Preparing for a job interview is often overwhelming – you want to make an excellent first impression but you don’t know what questions they may ask or what core competencies they are looking for in the particular role you’re interviewing for.
To ensure that you’re ready to answer some of the most difficult interview questions, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of common interview questions, explanations and sample answers to provide you with a new perspective on how to answer these common interview questions.
Some of these questions will appear quite simple on the surface, such as ‘Tell me about yourself.’ However the more open-ended the question, the more concise you have to be in your answer.
Others, like ‘What’s your greatest weakness,’ may be ones that many people answer improperly – showing that something many people would consider a strength is something you view as a weakness.
Once you have become familiar with these interview questions, you will find that you can use almost any questions as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.
Before we jump in – please do not memorise these answers and use them as your own. They are here for you to use as the basic structure for formulating your own responses and to give you some ideas as to how someone may answer the question successfully.
Always provide information that shows that you want to become the very best employee for the company and that you are specifically prepared to achieve this in the role you are interviewing for.
Now, let’s put it into practice some strong sample interview responses to the 52 toughest interview questions to better understand how you should be answering questions.
52 tough interview questions — and how to answer them
Tell me about yourself.
It seems like an easy interview question: It’s open-ended; you can talk about whatever you want from your birth onward. Right?
What the hiring manager is really wanting is a quick, two-minute snapshot of who you are and why you’re the best candidate for this position.
As you answer this question, talk about what you’ve done to prepare yourself to be the very best candidate for the position. Use an example or two to back it up, and ask if they would like more details. Always point back to an example when you have the opportunity.
This question does not mean you should tell the hiring manager everything — just what makes you the best person for the role.
What influenced you to choose this career?
My past experiences have shown me that I enjoy facing and overcoming the challenge of making a sale. Without a doubt, once I have practised my presentation and prepared myself for the objections, I feel confident about approaching people I don’t know and convincing them that they need my product. Lastly, I like sales because my potential for success is limited only by how much of myself I dedicate toward my goal. If any profession is founded on self-determinism, it surely must be sales.
At what point did you choose this career?
I knew that I wanted to pursue information systems technology during my second year of University. It was then that I realised that my hobby — computers — was taking up most of my life. My favourite courses were IT courses and I also realised that I was doing computer-oriented work-study that I was enjoying so much that I would have done it for free.
If I were to ask your manager/professor to describe you, what would they say?
Ah, the impending reference check question. Do not wait for the interview to know the answer. Ask any prior managers or professors in advance. If they’re willing to provide a positive reference, make note of their phone number and best contact time for them and/or a letter of recommendation.
You can then answer the question honestly. For instance:
I believe she would say I am a very energetic person, results-driven and one of the hardest working people she’s ever worked with. Actually, I know she would say that, as those are her very words. May I show you her letter of recommendation?
If you have to live your life over again, what’s one thing you would change?
Focus on a key turning point in your life or a missed opportunity. Be sure to tie it forward to what you’re doing to still seek to make that change.
Although I’m very happy with where I’m at in my life and I believe that you shouldn’t live with regrets, as you wouldn’t have learned from your experiences, the one thing that I wish I had done was choosing to focus earlier on my chosen career. I had a great internship this past year and look forward to more experiences in the field. I simply wish I had figured out my passion for this industry earlier! For example, I learned on my recent internship that…
Stay focused on positive direction in your life and back it up with examples.
Why should I hire you?
The easiest answer to this question is that you’re the best person for the job! Don’t be afraid to say so and to back it up with what makes you the best candidate.
You should hire me because I’m the best person for the job! I realise there are other candidates who also have the ability to do the job, but I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to my work. I am a quick learner; I take initiative; I am committed to producing the best outcomes to drive the business forward. For example…
Are you more energised by working with data or by collaborating with other individuals?
I like the validity of information and also like the energy that comes with working with people. The best thing about working in a group is combining the great minds from different perspectives and coming up with something extremely great, compared with when you’re working alone. At the same time, information can generate vitality in the project that you’re working on. No matter how many heads you’ve got together, without information, you can’t get very far. The perfect situation would be a combination of working with information and people, and I’m confident in my abilities in both areas.
Are you a team player?
Almost everyone says ‘Yes’ to this question. But it’s not a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question. You need to provide behavioural examples to back up your answer.
As an example:
Yes, I’m very much a team player. I’ve had many opportunities in my work, school and in playing sports to develop my skills as a team player. For example, on a recent project…
Emphasise key traits required of a team player, such as communication, collaboration, encouragement and motivation, to show that you understand the core competencies of what makes a team player.
Talk about the strength of the team above your individual self.
This may be a lead-in question to ask how you handle conflict within a team, just to prepare yourself mentally for follow-up questions.
Provide examples that show that you can adapt to a wide variety of people, situations and environments.
I’ve shown my ability to adapt by successfully working in several very different jobs. For instance, I lived and au paired for a family in France for a year; I was responsible in dealing with Drug Court participants; I catered to elite country-club cliente. I did it all well and had no trouble adapting.
Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way?
Recently, my company asked for bids on a phone system for our newest office building. Two companies came in very close with their bids, and most of my department wanted to go with a vendor that we have used in the past.
After I had looked over the proposals, it was clear that this was the wrong decision. So, I talked individually with each member of our staff and was able to change their minds and get the best product that would save money for our organisation and provide the highest quality phone system.
Describe a time when you had to use your written communication skills to get an important point across.
As a former insurance salesperson, some of my clients would request for me to send the policy options that we had discussed over the phone in an email to them so they could go over the fine print.
To ensure that they would be able to remember the key points in our conversation and be able to navigate the different policies with ease, I organised it from their favourite policy and the runner-ups; indicated the key points of difference of each individual policy; and confirmed the call-back time that we had agreed upon to ensure that once they had the time to make the decision, I would be able to answer any final questions they may have before making the sale.
Whilst the role was primarily over the phone, my ability to present our policies in a meaningful way and confirming the timeframe with the client to ensure the sale; I was consistently one of the top three billers in the company throughout my time there.
Describe the most significant or creative presentation that you had to complete.
The most significant presentation I have ever had to present was at a national research symposium. I was presenting research I had completed on digital analysis of mammograms and had to present it to a panel of more than 100 judges who were at the top of their field. I focused on the research, which could sell itself and just let the information flow. It went over very well and I received many more invitations to present the research, including on national television.
Judgement & problem-solving
Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgement and logic to solve a problem.
I had a client come into the bank where I worked and request a $5,000 personal loan to ‘pay off some bills.’ In the customary review process, I determined that what was really needed was a $25,000 debt-consolidation loan. Rather than giving the customer a ‘quick fix’ to the problem, I logically solved the problem in a way that was in the best interest of both the bank and the client.
Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.
Arriving in France in the middle of the night with very minimal French speaking skills, I found my way to the small town my host family was living in – a small town with no street addresses or names and found my temporary living accommodations, as I was doing hand over from the previous au pair. I was scared, but I handled the situation very well and very calmly. In very stressful situations, I am always the one in the group to stay calm and focused. My friends, family and professors have always said that I am an oasis of calm in a storm.
Give me an example of a time in which you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.
This happens often in the IT industry, but one recent example was when we had a core backbone switch die. It died at the worst possible time – during exams – as they always seem to do, and I needed to get it back up and running quickly.
I analysed the logs and system status, and used my previous experience to make some quick decisions that rectified the problem and got the equipment back up only minutes later.
Give me a specific occasion in which you conformed to a policy with which you did not agree.
When I worked at Bunnings as an assistant manager, I was always looking for a way to boost my employees’ morale. Unloading trucks is a very routine and physical job and can become very boring and exhausting. So, to improve the unloaders’ attitude toward their duties and make the best of the situation, I put a radio in the receiving dock.
It worked; however, the district manager did not approve of the radio in the workplace even though it did not interfere with any set policy of company objectives. The radio was also out of any areas where customers would hear the music.
I did not agree with my DMs decision, however when he explained to me that it was a health and safety issue, I understood his reasoning and quickly complied to his request. The employees were not happy that their radio was gone, so I found an alternative method of reward and morale boosting by implementing a program in which we provided lunch for the unloaders from any restaurant of their choice if they unloaded the trucks faster than usual. The program was successful in increasing their unloading time from 2.5 hours to only 1.5 hours – a savings in payroll of 8 per cent for that shift.
How would you evaluate your ability to deal with conflict?
I believe that I am quite good at handling conflict. In my previous role, I was required to make unpopular decisions at times, whether it was terminating and employee or pushing back on changes from more senior management that I felt would not be best practice for the business.
No matter the reaction of the person in conflict with me, I would always make sure that I explained the situation and my point of view clearly, the policies, stats and research behind my decision and explain its importance to the project or to my point of view. By the end of the conversation, the other person would usually understand my point of view and I would ensure to ask enough questions to fully understand their point of view.
Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How was it resolved?
Note: If you say ‘No,’ interviewers will likely keep drilling deeper to find a conflict.
However, if you say ‘Yes,’ the key is to show how you reacted to the conflict and what you did to resolve it.
Yes, I have had conflicts with my manager in the past. Never major ones, just disagreements that needed to be resolved. I’ve found that when conflict occurs, it helps to fully understand the other person’s perspective. So, I take time to listen to their point of view before working toward finding a collaborative solution. For example…
Be sure to show your process in resolving the conflict and how you work collaboratively with the other party.
What is more important to you, the job itself or your salary?
A salary commensurate with my experience and skills is important, but it’s only one piece of the package. Many other elements go into making up a compensation package, but more importantly, it’s critical to me that I enjoy what I’m doing, fit into the company culture and feel like I’m making a contribution in order to be the most successful version of myself.
What level of compensation would it take to make you happy?
I am not dependent on money to make me happy. What makes me happy is having a satisfying job that provides challenges and new situations daily.
Tell me about the salary range you’re seeking.
I am sure that I am the candidate that you are looking for. If you feel the same, then I’m sure that your offer will be fair and commensurate with the value I can bring the company.
(If pressed.) My recruitment consultant has also discussed salary ranges either with yourself or with the hiring team, and has requested that I leave these details with them.
Would you say that you can easily deal with high-pressure situations?
Yes. Throughout my University degree, I consistently maintained above a 3.8 GPA – which allowed me to graduate on the Dean’s List – worked 20 to 30 hours per week part-time as a waitress, was part of our University’s acapela team and volunteered at a local animal shelter. As I was constantly juggling many plates with many tasks to be completed and many people relying on me, I prioritised and dealt with each task based on its importance. I understand that this may be an extreme example not typically found in the financial consulting field; however it shows just how well I can deal with extreme pressure.
What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
You would think that because I’m interested in sales, only financial compensation would motivate me to achieve. Although monetary rewards are important to me, I am driven to succeed internally.
More than anything, I want to be respected by my friends and coworkers for being the best at what I do. Whether I am considered to be the best car detailer in my hometown or the best columnist for my local newspaper – I want to be recognised as the best.
Goals & aspirations
Would you describe yourself as goal-driven?
Yes and I demonstrated my goal orientation as president of the local Jaycees, a community service organisation. I am very proud of the fact that I set a goal of signing 50 new members by the end of the year, and I accomplished that.
Describe what you’ve accomplished toward reaching a recent goal for yourself.
My first few years in banking had me on the fast track to branch management. I realised at some point along the way that my true passion was in offering financial advice not limited to checking accounts and loans. It was at that point that I made the necessary arrangements to complete the necessary certificate to pursue my goal, which I am just about to achieve.
What short-term goals and objectives have you established for yourself?
My short-term objectives are to graduate from the Professional Development Program before the standard two years and begin developing a clientele. As an intern, I prepared ahead of time by studying for the Series 7 and Series 64 exams that constitute a majority of a beginning financial consultant’s time. I’d like to make the company that hires me wonder what it ever did without me.
What is your long-term career goal?
What they’re saying here is: Do your long-term objectives align with the potential of the role and advancement within our business?
The key is to focus on your achievable objectives and what you are doing to reach those objectives.
In the next five years, I’d like to be the best accountant your company has on staff. I want to work toward a senior position, to train, manage and encourage more junior staff we bring on board. In doing so, I feel confident in taking on greater responsibilities that may be presented to me in the long term. Currently, I am preparing myself by...
Then go on to give examples to show what you are doing to reach your personal goals and objectives.
What do you expect to be doing in five years?
Although you can never fully predict the future, I sincerely believe that I will become a very good financial consultant. I believe that my abilities will allow me to excel to the point that I can seek other opportunities as a portfolio manager (the next step) and possibly even higher. My ultimate goal continues to be – and always will remain – to be the best at whatever level I am working at within Merrill Lynch’s corporate structure.
What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
Ten years from now, I see myself as a successful consultant for a world-class firm like yours. I want to have developed a wonderful bond with my employer. I will have proven myself a highly competent systems analyst and will represent my company in helping others find solutions to their information systems needs in a professional and timely manner.
What success means to you
What do you think it takes to be successful in this career?
I believe that successful salespeople put forth that extra effort that turns potential clients into first-time customers. Salespeople who attend to the details by doing whatever it takes to win over a prospective customer distinguish themselves from the countless others who don’t go to any extra effort.
Secondly, I think that if you label success as an attainable goal, you will never consistently remain successful. You can only succeed if you learn all there is to learn about your product, your competitors, and personal selling. Since this learning process is continuous, it’s an unattainable goal.
With good reason, salespeople should not consider success an attainable ending point, but an objective that will always linger slightly beyond their reach.
How do you determine or evaluate success? Give me an example of one of your most successful accomplishments.
Last year, I was nominated as my company’s representative on an external auditing board that helps set government regulations and communicates these changes to its members in the wider industry. When I was first nominated, I didn’t know the first thing on how to accomplish any of these responsibilities. But, I decided that not knowing wasn’t a good enough excuse. Six months later, I was nominated to Chair of the auditing board. I also contribute to the monthly newsletter, which is sent to over 50,000 leaders in the industry, including a number of individuals who work for companies listed on the ASX.
Do you have the qualifications and personal characteristics necessary for success in your chosen career?
I believe that I have a combination of qualities to be successful in this career. First, I have a strong interest, backed by a solid, well-rounded education and the required certifications, which are necessary for a technical role like this one. I also love learning and have problem-solving skills, well-rounded interests, determination to succeed and excell, strong communication skills and the ability to work hard – all of which are essential to this career path.
To succeed, you also need a natural curiosity about how systems work – the kind of curiosity I demonstrated when I upgraded my two computers recently. Technology is constantly changing, so you must be a fast learner to keep up, which I am, or you will be overwhelmed.
I possess all these traits to create a solid team member in the every-changing field of information systems. This is why I believe that I am ready to be a successful member of your firm.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment?
A recent accomplishment of mine was being sent to one of our branch banks that was notorious for not growing their loan base. The branch had logged $75,000 in new loans in an 18-month period prior to my arrival. Having a reputation as a ‘hired gun’ when it came to loan production, I was successful in the solicitation and booked $700,000 in my first six months at the branch.
What quality or attribute do you feel will most contribute to your career success?
My greatest strength is my flexibility. I have learned that work conditions change from day to day and throughout the day, as well, no matter where I have worked in the past. I have also realised that certain projects require individual attention and others involve a teamwork approach. These are just a few examples of the changes that happen in the financial consulting field, as you are well aware. My flexibility to adapt to the different demands of the job has allowed me to surpass my former supervisor’s expectations and is why I was promoted within the first year at my previous employer.
Understanding your weaknesses
What is your greatest weakness?
This is one of the most common improperly answered interview questions.
Many people will follow the classic advice to provide a veiled positive response, such as:
I work too much.
I’m a perfectionist.
I’m too honest.
Either you’re lying, or — worst of all — you’re telling the truth!
In which case, you define working too much as a weakness and you don’t want to work much at all; you define perfecting your work as a weakness and you don’t want to spend time refining your work; you define being honest as a weakness and you wish you could lie more.
Definitely not what you want!
Instead, select a weakness that you have been actively working to overcome.
I have had trouble in the past with organising data in an easily accessible and usable manner. However, I am now taking an online course that explains how to use Microsoft Excel more effectively and how to cross-reference and analyse datasets in an easier way. I’ve been using these learnings in my most recent role, where I had the following outcome…
Before you can make a productive contribution to the company, what degree of training do you feel that you will require?
My background has been focused on preparing me for the financial consulting industry, so I can be productive right away. I already have obtained the educational credentials and skills to allow me to become an immediate asset to Merrill Lynch. After interning for a semester, I am well aware of the shared beliefs of the organisation and its corporate values. I already have a very good working knowledge of the financial consulting business. I am confident in my ability to get up to speed quickly in any assignment with which I’m not familiar.
If you could, how would you plan your University career differently?
I wouldn’t change anything. All that I have done was a great learning experience that I will carry forward throughout the rest of my life.
How has your education prepared you for your career?
To answer this question successfully, you will need to focus on the behavioural examples in your educational background that aligns to the required competencies for the career path you’re on — more specifically, the role you’re interviewing for.
My education has focused on not only learning the fundamentals, but also the practical application of what we learned in class. We were often encouraged to go out and seek internships on- and off-campus, which is how I ended up in a leading a team as part of a research role, where we gathered and analysed best practice data from this industry. The results of this…
How will the academic program and coursework you’ve taken benefit your career?
As you will note on my resume, I’ve taken not only the required core classes for the finance field, I’ve also gone above and beyond by double majoring in accounting. I double majored as I knew that the financial consulting field requires much knowledge of portfolio analysis and understanding of the tax laws. I believe that my success in both areas of study have specifically prepared me for this area. But it’s not just taking the classes in these two areas that allow me to offer Westpac clients more. I also minored in French to understand the needs of the growing French community in Maroubra, which, as you are well aware, is a growing source of revenue for this particular branch. If you’d like, I can elaborate on other aspects of my education further.
What University courses or subjects did you like best? Why?
My favourite courses have been the ones pertaining to my major, which is marketing. These classes have laid the groundwork for my career in marketing. They also have taught me soft skills that I can bring to my employer, from communication skills to interacting with others.
Are you the type of student for whom conducting independent research has been a positive experience?
Yes, I love it. I thoroughly enjoyed my senior research project in University whilst many others in my class were miserable. I was never tired about learning about the topic and found it exhilarating to be researching something that has not been studied in-depth before.
Describe the type of professor that has created the most beneficial learning experience for you.
My favourite professors were the ones who gave me hands-on learning experiences that I can apply to my career. Any person can make you memorise the quadratic equation, but someone who can show you how to use it and why were the ones that I liked. I prefer professors who realise that sometimes there is more than one answer and that everyone things differently.
Do you think that your grades are an indication of your academic achievement?
I have focused much of my energy on work and obtaining real-world experience. I commend my classmates who have earned high GPAs, but I also feel it’s important to be well-rounded as an individual. In addition to work experience, I participated in sports and extracurricular activities in school. These activities taught me leadership, communication, and teamwork skills.
Sometimes my heavy load has not allowed me to keep up with some of my studies, but I have learned an enormous amount that I can apply in my future industry. As you will discover when you talk to my supervisors, my ability to work effectively is much more reflective of my future potential than my GPA.
What plans do you have for continued study? An advanced degree?
I plan to continue my education for the rest of my life. In any technology-related field, keeping up to date through continuing education is of the utmost importance. Continuing education can include on-the-job training, courses sponsored by the employer, and courses taken in new technologies as they emerge.
I plan to be not only a career employee, but a career student so that I can be the best information systems analyst I can be. I will ensure, however, that any education I pursue not only doesn’t interfere with my job or the company’s policies, but will enhance my value as an employee.
Please describe the ideal role for you after graduation.
My ideal job is one that incorporates both my education and practical work skills to be the best I can be. Namely, combining my education in finance with my working knowledge of customer service operations, entrepreneurial abilities, computer skills and administrative skills. I was to utilise my analytical expertise to help people meet their financial goals. This is why I’m convinced that I would be a very valuable member of the [company] team.
For management roles...
What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?
Focus on two words: Leadership and vision.
Here is a sample of how to build your answer around these two key thoughts:
The key quality in a successful manager should be leadership — the ability to be the visionary for the people who are working under them and to motivate them accordingly. It’s the person who can set the course and direction for those who work under them. You should be working toward inspiring them, just as much as they inspire you to be the best leader you can be. Let me tell you about this incredible person I have the opportunity to work with and whom I aspire to follow in their footsteps…
Then give an example of how someone has touched your life and how their leadership has helped you in your personal and professional development.
About the company
Tell me what you know about the company.
You’re a large and well-respected company worldwide. You’re both a clinical and teaching hospital. Over the last 60 to 70 years, you’ve produced award-winning research. In reviewing your website, I’ve familiarised myself with many of your corporate goals and objectives.
Why did you decide to seek a position in this company?
I am convinced that there would be no better place to work than Accenture. You are one of the top consulting firms in Australia. You provide your employees with the tools they need to stay competitive in the market and sharpen their skills whilst working in an open, team-based environment. I am also aware that you provide a mentor for all new employees and I would embrace any opportunity to work with a mentor and eventually become one myself.
About the job location
Do you have a geographical preference?
Although I would prefer to stay in the greater Melbourne area, I would not rule out other possibilities.
Why do you think that you might like to live in the community in which our company is located?
Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend several days in your community and fell in love with it. I love the fact that you have a thriving riverfront. I’m impressed with the many cultural opportunities here – opera, theatre, art and independent films. I’ve also already become a fan of some of the sports teams based here. I have conducted a significant amount of research on this city, so I am quite comfortable with this location.
Would it be a problem for you to relocate?
I’m open to new opportunities within the company; if those opportunities involve relocation, I would certainly consider it.
To what extent would you be willing to travel for the job?
I am more than willing to travel. I understand the importance of going above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy customer requests is sometimes required and that Merrill Lynch’s customer focus belief means that travel is expected in some circumstances.
I am willing to make this commitment to do whatever it takes to develop that long-term relationship with a small business or client.It is only through this relationship that loyalty can be maintained and financial gains and growth can occur for both the client and Merrill Lynch. It is my understanding from other financial consultants that I have interviewed at Merrill Lynch that this occurs maybe one or two times per month.
Now that you have an idea on how you may want to answer some of the most common interview questions, be sure to check out our blog post all about what you need to do to prepare for a job interview.
This includes tips on how to research the role and the company, behavioural interview tips, and how to act before, during and after the interview.