Although it’s impossible to know exactly what you may be asked in a job interview, there are a few common questions and challenges that any interviewer is likely to throw at you. Interviewers often base their questions around certain themes to best ascertain your suitability for the job, work ethics and personal qualities that might not be revealed in a CV alone.

Try answering some of these example questions yourself before the interview to get in some practice, and think about what the employer will be looking for in your answer. Remember, interviews may vary depending on the job you are applying for – an interview for an academic post will be very different to an interview for working in industry!

For further example interview questions to practice on, try some of the links on our Links and further information page.

Personal questions

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “What are your best personal qualities?”
  • “What are your weaknesses?”
  • “What good books have you read lately?”
  • “Who/what has inspired you in your life, and why?”
  • “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
  • “What has been your greatest achievement?”
  • “What was your biggest failure?”
  • “What keeps you motivated?”
  • “How do you define success?”

The employer will want to find out more about you as a person and what drives you, as well as asking unexpected questions on your hobbies to see how you react. Try to use personal strengths to emphasise your skills and talents without appearing arrogant. When asked about weaknesses, you can either disguise a strength as a weakness (I’m a perfectionist), or, better still, describe a weakness but immediately show how you’re trying to improve it (I’m attending debating society to improve my ability to speak to an audience).

Employment questions

  • “Why do you want this job?”
  • “Have you ever been absent for more than a few days in a previous position?”
  • “Describe your perfect day at work.”
  • “How would you like to be managed?”
  • “What was the toughest part of your last job?”
  • “Why did you leave your last job?”
  • “What type of duties have you previously had to perform?”
  • “What is important to you in a job?”
  • “How will this job fit into your career plan?”

Your previous employment history and work ethic will be very important to the interviewer in evaluating your suitability for the job. Be sure to show that you are a hard working employee, with examples from previous employment that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Education questions

  • “How has your education prepared you for the position?”
  • “Why did you choose to study your degree/college curse/PhD/etc?”
  • “What qualifications can you bring that other applicants cannot?”
  • “What qualifications do you have that are relevant to the position?”
  • “What was your favourite subject at school, and why?”
  • “Would you consider yourself overqualified/underqualified for this position?”

Although all employers will be interested in your educational history, interviewers for academic positions will be particularly interested, checking to see if your qualifications, publications and experience are relevant to the post you are applying for. For non-academic positions, use your qualifications to emphasize relevant marketable skills that the employer may find desirable for the job you are applying for.

Examples and Demonstrations

  • “Describe a time when you have lead a team”
  • “Describe a time where you have worked as part of a team.”
  • “Give an example of when you have shown initiative.”
  • “Give an example of a problem you have solved.”
  • “Give an example of when you have had to motivate others.”
  • “Give an example of when you have had to communicate to others.”
  • “Describe a time when you have used your negotiation skills to solve a problem.”

Before the interview, try to remember examples of when you have shown leadership, initiative and teamwork both in and out of the workplace, as questions concerning these qualities come up in many interviews.