specific example that highlights your skills and demonstrates your effectiveness as a leader. Also remember to include the positive outcome of the situation.
“In my previous role, I noticed that our monthly reporting process wasn’t optimised and there was a lot of double handling of information. So, I showed leadership by proposing a new process and volunteering to be the point of contact for collating the reports from all members of the team, to ensure the workload was manageable and the report formats were more consistent. My manager was so impressed with this that I was given a promotion after only three months.”
11. How do you handle stress?
Stress is a common human reaction, and everyone copes differently. In interviews, employers ask about stress management because how you handle stress indicates your ability to perform under pressure. If you’re applying for a high-stress job, they want assurance you can stay composed. Keep in mind that if stress is heavily emphasised, it might signal an unsupportive work environment. In such cases, consider if it’s the right fit for you.
“I believe that a certain level of stress is inherent in most professional roles, and I’ve developed a set of strategies to manage it effectively. Firstly, I prioritise my tasks by creating to-do lists and breaking down larger projects into smaller, manageable steps. This helps me maintain a clear focus and prevents feeling overwhelmed.”
12. How would you handle conflict in the workplace?
When you’re part of a team, especially one with diverse members, conflicts can naturally arise due to varying opinions, approaches, and working styles. Addressing this interview question gives you an opportunity to showcase your skill in navigating these conflicts and collaborating effectively. It’s important to keep a positive tone when answering this question.
“I truly believe that the best part about teamwork is the opportunity for diverse viewpoints. However, I understand that this can occasionally lead to conflicts. I approach these situations as chances for growth. I believe in open communication and actively listening to each person’s perspective. I focus on shared goals and seek solutions that benefit the team. If needed, I’m open to seeking guidance from a leader to ensure a positive team dynamic.”
13. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Employers ask this question because they want to ensure you’re a good long-term fit for the role. It costs a lot of money to hire and onboard someone, so they try to make sure they’re getting it right the first try. Plus, on your end, you don’t want to end up in a company that’s not going in the same direction as your career goals. With that information in mind, answer this question by connecting your long-term ambitions with your short-term goals – in a way that’s relevant to the position.
“In five years’ time, I see myself as a marketing manager leading a department. I will achieve this by expanding my knowledge in project management and digital marketing.”
14. Tell us about a challenge or conflict you overcame at work
This is a behavioural interview question, which interviewers use to see how you’ve acted in the past (and therefore how you will approach similar situations when working with them). Discuss the lessons you learned, including conflict resolution, communication, problem-solving, or even personal growth. Display your ability to transform challenges into learning opportunities. Relate your response to the job you’re interviewing for. Emphasise how the skills and insights gained from this experience would make you a great candidate for the position.
“A while back, I was part of a project where the team had a major disagreement on the project’s direction. It was a real standstill situation. I took the lead in setting up regular team meetings where everyone could voice their thoughts. By encouraging open and respectful discussions, we managed to uncover common goals that we had initially overlooked. It was a real eye-opener for all of us. This experience really drove home the value of effective communication and being adaptable in overcoming hurdles. Now, looking at the role here, I can totally see these skills coming into play in the way it requires close collaboration and tackling complex challenges. I’m confident that the insights I gained from resolving that situation would translate into fostering a more cohesive and productive team environment here.”
15. Do you have any questions for us?
Asking thoughtful questions during an interview is a crucial opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the company and role. We recommend you bring some prepared questions with you, and also ask any questions that come to you as you’re discussing the role or the business during the interview. Try to avoid asking questions that can be easily answered through the company’s website or basic research. This might make you seem unprepared.
Example pre-prepared questions:
- “Could you describe the typical career path for someone in this role?”
- “What do you enjoy most about working at this business?”
- “What are the next steps in the interview process?”
- “How does this role contribute to the company’s short-term and long-term goals?
Example questions that may come up:
- “Earlier you mentioned a specific project, could you tell me more about this?”
- “When you said that the business prioritises sustainability, what processes do you use?”
- “You mentioned there would be induction modules, what do they involve?”
More expert tips on answering job interview questions
How can I better prepare to answer interview questions?
Interviews can be nerve-wracking, and it’s not always easy to know how to prepare for them. But we’ve got a simple five step system to help you breeze through the process, and be ready to tackle any question that comes your way:
- Dig into the company’s values, culture, and recent notable things they’ve done.
- Take another read through the job description to see the skills and experience they’re looking for —it’s likely they will ask questions relating to these things.
- Have some stories ready to show off your skills and what you’ve achieved.
- Practice incorporating these stories into question answers, using the STAR method. Google’s Interview Warmup is a great free tool that uses AI to help you practise interview question answers.
- Chill with your body language, keep eye contact, and rock that confidence during the interview. You got this!
With these tips, you’ll be well-equipped to make a lasting impression and land that dream job.
How can you handle questions you don’t know the answers to?
Take a deep breath and maintain your composure. Showing that you can handle unexpected situations with grace and poise can make a positive impression on the interviewer. If you didn’t understand the question fully, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. It’s better to seek clarity than to provide an irrelevant answer.
If you truly don’t know the answer, don’t try to bluff your way through. It’s better to be honest and admit that you don’t have the information. Even if you don’t know the answer, you can demonstrate your problem-solving abilities by talking through your thought process. Explain how you would approach finding the answer if given more time or resources.
“That’s a great question. I’m lucky that I have never had to deal with a difficult customer before, but if that situation did occur I would use active listening and offer solutions to resolve the situation. If this didn’t resolve the situation, I would then escalate it to my manager.”
Should I memorise my answers or answer spontaneously?
This can be a tough one, because you want to be well prepared, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reciting a script. It’s best to meet somewhere in the middle – have talking points memorised, but don’t script out exactly how you will word it.
“I know I won best Sales Associate in Australia in 2021, so I definitely want to bring that up. I’ll wait until this information really suits the question and then link it in, in an organic way.”
What are some common interview mistakes to avoid?
Job interviews are a chance to showcase your skills and personality to potential employers. However, without taking things into consideration, we can sometimes leave an interview with a different impression than we would have hoped.
Here are eight common interview mistakes to avoid:
- Arriving late: Aim to arrive at the interview at least 10 minutes early. This shows you have time management skills, and is also respectful of everyone’s time – including your own.
- Dressing inappropriately: This doesn’t mean you need to wear a suit and tie every single interview. For many roles, that would be considered inappropriate. Take the time to see what staff wear and try to dress accordingly. If all else fails – slacks and a buttoned shirt can never go wrong.
- Lack of research: Research the company and the role to demonstrate interest and preparation. This will help you walk in knowledgable and aligned with the business.
- Rambling or going off-topic: This is an important one. It’s common to ramble when you’re nervous, but it’s best to take a deep breath before answering any questions. This will clear your mind and help you focus on answering questions concisely and directly.
- Failing to ask questions: Show your interest by asking thoughtful questions about the company and the role. Come in with a couple prepared, and also clarify anything that comes up during the interview.
- Lack of enthusiasm: Display genuine enthusiasm for the role. Speak about why it appealed to you and how it relates to your passion and experience. This will leave a positive impression.
- Speaking negatively about previous employers: Handle any mention of past employers delicately. Stay positive and refrain from badmouthing past employers or colleagues.
- Not following up: After the interview, send a thank-you email to express your appreciation and reiterate your interest in the position.
Speak to hiring managers before your job interview
Hate writing emails? You can contact hiring managers 1:1 using the Swag App. Keep things quick and facilitate meaningful conversations during the job application process, so you’re ready and prepared for your job interview. Create a Swag candidate profile to get started today.
The information in this article is current as at August 2023, and has been prepared by Employment Hero Pty Ltd (ABN 11 160 047 709) and its related bodies corporate (Employment Hero) for its Swag brand. The views expressed in this article are general information provided in good faith to assist job seekers in the current market, and should not be relied on as professional advice. Some Information is based on data supplied by third parties and whilst such data is believed to be accurate, it has not been independently verified and no warranties are given that it is complete, accurate, up to date or fit for the purpose for which it is required. Employment Hero does not accept responsibility for any inaccuracy in such data and is not liable for any loss or damages arising directly or indirectly as a result of reliance on, use of or inability to use any information provided in this article. You should undertake your own research and seek professional advice before making any important career decisions or solely relying on the information in this article.
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