Answering common interview questions

Whether you love or loathe job interviews, they are an essential part of our career journeys. While there’s never a guarantee about what you’ll be asked during a job interview, several questions tend to come up time and again. If you have strong answers to these questions, you can make a great first impression and take a closer step towards scoring your desired role.

“Interviews give hiring managers a more accurate screening of the candidate,” says Annisa Aninditya, consultant at Robert Walters Indonesia’s sales & marketing division. “They allow for a more organic conversation, and the space to observe the other party’s communication style, non-verbal cues and to get their opinions in the moment.” All in all, interviews let both the candidate and interviewer alike to have a better judgment of culture and fit for the role that is being discussed.

To help you excel in and make the most out of your job interviews, here are some common interview questions, and our suggestions on how you could best answer them to stand out from the competition. 

Tell me about yourself

This is the opening question the interviewer uses to ease into the interview, and where you provide an elevator pitch that is tailored to the role you’ve applied to in this company, explains Annisa.

Begin your answer with an overview of what you’re doing now, then run through the jobs you've held so far in your career, including how you have progressed over the years, either in terms of larger job titles or wider job scopes. You can follow the same structure as your CV, giving examples of achievements and the skills you've picked up along the way. You do not need to go into too much details - your interviewer will ask you to expand on any areas where they'd like more information.

Annisa recommends structuring your response to who you’re speaking to. “If you’re speaking to the company’s HR personnel, they tend to be more concerned about the length of employment and whether they have accurate information about your work experience so far and your personality. Hiring managers, on the other hand, may be more technical because they understand the skill sets needed for the job.”

Whoever you’re speaking to, Annisa advises candidates to highlight their ‘key selling points’ and keep their answer short, sharp, and succinct.

What are your strengths?

This question is a perfect opportunity for you to explain what you do well, and why that means you’re the right candidate for the job. Pick three attributes you have that you think are the most important ones for the job you’re applying for, and give examples of how you have used these strengths in a professional situation. 

These could be tangible skills, such as proficiency in a particular software programme, system, or a foreign language, or intangible soft skills, such as good team management. Make sure you explain how each strength relates to the role you’re applying for. 

What are your weaknesses?

Hiring managers ask this question as they want to observe how candidates react under pressure, and whether they have learnt from their ‘weaknesses’. 

“The intent of this question isn’t simply about identifying your weaknesses. It helps the interviewer see how you think, as well as your analytical ability and strategic thinking skills,” Annisa notes.  

This question is asked in reference checks as well, so candidates will do well to provide an honest and consistent answer throughout the interview process. “Junior candidates sometimes feel the need to please the interviewer but know that this is a two-way street. It will only benefit you to answer and share your experiences truthfully because you can then find out if you’re a good cultural fit for the company.”

We also suggest that it’s much better to answer the question via the angle ‘what are your weaknesses, and what have you done to overcome them?’. Avoid giving examples of things that you haven't done well in if you don’t also have an example of how you’ve learned from it or worked to improve your skills as a result. Annisa also suggests structuring your response to the requirements of the role to show how you’ve grown and how you can anticipate and deal with challenges on the job.

Career goals

You should answer this question in terms of both short-term and long-term goals, unless the interviewer asked it in specific terms, such as ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’. 

Tell the interviewer about the kind of job you'd eventually like to do, and how you plan to get there. Show the employer you have ambition, and that you have the determination to make the most of every job to get to where you want to be.  

If you’re not sure of where you’ll be five to ten years down the road, Annisa recommends being truthful but indicative, “Give the interviewer some ideas and possibilities of what you may be doing based on your areas of interests. Provide a short-term goal too so they understand what you’re working towards.”

Organisations want good employees to stay, but you don’t have to guarantee that you’ll stay with the company five years from now. Still, Annisa adds, don’t be blatant about the fact that you may be looking for a short stint.

Ultimately, whether an employee stays with an organisation for the long run depends on both the employee and the hiring manager. Annisa says, “Everyone has their own ambitions and desired growth trajectory, and employees tend to stay in the organisation if they are excited by their job scope and that it is aligned to their own goals. This question lets you convey to the manager how they can help you succeed.”

Why should we hire you?

This is where you get the chance to tell the interviewer about your skills, experience and attributes, and why that means you should be hired. When preparing for the interview, check the job description, and try to include some of the mentioned phrases in your answer, if they are relevant. 

Whenever you share a skill or attribute that you have, make sure to relate it back to the company or the role. Don’t just list your experience without explaining how it could benefit the organisation. 

For candidates who are partnering with a professional recruiter, Annisa reveals, “You are competing against other highly qualified candidates. How you can really stand out with this question is to showcase your confidence. Think about how you can that this is the role you want to pursue and why you’re the best choice. This is where you provide information that can’t be seen on paper – such as your alignment to the company’s vision.”

Why do you want to work here?

You may feel you’ve already answered this, but what the interviewer is really looking for here is for you to spell out how well your skills, experience and attributes match the requirements of the role and the organisation’s ethos. 

Make sure your answer is really powerful. Practise what you’re going to say beforehand, so that your answer is clear, and interviewers are not left in doubt as to why you should be hired. 

What salary are you seeking?

Hiring managers often ask candidates their salary expectations because they do not want to waste candidates’ time and effort if the company cannot afford the desired salary. 

Particularly during challenging market conditions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Annisa has noticed that junior candidates may sometimes sell themselves short. That is why it’s important to carry out prior preparation by finding out the value of someone with your skills.

Start by researching the average market salary of others in a similar role via our Salary Survey. If the hiring company has provided a guideline salary with the job description, you could also mention this, and note that it's around the figure you're looking for. 

Annisa advises, “In Indonesia, candidates sometimes share their expected salary while also saying that the number is negotiable. Always try to be upfront and straightforward from the beginning. You don’t want to take up lots of time – both your own and the hiring manager’s – for several rounds of interviews, before realising that the budget for the role doesn’t meet your salary expectations.”

Your expected salary for the role may change throughout the interview process. If you are working with a recruitment consultant, keep them updated on your expectations. “Though there is some room for negotiation, remember that most organisations have to work within a fixed budget range for hires,” she notes.

The value of your salary package is a personal discussion based on many factors. Do your research and speak to recruiters to understand your market value. Ultimately, whether the numbers make sense – that’s a judgment call that candidates must make for themselves.

For more expert advice on how to succeed at your next job interview, read our complete interview guide, and six top tips for successful video interviewsContact us if you would like to explore career opportunities in your specific sector. 

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