Answering interview questions

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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, there are a number of questions that from our experience tend to come up time and time 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. 

Claire Teo, Senior Consultant, Technology Sales, at Robert Walters Singapore, notes, “ Hiring managers can better understand candidates and their experience through interviews. By observing how candidates react to in-depth and situational questions, hiring managers can assess how culturally or functionally suitable they are for the role.” 

She, however, reminds jobseekers, “Interviews also present candidates with an opportunity to find out more information and assess the role and expectations, as well as the hiring manager, internal stakeholders and the company. Candidates should also make full use of these interviews to see if companies are a good fit for them.” 

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 usually the opening question, and it is a great opportunity to start off by showcasing your strengths.  

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.  

Claire recommends, “Highlight your ‘key selling points’, such as your achievements, years of experience, technical background, skills and networks. Imagine you are a product that you have invented – what is your unique selling proposition, and how would you best sell yourself to a total stranger?” 

However, Claire also cautions candidates to keep their pitch short, sharp and clear, as there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  

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 particular 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’. 

“Hiring managers want to see if you will actively pursue opportunities for self-improvement and growth by overcoming your weaknesses, rather than being held back by them,” Claire says. 

She adds, “Being truthful and sharing your real-life experiences will not only allow you to come off more genuine and engaging, hiring managers can also make a more accurate assessment about whether you are a good cultural fit. If you’re not honest during the interview, you may eventually find yourself in a difficult situation, where you are culturally mismatched with the company despite landing the role.” 

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. Instead of thinking of the question as asking about your weaknesses, Claire suggests candidates reframe it as ‘being an individual and a professional, what are certain things that I can be even better at?’ 

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 unsure of your long-term career plans, Claire advises, “You can be honest and reveal that you are not quite sure of your long term career goals, but make sure you know and specify what your plans are for at least the next one to three years. Tell the interviewer what you want to do during these years, and why you want to do them.” 

“But don’t be too blatant about the fact that you may be looking to leave the organisation after just two years, for example. Not every hiring manager is open to hiring someone they know will leave soon, as they will be wasting their efforts in training the candidate,” Claire adds. 

Ultimately, whether an employee stays with an organisation for the long run depends on both the employee and the hiring manager. Claire says, “A good manager will understand that everyone has their own ambitions, and it is up to the manager to keep their staff’s job scope exciting and fulfilling, and give them opportunities to continuously grow in the company. Employees usually stay on if they feel their current trajectory is aligned to their career goals. So candidates don’t have to be too afraid of this question when it comes up during interviews.” 

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 were approached for the job and interviews through a professional recruiter, Claire reveals, “These candidates in particular, should showcase how the company’s vision is meaningfully aligned to their own unique personal career goals. On the whole, candidates who believe in the company’s overall vision tend to do better in interviews than those who are interested just because the company is well-regarded or pays well.” 

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. 

Claire says, “Both the hiring manager and the candidate don’t want to be in the situation where they go through three to five rounds of interviews over a month, to realise the budget doesn’t match the salary expectation.” 

“While some candidates do hope that the hiring budget will be adjusted if the hiring team is ‘sold’ by their interview performance, the reality is that some organisations have relatively fixed budgets,” she notes. 

Our recommendation is that you shouldn’t really answer this question at the start. If you mention a figure in the interview, it may put you in a weaker position when it comes to negotiating your salary later on. 

Rather than saying nothing however, make sure you 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. 

Claire notes, “Your package is a very personal thing, so do your research and speak to professional recruiters to know your market value. In the end, you have to decide for yourself if the given numbers work for you.” 

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 interviews. Contact us if you would like to explore career opportunities in your specific sector. 

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