Top 50 Interview Questions to Prepare For
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
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When planning for a job interview, whilst we never know what the interviewer will ask, that does not mean you cannot anticipate and plan what your answers, to likely questions, will be. The job market is now more competitive than ever and to stand out from your competition, good preparation is the key. A well thought out and clear answer to the most common interview questions will make all the difference and help you to secure that all-important second interview.
Financial Careers Ltd has conducted in-depth research to identify and understand what the most common general interview questions are that you will be asked. Here are our top 50, together with some simple ideas and techniques to answer them well. Please do bear in mind that there are several different interview types from criteria competency based to panel interviews and assessment centres. But these are a good mix of general questions that will apply to junior and senior roles.
1. How did you hear about us?
You may have heard about the role through an online advert, word of mouth etc. The trick is to be express your enthusiasm for the company and role. Perhaps they been a current or previous competitor you admired, or you have specifically identified them as a firm you want to work for, from things that you have heard or research you have done. It’s an opportunity to let the hiring manager know that you have done some homework and you have a genuine enthusiasm to work for them. Perhaps also consider why you would choose their company over the others.
2. Tell me about yourself?
Beyond serving as an icebreaker and transition, this introductory question also helps recruiters and hiring managers accomplish what’s often one of their major goals in the hiring process: getting to know you. This is potentially a tricky question. The key is not to give your life story but to relay a positive message about yourself and what your personal qualities and professional attributes are. Keep it concise, relevant and to the point. Take time to think about and cement to your memory what these are. A simple and effective formula for structuring your response is to preparing an answer outlining your present, past and future.
Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and perhaps a big recent accomplishment.
Past: Tell the interviewer how you got where you are today and/or mention previous experience that is relevant to the job and company you’re applying for.
Future: Mention what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this role and are a good fit for it.
3. Talk me through your CV?
When an interviewer asks you to talk them through your CV, what they are really asking you to do is bring the document in front of them to life, and explain which experiences in your history prove that you are suitable for the role they are hiring for. They are also looking for any skeletons in your closet! So be prepared to talk through your CV and experience to date in a snappy and punchy way. Present the positives and your best achievements and be ready to explain any gaps or perhaps why you have changed jobs. Remember your CV is your own personal document, and no one should know it better than you do!
4. Tell me about your education and qualifications?
This is a straightforward question. Interviewers want to confirm what level of education you have, and confirm it matches what you noted on your CV or application. Be prepared to talk about your education and qualifications in relation to the role you are applying for. Of course, if you are recent graduate applying for your first role this might be different to a seasoned professional with years of experience. The key is not necessarily the exams or degree that you may have, but how your knowledge and skills learned will allow you to be successful in the job you are applying for.
5. Why was there a gap in your employment?
Gaps in employment happen, and good hiring managers will realise this. If you have made it into the interview, there is obviously something they liked about you on your CV. So, when it comes to explaining gaps in employment it’s best to be honest and upfront, you should not feel awkward answering this. It is reasonable for employers to want to know why you have a gap. It might be that you took some time to travel or maybe you did have a personal issue. It might simply be that you were not enjoying the role you were in and you decided to focus your energy on finding a better opportunity. But do give some thought to what you will say if asked to explain a gap and they will be understanding if you are credible.
6. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation?
An interview question like this can really allow you to shine. They are a good overall test of your communication ability. It should be less stressful to answer since it is about recalling an actual experience.
It is a common question which is simple enough to answer with some preplanning. It is one if those questions which we know it is likely to be asked. Give some thought to a work-based situation which you dealt with well. This could be how you resolved a customer complaint or identified waste or perhaps a failing process.
Use the STAR method. The STAR interview technique offers a straightforward format you can use to answer behavioural interview questions, that ask you to provide a real-life example of how you handled a certain kind of situation at work in the past. So, let us break down that framework. STAR is an acronym that stands for:
Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
By using these four components it’s much easier to share a focused answer. The STAR method is a great way to approach lots of interview questions and is well worth applying to your interviews.
7. Tell me about something you are most proud of?
This is a great question, and it is an opportunity to be positive about your past achievements personally and professionally. You should make sure you have a good answer/story that relates to the role you are applying for, as well as a personal achievement like running a marathon or learning a new language. Depending on what you share with them, a hiring manager can learn a lot about who you are, what motivates you, and what you consider a success.
8. Tell me about a time you have made a mistake?
We all make mistakes and have failures. They are of course a chance to turn a negative into a positive and improve. So, briefly explain what the mistake was, but don’t dwell on it, how you acknowledged responsibility, what you learned from it and what you did or are doing, to make sure it cannot happen again. You might also explain that something you struggled with a long time ago has now actually become one of your strengths. Employers want people who can be self-critical, improve and develop themselves. Answer this question well and it will score you big points!
9. What are your main strengths?
This is a very common question and one we should all know the answer to. It is also a great opportunity to sell yourself with both your own personal and professional strengths. You need to be clear and specific. Write down your top three strengths and consider why they are of benefit to the employer. An example of a personal strength would be 'I am hardworking' a professional strength might be I am highly skilled at using Excel. It is far better to really know what your strengths are than to give a wishy-washy answer.
Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three categories:
Knowledge-based skills: Acquired from education and experience (e.g. computer skills, languages, training, and technical ability).
Transferable skills: Your portable skills that you take from job to job (e.g. analytical problem solving and planning skills, communication and people skills)
Personal traits: Your unique qualities (e.g. dependable, flexible, friendly, hardworking, expressive, formal, punctual and team player).
Some examples of strengths you might mention include:
Creativity, Patience, Respectfulness, Enthusiasm, Honesty, Trustworthiness, Discipline, Determination, Dedication, Versatility.
10. What are your weaknesses?
This is one of the trickiest interview questions to answer and our instinct is not to volunteer weakness. The way you answer this question can have a big bearing on the interview. You do want your answer to be honest, but as positive as possible. Employers want you to be self-aware so you can make improvements. Consider what might be a genuine weakness that is not a showstopper and explain what steps you are taking to improve and overcome them. A couple of examples might be 'I am impatient and like to get things done quickly' - 'however I realise others might not have so much urgency or may have other priorities. ' Another one might be about a particular skill gap you have i.e: ' I appreciate I haven't used X technology before however I have used Y which is similar and I am studying online to learn how X works. Consider what areas of your experience might be questioned and how you will turn a potential negative into a positive answer.
11. Why are you looking?
While the specifics of your answer will depend on whether you left voluntarily or were asked to leave, it is important to answer in a way that casts you in a positive light.
It is easy to get defensive when answering this question whether you are in a role already or not. Do remember they have a vacancy to fill and that is why you are there. However, they will want to understand your reasons and motivations. This does not need to be negative. Focus on the positive reasons for changing job – the desire to face new challenges or a better fit of company culture and why you have applied to work for them. You should also be sure to avoid badmouthing your previous employer.
12. Why do you want to leave your current company?
If you have been made redundant this should not be too tricky. But be honest about what happened. The key thing is not to be negative or dwell about a previous/current role or line manager. Be clear and concise and make sure you are focused on the future, not the past. Good examples are the desire to learn, that you need a new challenge, the desire to take on more responsibility, company reorganisation, the chance to relocate, the opportunity for promotion or to join a company that is growing.
13. What would your current or previous manager say about you?
You should look to answer this positively and promote the strengths you have and how you applied them. It is also a good idea to maybe volunteer one or two areas that they wanted you to improve on but to emphasise the positive steps you took or are taking to be better.
14. Why do you want to work for us?
This is a good chance to demonstrate that your interests and enthusiasm are aligned with them. You do not want to give the impression you just need a job. Tell them that you are excited by the potential to grow with the business, that you have a passion for their product, brand, or service. Talk about their goals and how they are aligned with yours. It is a good opportunity to show that you have done your homework on them, to perhaps talk about new products coming out or the fact that they are a market leader, and you want to work with the best.
15. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Employers typically ask this type of question to gather insight into how well this job fits with your overall career aspirations. It is very easy to give a really poor answer to this question. Employers want to see ambition and that is a good thing but remember they are first and foremost looking for someone to fill the position they have and to make a good appointment. Be realistic in the first instance, you should emphasise that you will want to become highly competent and successful in the role you are going for.
Once you have achieved that you might, for example, see yourself leading a small to a medium-sized team or being recognised and achieving a promotion to a more senior role in the business. Look at the organisational hierarchy on the website or LinkedIn and consider what your next role could be. But be humble and make it clear your focus is on being a big success in the role you are applying for first.
16. What can you offer us that other candidates cannot?
This can be a tricky question and so it is vital to have a clear answer ready in your mind. Give some thought to your experiences to date and the skills you will be bringing. Maybe think of a particular time or scenario where you used the skills they are seeking, perhaps an achievement that made you stand out as better than your colleagues. Think of your experiences and the skills and knowledge you have and what they will be missing if they do not offer you the role. This is your chance to sell yourself hard and make yourself stand out. You need to make sure you are memorable and do not get forgotten. Make sure you avoid stock - cliched answers.
17. Are you a leader or a follower?
It is a common question and there is nothing wrong being either, most people are a bit of both. So, do not feel compelled to say you’re a powerful leader if that’s not you. Companies do not want everyone to be leaders, but they will want you to follow instruction and direction, when required, be able to take control of a situation and others to achieve a good outcome. Saying that you can take instruction, but also lead when required, is a good answer. Team fit is one of the main thing’s employers will consider when interviewing you.
18. What would you look to accomplish in the first 100 days in the role?
After you have studied up on what you may be doing at your job, think about what you can realistically accomplish during this initial period. What kinds of goals can you set? What projects are you excited to take on? Have a plan ready or at least an idea of what you would expect to happen in the first 30/60/90 days in the role and what you would deliver. Set some shorter and long-term goals and targets. Again, it is a chance to really demonstrate you are serious about joining and that you will make a positive impact upon joining.
19. How would you deal with unhappy client?
This is a common question and if you are starting your career its useful to have an idea how to deal with this one. The way to answer this is to demonstrate how you would focus on prompt and clear communications, rapid resolution and that you would escalate the issue or seek advice early if it were required. It would also be worth explaining that you would confirm that the complaint was valid at the start and again you would not be afraid to ask a senior manager to establish this.
20. Give a time when you went above and beyond and did something exceptional?
This is another great opportunity to sell yourself. Again, it is important to consider what examples you might use, so when the questions are asked you are not trying desperately to think of an example. Keep it work based and do not worry if you are struggling to think of something. Maybe just working some extra hours or starting early to cover for a colleague or perhaps ran the team while the boss was away.
21. Do you know who our competitors are?
This is a basic question and if you do not know the answer it may not be a long interview. Always know the competition and direct rivals of any company you apply to. In fact, they might also be looking for someone with your skills. Do take the time to research online, visit stores, check out their products or service, pricing etc. Be prepared to say why you believe the company you are looking to join is better!
22. What has been your biggest failure?
Do not be negative here or be afraid to admit to failing. These days failure is viewed as a necessary part of learning and growing as a person and professionally. Be honest about what went wrong but explain how you learned from it and what you now do to make sure you do not repeat the same mistake! The key to answering this question is to show you learned from the mistake and you did not let it stop you from trying. If you truly don’t feel that you can pinpoint a ‘failure’, you could instead talk about a time when you were disappointed or a time when something almost didn’t work out, but then did thanks to your actions. Remember that the interviewers are more interested in what you have learned from an experience than the failure itself.
Most of us are motivated by money, that is pretty much why we go to work in the first place. However, while it may be true it is not the best answer. If you are going for a sales job which is commission orientated, then being money motivated is important.
However, there are lots of other things to mention, such as job satisfaction, helping to make customers and clients happy, gaining the respect of your colleagues, achieving promotion and being recognised for doing well. Also, being at the top of the league table, perhaps being respected for the quality of your work and working in fast-paced environment. It is a good opportunity to genuinely step back and think about what matters to you and what gets you going.
24. What is your dream career?
It may be tempting to say you want to be racing driver or a Zoo Keeper but you should answer this is in the here and now i.e. you really want the job you are applying for. Your answer should be relevant to the position you are applying for or similar. You should be able to show that you are thinking about your career path and how that employer can help you to develop and grow.
25. Who is your mentor?
This is an interesting question which is to find out more about your own quest for self-development and learning, as well as perhaps, who you admire and have found to be influential. This might be an author, friend, or sportsperson or perhaps a parent or teacher or maybe a senior manager who has had a positive influence on your career. It’s not a one-word answer question. You can choose anyone from family, friends, colleagues, even celebrities. The key is to be able to explain why they inspire you and what you have learned from them that is helped you in work and to be the best version of yourself.
26. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager or a colleague?
Having a difference of opinion is not wrong especially when you both want what is best for the business. You might be able to demonstrate that you argued your case respectfully and that your manager agreed you were right, or of course, that your manager made the decision to do things their way which you also respected and followed the instructions given. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer apart from showing that you are prepared to back yourself but also to ultimately respect the authority of your manager. It is important to not fall into the trap of getting animated about the situation but to give a calm and measured answer and hopefully how you resolved the situation. give a constructive answer and an example of how you resolved the situation for the better.
27. What annoys you about colleagues?
Ignore things like not putting the milk in the fridge. Think about things like poor admin, punctuality and sloppy discipline. Failure to follow correct processes that make it hard for others to get the job done or creates extra work. Unexplained absence or sickness and a lack of effort all work well as answers here.
28. What makes you feel uncomfortable?
Do not refer to your skills gaps in relation to role you have applied for. Perhaps talk about some more general things such as you do not like dishonesty, conflicts or bad manners. Try to think of something that you have done to help you be more confident if a similar situation arises. Again, think about how you can apply your answer to the role and turn it into a positive.
29. How do you cope with pressure?
We all respond to pressure in different ways, so it is fine to be frank. Talk about a past experience where you were under pressure and how you dealt with it. Focus on how you dealt with it at the time and hopefully how you achieved a positive outcome. Perhaps also even think about what changes you made or suggested so the same situation did not arise again. There will always be pressure situations and you need to demonstrate that you can remain calm and logical in difficult situations to get the job done efficiently. Again, use the STAR method (see no 6 - STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result), when you’re preparing to answer this question.
30. What would your direct reports say about you?
If you have had had employees under your management, this is an opportunity to provide some brief examples of when you did well as team and how you rewarded them (keep it brief). But we would suggest you say that you would hope they regarded you as fair but demanding manager who wanted results but also enjoyed celebrating success too. It would also be worth stating that you learned and improved as manager from their feedback.
31. What were your bosses’ strengths & weaknesses?
This is potentially a trap that too many people fall into by being rude about a previous manager. You need to demonstrate that you learned from these managers, both the good things and the bad things you would wish to avoid doing yourself. Think of something that’s not going to be potentially controversial. Perhaps they were great at giving you recognition, but they didn’t listen to ideas or suggestions. Maybe they held too many meetings, or not enough and as a result you had no clear direction. Be fair and balanced in what you say.
32. If I called your boss right now and asked them about you what would they say?
This question can feel quite intimidating. You should be confident and restate what you believe are your strengths and weakness. It’s OK to have areas that need to be improved or develop through further training. Show that you are self-aware and that you are trying to get better. Quote an Official Performance Review, another way to do this is to start off with the story and conclude it with how your boss or co-workers would describe you. Try to think of three positive traits you bring to your work or workplace. Then, have a short example after each. Obviously don’t say anything that might prejudice your application for the job.
33. How would you dismiss someone?
Whilst it’s an unpleasant thing to have to do, if you are being interviewed for a management role this might well be a possible situation you would have to deal with. The broad and correct answer is that you would follow the companies HR policy, and that you would have completed any required earlier steps including trying to avoid having to dismiss the person at all, followed by how you would handle it if there was no alternative and also to stress that you would ensure you consulted with a senior manager/HR to ensure compliance.
34. What do you like the most and least about working in this industry?
This question might be raised to someone who has worked in a particular sector for several years. Do not fall into the trap of letting your guard down and talking yourself out of the job. Give a balanced and sensible answer include the positives and negatives but be professional. Interviewers are looking for your sector experience, both good and bad.
35. When have you shown leadership?
You do not need to have been in management to have shown some leadership. For entry-level roles, think of a time when you worked in a team with others this need not be in a work situation, but you took on the leadership. The answer they are looking for is that you are not always the quiet one.
36. What are your career goals?
It’s important to have clear goals, so be ready to answer this question. Be realistic however making claims that you expect rapid promotion or pay rises. Be considered and sensible and talk about learning new skills, gaining further qualifications and experience, by learning from your managers.
37. What is the name of our CEO/Managing Director?
This is a simple question, so be ready with the answer. This is basic research, make a note and take it into the interview with you in case you forget. The interviewer just wants to know you’ve done your research, they might also ask what is the company’s share price that morning.
38. Why should we employ you?
This is potentially a difficult question with a wide range of potential answers. In our experience it is good to keep it simple and focus on your skills and experience together with anything unique that you can offer, that other candidates might not, such as uncommon transferable skills, your passion for the company and the role. Do be clear, concise and to the point. Avoid waffle!
39. What gets you up in the morning?
Resist the urge to say a coffee or the alarm clock. Take the opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the day as another chance to do something worthwhile both in and out of work. Your potential employer wants a fully engaged and motivated employee. You want to show that you have high drive and determination to get through tough times and to achieve good things. Employers like happy positive people.
40. What is your favourite website?
This is increasingly common. The real question being asked is – are you someone who likes news and current affairs, or connect interact with others? Remember social media are websites too, so this can be a good conversation starter for marketing or social media, communications, PR and marketing roles. Many employers will check out your social media use which is something to be aware of.
41. What was the last book you read?
This can be a novel or a self-development book. It is a light question but if you try to wing it you can come unstuck. Make sure you know the book well in case they have read it too and ask you anything specific!
42. What are your hobbies?
Again, this question is to assess what you are like as a person and to gauge how you will fit in. Choose something relatable, such as sports, DIY, cooking, walking etc. Charity work and volunteering for good causes, is also positive. Do avoid anything that might be controversial like religion or politics.
43. Will you work holidays & weekends?
Be honest here. Some jobs will expect you to work weekends and holidays either on a regular or occasional basis, whereas in other roles this would be unusual. If you are unavailable due to other commitments its better to say. However, employers do value employees who can be flexible and who are prepared to go the extra mile.
44. Would you work extra hours each week?
It’s not just simply a case of saying yes to this question. You do need to consider your availability and perhaps your willingness to work extra hours. If this really isn’t you its best to be honest. However, do be clear and confident in your ability to get the job done on time and to meet deadlines.
45. Are you willing to relocate?
It's a difficult one and you should be honest if relocation is absolutely not an option. However, it is possible that the company might ask you to relocate to another office in the future or offer you a promotion that would require a move. So, a good way to answer this is to say that you would be open-minded if the role did require a move or if there was the chance to progress. Sometimes they will ask this question just to gauge how committed you really are to them and perhaps your career. So, if possible show that you would be flexible.
46. Are you willing to travel and stay away?
This is should be a straightforward and should be a yes/no answer. The commute into the office, whether you can be away overnight, maybe for several days at a time and maybe travel abroad and so on. It is best, to be honest to avoid problems later on.
This is usually a good question to get, because it would generally indicate they are interested in you. This is also often the start of the negotiation. Unless asked, it is not a bad idea to avoid saying what you are currently earning and propose a figure that you would be happy with, but not one that is unrealistic either and might put them off. Many jobs are advertised with clear salary guidelines but not all. In this case its worth doing some research to understand what other companies pay or look for online salary surveys, this way you are not plucking a figure out of the air and you can refer to your sources to back up your number. Its also good practice to ask if what you have proposed sounds reasonable and can help to progress the conversation.
48. What’s your availability – notice period?
This is a great question to be asked and while it is a basic admin question it can also be a massive positive signal. However, there’s no point trying say you might be able to start sooner than you know you can. Some jobs or contracts can have 3-6 months’ notice. Its best to be honest and to say that should you be offered the role you will be keen to start as soon as possible.
49. What questions have I not asked you?
This can be a bit of curve ball and depending how you feel the interview has gone you can try a little humour and try to close the deal (important if you are going for a sales role).
They could also ask ‘If we offered you a job would you take it’ or ‘Have you got any other opportunities that you are looking at?’. You need to be careful here if you say you have umpteen other interviews, the interviewer might feel you are not serious about joining them.
Of course, you might in fact only be looking at their opportunity, in any event, the way to answer the question is to say ‘I have looked at other roles, but your opportunity is the one I am most interested in at the moment.’ or ‘I am not looking at other roles until I know if I have been successful with you first, as yours is my preferred choice’.
50. What questions do you have for me?
You will almost always know you will be asked this. It’s never good practice to have nothing prepared. You could ask about the company culture? Do they hold social events? Perhaps ask if the role is available, as a result of promotions. Maybe ask about a specific project or new product or service the company is working on or launched. Be genuinely interested and enthused. Always leave the interviewer with a positive impression of you and that you would like to work for them.
Remember the more you practice and prepare the luckier you will get! Good luck!