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typical tricky interview questions

Deal with the job-hunter's biggest fear: tricky interview questions

Graduate employers use a range of interview questions to assess what you know about them and whether you're the right fit for the job. Don't trip up: use our sample questions and hints to guide your interview preparation.

Within the graduate interview process you will always be asked questions about the organisation, the job you are applying for, your motivations for applying and why you’re the right person for the job.

Take a look below at some of the typical tricky interview questions you could be asked so that you’re ready when interviewers kick off with that old chestnut ‘What do you know about us?’.

Our partners Shortlist.Me have a range of resources to help you prepare for interview questions.

Typical interview questions about the employer

What do you know about us?

Show off your research, but don’t just repeat what it says on the website – your interviewers may have written it! Avoid the obvious answers – now is your chance to impress the interviewer with your originality. Talk about their products or services, and show why they interest you. Talk about how you have followed the organisation in the national papers or trade press.

What can you contribute to this company?

Emphasise your skills and show how they would be perfectly suited to the employer. Your research may have alerted you to problem areas or skills you need to develop further, so you could discuss how you’d solve them.

Why do you want to work for this company?

Be honest, but in as flattering a way as possible. Don’t mention pay or hours. Think about what attracts you to the company: emphasise the particular strengths of the organisation, along with individual things like opportunities for personal growth, new challenges and your interest in the nature of the work or projects undertaken.

What do you think makes a good employer?

Your answer to this will give an insight into your working style, which will show whether you’ll fit in. Focus on are how an organisation values its employees through support, training and development.

Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?

Be discreet and tactful. Never talk negatively about a former employer even if you hated working there. Talk in terms of generalisms: the kinds of issues that you can face in any job or workplace. Explain the methods you use to deal with difficult people or situations and emphasise the importance of flexibility, perseverance and good communication.

Typical interview questions about the job on offer

What attracts you to a career in …?

Show your motivation! Explain what interests you in the sector or profession – whether it’s been a lifelong ambition or you recently realised that it’s an interesting area of work. If your degree is not related to the job, or if you’ve changed career, explain your reasons.

Why should we employ you?

It's your chance to highlight all your extraordinary skills and show the interviewer how they relate to the position. Use examples from work experience, your interests and academic life to showcase your skills in action.

Why do you want this job?

Tell the interviewer what attracted you to the position – is it a first step towards your dream career, a job that fits your skills and interests or a chance to work for a renowned employer?

What qualities do you think will be required for this job?

Here’s your chance to show off the research you have done. Having read the recruitment information and researched the employer, you should be able to say what they’re looking for, and then demonstrate that you have all the skills and qualities necessary to do the job.

Typical interview questions about you

What makes you the best person for the job?

Having done your research, you know that you have all the right skills so tell the interviewer about them and highlight any additional qualities that may be relevant.

What can you contribute?

Use the past as a guide to the future. Tell the interviewer about your achievements – from your studies, any previous jobs and extra-curricular activities – which are relevant to the position.

What did you learn at university that you could bring to this job?

This is what marks out graduate jobs from ones that anyone could do. What was the point of your degree?! How will you apply this knowledge to a work situation? Don't only talk about subject specific knowledge though. Show off your broader graduate skills too - all the stuff that supports your studies (time management, initiative, research and analysis) and would make you a good employee.

How soon would you be making a significant contribution to the organisation?

This is tricky – you don’t want to sound arrogant by saying that you’d make a difference from day one, but you do want to come across as proactive, enthusiastic and 'can-do'. You could turn the question round and ask what they’d expect.

Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?

Thinking about your future is seen as a positive, because it shows that you’re serious and committed to the job. You might want to research likely career progression within the organisation or profession. You could also focus on skills you'd like to develop or use, eg developing technical knowledge to become a specialist, or maybe you want to move into people or project management.

How ambitious are you?

Feel free to talk about your ambitions within the job – to do as good a job as possible. Talking about career aspirations is good, but you shouldn’t appear to be after the interviewer’s position.

Are you able to move/travel?

Don’t feel pressured into saying you’re flexible just to get the job. Tell the interviewer the true state of affairs. However, if travel or working at different sites and locations is essential for the position and you can’t do it, it really isn’t the right job for you.

What are your salary expectations?

This is tricky, because you don’t want to appear arrogant, but neither do you want to undervalue yourself. If you can, find out in advance the typical graduate starting salary for this type of job and business sector as part of your research. Otherwise, it’s best to be unspecific and just say you expect a fair wage at the going rate for your work.

Are you applying for other jobs?

Only mention jobs that are closely related to the one you’re at an interview for. You need to show that you are interested in this particular field of work and that you have not just been applying for any job with ‘graduate’ in its description. You might want to underplay other applications to stress how much you want this job and why it would be your preferred choice.

Get researching to get ready for tricky questions

Basic employer research is the secret for making yourself secure in an interview situation. You need to know basic information about the organisation, and also assimilate it so that you know what makes the employer special, and why you are attracted to working for the particular organisation… and why it is you that fits the job.

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