Let’s start off by saying that each job interview is different. Its results largely depend on the degree of your preparation, the personality of the interviewer and - if certain surveys are to be believed - even on the weekday and time of your meeting.
“Aw man”, you’re mumbling right now, “I clicked on this because I thought this was a cheat sheet that already had the answers filled in.” Well, it is. Sort of. But like any good cheat sheet (and this is not to say that any of us has ever written one), this one only works when you can adapt your answers to the problem at hand. Even common interview questions come in variations. What you need to understand is what the interviewer is getting at, so you can answer the question to everybody’s satisfaction (by the way, that also includes your own satisfaction - if you have to put on an act to get a certain job, it may not be for you). So this is not a guide to put words in your mouth, but to help you phrase your own words in the best possible way to ace the job interview.
# Why did you apply for this job?
This question seems obvious and reasonable enough to ask. Your success in answering will be directly proportionate to your preparation. The question serves one main purpose: to see if the candidate wants a job or the job. You want to end up in the group with the definite article. This requires first of all that you have read and can recall the job advertisement. It requires furthermore that you can link some of its content to your own skills, preferences and attitudes and preferably show some enthusiasm for the position. If you spin your answer the right way, you can actually hit two birds with one stone and weave in references to your biggest strengths (which is another popular interview question). Make sure to give examples from your previous working or studying experience when you highlight a certain skill or trait of yours.
# How would your classmates describe you?
This question comes in many different shades. Sometimes it's your classmates' or current colleagues' view on you. Some hiring managers also like to ask how your siblings would describe you because siblings probably know you at your best and at your worst - which is something to keep in mind next time you’re spiking your little brother’s hot chocolate with garlic oil. The big issue in this question is to test your interpersonal skills and your ability to reflect on your own behaviour. The absolute worst response to this question is “I don’t know”. Most jobs nowadays require some sort of interaction with others, so knowing how you come across is vital when talking to a potential future employer. Therefore, if you describe other people’s view on yourself be sure to give examples of your behaviour. And while you might not reveal your biggest character flaws in this situation, you should still opt for offering insights about yourself that are true. Because someone might get it into their head to actually ask your classmates or colleagues about you (maybe not your siblings though, so go ahead with the garlic oil).
# What is your biggest weakness?
That’s the “Stairway to Heaven” of interview questions: as old as water, yet it somehow never seems to lose its appeal. There are different tactics on how to tackle the question, but even more important is how not to do it: Do not under any circumstances ever respond to this question by saying “I’m impatient”. It’s right up there with “I’m too hard on myself and care too much”. Of course, you think it’s terribly clever to pick a weakness that is a disguised hint at your high work ethics. And because it’s so terribly clever, every recruiter who has been in the business for more than 10 minutes has heard this answer roughly a 1000 times. To stay with the theme, if the question is “Stairway to Heaven”, then the impatience-answer is “Last Christmas” - it’s the kind of thing you’ve heard so often it makes you wanna bang your head against a wall.
Another (better) tactic is to pick a real weakness that is, however, non-essential for the kind of job you are going to perform. Or to name a weakness and then explaining what you are doing in terms of correcting it. After all, recruiters know that you are, in fact, a flawed human being just like everybody else. They just want to make sure you know it, too.
# Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Of course, no one can predict the future. (Or maybe you can, but why are you still looking for a job then, anyway?) What this question is really about is seeing how this job fits in with the kind of career path you are trying to establish for yourself. Once again, it is to distinguish between those people who simply apply to any job they can find and people who have a genuine interest in the kind of position an employer is trying to fill. If you really want to work as a media buyer you might have a hard time justifying your application at an accounting firm and vice versa. That is not to say that you shouldn’t go for the experience. It just means that you may have to keep your five-year-time horizon a little vague. Focus your answer on what you are hoping to learn in that specific position and how you would like to develop personally. Also, describe the kind of company that would like to work for rather than naming certain companies or job titles.
# Why should we hire you?
This is your cue for our prepared elevator pitch - or a more pointed version of the recruiter’s opening statement “Tell me about yourself”. Avoid reciting your CV because the hiring manager already knows that. This question is not about if your skills match the position (that’s already been established by the time you get invited to the interview), but why you are a better match than any other candidate. The key here is to keep it brief and highlight your two or three most outstanding qualities - and, at the risk of repeating this advice like a broken record, remember to give examples for those qualities from your study or working background. As this question usually pops up towards the end of an interview, it lives in the immediate neighbourhood of the question about salary, so you want to make sure to be as convincing as you can.
Alright, now that you have our notes on some of the most common interview questions you can start preparing your own answers. It’s always a good idea to jot down a couple of thoughts on those questions beforehand. You won’t be able to use the notes in an actual interview, but writing something down actually makes it easier to remember the most important bits (similar to cheat sheets that usually become obsolete the moment you’ve finished writing them). And while you are at it you may also want to prepare for one of the last questions in any interview, that puts the ball back in your court: Do you have any questions for us?