‘Tell us about yourself’: how to answer those common, but tricky job interview questions

Interview questions

They seem like they should be a walk in the park, but these five common questions could be a minefield if not prepared for properly.

Job interviews are a rite of passage.

It’s often a very stressful process. You only have one chance to make a strong enough impression to make it to the short list (and eventually get that job), which is why it helps to be prepared.

While jobs differ across the board, there are often a host of common question that almost everyone has encountered.

These questions may seem like they’re relatively simple to answer because we’ve all seen them before, but the problem is that they often trip many people up because they inspire generic and sometimes lazy responses instead of original ones.

You shouldn’t have to bumble your way through questions that you already know or expect.

Here is a list of questions you should always be able to answer:


Printable cheat sheet for your next job interview

1. Tell me about yourself

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer as it normally comes first and will set the tone for the rest of the interview.

According to The Muse.com, you should think about this question as the perfect opportunity to deliver a sales pitch, the selling point being you in this particular scenario. Bear in mind that the hiring manager already has your CV on hand, so avoid regurgitating all the facts they already know.

Instead, using concrete examples of your career history, explain why you’ve chosen the field you’re in and provide a few of your career highlights and list of achievements. Use the opportunity to also expand on how your career goals will fit in with the position you’re applying for.

When listing your highlights and experiences, show how the experience you’ve built up in previous positions make you suitable for the role you’re applying for.

2. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

No one likes answering this, but it certainly is easier to play up one’s strength as opposed to one’s weaknesses.

When it comes to listing one’s strengths, it’s easy to ramble and fall prey to the urge to rattle off a long list of what you’re good at.
Answering the question that focuses on your weaknesses is never pleasant, but remember that recruiters aren’t necessarily trying to catch you out or deliberately “fail” you.

For many this is a test of self-awareness and accountability, so answer as honestly as possible, but also counter your weak points with steps you are taking to improve them.

For example, you could mention that you’re struggling with an area in data analytics, but mention that you’re taking additional courses to help your understanding. This shows that you’re proactive and that you’re willing to take initiative to grow and improve your skills.

Remember: companies don’t seek perfection, but they do look for people who are willing to put in the extra work when it’s required.


5 dead giveaway signs that your interview went well

3. What are your salary expectations?

The answer to this question can be tricky, but you can also work this to your advantage by ensuring that you’ve done your research.

Visit comparison sites to check and ensure that you’re up to date with the industry’s market-related salary.

Also, understanding market-related salary range based on your experience will allow you to better suggest a range; so instead of mentioning a set amount, mention an amount ranging between numbers based on the knowledge and experience you’ve gained over the years.

4. Why did you leave your last job?

This question can be tough to answer because if you left on acrimonious terms, it can be hard not to be bitter towards your previous employer (and the temptation will be strong to paint that company in a negative light). On the other hand, it becomes even trickier when the reason you left was because you were fired.

With the former, whatever you do, avoid bad-mouthing your previous employers. Instead turn the conversation around and focus on the future by stating how the position that you’re applying for aligns with your career goals and challenges that you’ve been passionate about for a long time.

The latter scenario is much trickier, but your best bet is to be honest. Turn your experience around and talk about what you’ve learnt – by showing that you’re taking accountability for your role in being fired.

According to Alison Doyle from thebalancecareers.com, the hiring manager is actually just keen to see how you’ve responded in the face of an unfortunate situation, so use the opportunity to not only explain what you’ve learnt from the situation, but talk about steps you’ve taken that has helped you to grow.

5. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask us?

This question is not only the chance for you to show prospective employers that you’ve researched the company, but you can also use this as an opportunity to suss out what it’s like to work there.

Think beyond asking about work hours. Focus on questions about what the company’s doing to grow within the market and to encourage growth amongst employees.

Ask about the work culture and what the company is doing to move forward.  Don’t be afraid to ask about the challenges the company’s facing, since according to Pamela Skillings from Biginterview.com, it could help you determine how your skills could help

in specific and targeted areas. It’s also smart to get an idea of your potential employer’s expectations for the first three months of the job – day to day responsibilities will give you an indication as to whether or not the role is actually suited for you.

Tammy February