How to answer interview questions


The whole point of the interview is to get you talking about yourself through asking you a series of questions. The type and focus of questions will depend on the role and the employer.

How to answer:

How to ask:

Skill / competency questions

What are they?

These are questions such as:

  • Tell me about a time when you led a group of people on a project or task. (How did you motivate the team?)
  • Describe a time when you have had to manage a number of tasks at the same time. (How did you decide on the priorities? What were the challenges?)

These are common in graduate recruitment (especially with larger employers) as they prompt you to give evidence of the required competencies for the job from your experiences and help the employer judge how you will demonstrate this in the job. If you have prepared well there should be no real surprises.

How to answer them

A useful structure to use is CAR:

  • Circumstances: briefly describe the situation.
  • Action: talk specifically about what you did.
  • Result: talk about the outcome.

Make sure that you are:

  • Focused - listen carefully to the question and keep your answer focused and not too general or vague.
  • Positive - it's not a time to be modest; describe any contributions, level of responsibility and achievements in a positive way using different recent examples for each question.
  • Truthful - exaggeration will catch you out as interviewers are trained to spot this and will ask further probing questions to establish the facts

Strengths-based questions

What are they?

These are questions such as:

  • When are you at your best?
  • Describe a successful day you have had.

These questions are becoming more popular and are designed to help an employer gain insight into innate aptitudes, to find out what you really enjoy, what excites and motivates you. This enables them to place you in a role where you will be most effective because you will be doing something that really suits you.

How to answer them

It is harder to prepare rehearsed answers to strengths-based questions, as they are fast-paced and spontaneous. However, as with most questions, you will be drawing upon your interests and experiences to answer them. Remember that the interviewer is looking for enthusiasm and passion, so don't be afraid to let that show through your words, tone of voice and body language.

General and experience questions

What are they?

These are questions such as:

  • What has been your greatest achievement to date?
  • What has been your biggest disappointment / failure?

These questions range from broad to specific ones about your work experience, academic qualifications, strengths, weaknesses, choices you have made, as well as explaining, expanding or clarifying anything you have written in your CV or application form.

How to answer them

Good preparation will enable you to talk in depth about your experience and qualifications. You may be asked about:

  • Strengths - link these to the criteria for the role and give evidence rather than just a list.
  • Weaknesses - be positive about your weaknesses, for example skills gaps you have identified and improved on rather than talking about your worst traits.
  • Choices and decisions - these are designed to give the interviewer an insight into your motivation, drive and commitment; make sure you consider this when phrasing your answer.

Career motivation questions

What are they?

These are questions such as:

  • What attracts you to this role?
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?

These questions enable the employer to understand your reasons for wanting the job, and the reasons for wanting to work in a particular sector, and provide more detail about you than just having the skills and experience.

How to answer them

When answering these questions you should remember to:

  • Be genuine - your answer needs to sound believable and not full of buzz words, or information you have found on their website.
  • Do your research - find out about the company in detail and have three or four main reasons for your interest in the employer.

Commercial awareness questions

What are they?

These are questions such as:

  • How do you keep up to date with what is happening in the business world / current affairs?
  • Tell me about a business news story in the press at the moment that you have been following? (Why does it interest you? What are your views on the issues involved?)

These are designed to test your knowledge and interest in the sector; you could also be asked about business-related experience from your own background or to discuss a hypothetical business situation.

How to answer them

Research before the interview is essential. You also need to be able to reflect on your own experiences; you don't necessarily have to have studied for a business degree or undertaken business related work experience. Commercial awareness can come from part-time retail jobs, experience in a family business, or from managing the finances and raising sponsorship for a club/society.

Download a guide to commercial awareness (PDF - 90KB) for further advice.

Case study and problem solving questions

What are they?

These are questions that are common in analytical jobs such as management consultancy and can be a question on:

  • A business problem - you will discuss, for example, a hypothetical client situation with the interviewer.
  • Estimation - this will involve you answering a seemingly impossible quantitative question such as “How many disposable babies nappies are sold in the UK each year?”

Both types of question are looking for a logical, analytical approach and common sense rather than reaching a perfect solution.

How to answer them

The idea of these hard to predict questions are to show you can think on your feet; our information room has examples to give you an idea of the approach, but listening carefully to the information and making notes if appropriate is a good base for an answer. To answer:

  • A business problem - ask questions, making sure you explain your reasoning but don't make assumptions.
  • Estimation - make sensible assumptions in order to calculate a solution.

Questions for the interviewer

  • Don't just ask questions where the answers can easily be found on their website.
  • Stick to questions about the role, career development, professional training, strategy and changes in the organisation, clients etc.
  • If no information has been given about the salary in the recruitment information and this is the final (or only) interview, it’s OK to ask about this provided it is not your only question.
  • If the interviewer has not mentioned the next step, it is fine to ask them when you might hear about the next step or when they hope to make a decision. However don't ask for immediate feedback on how the interview went.
  • The interviewer will not have allocated a lot of time to answer your questions so keep it short. If you really can't think of anything then say that the website / presentation / interview process has given you the information you need and you don't have any remaining questions.

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