You only get one chance for a first impression

So you’ve been invited to a job interview. Perhaps it was thanks to your professionally-written CV and cover letter. Getting the interview is an achievement in itself, but your journey to career advancement is far from over. A bad interview performance can render a great CV irrelevant. Read on for advice on how to ace an interview and progress your career.

How to prepare for an interview

Preparing for a job interview is serious business. Here are a few simple steps to get you on your way.

  1. Research the company. Visit its website and social media channels. Find out about its history, its industry, and if possible the people who are interviewing you.
  2. Plan your outfit. Formal dress is very important for some interviews. For others, it doesn’t matter at all. Try your best to gauge the dress code. If it really starts to worry you, just ask.
  3. Prepare your answers. You never know exactly what an interviewer is going to ask you, but you should do your best to be prepared nonetheless.
  4. Prepare your questions. Nearly every interviewer will give you the opportunity to ask questions. While this is rarely a ‘test’, the kind of questions you ask will have an impact on your interviewer’s opinion of you, so make sure you have informed, intelligent queries prepared.

Common Interview Questions and Answers

Since nearly all job interviews will include similar questions, preparing some answers can give you a huge advantage. These are some of the most common interview questions in the UK and how to answer them.

General Questions

Unless your interviewers are particularly unorthodox, they are likely to ask you a few general questions to get to know you better. Here are a few tips on how to answer them.

Tell me about yourself

By the time they ask this question, your interviewer will have read your CV, read your cover letter, checked your LinkedIn profile, and most likely Googled you. They don’t need to hear your life story. What they do need to hear is the human side of your work history. Why did you get into this line of work? What motivates you? Be truthful, but don’t sell yourself short.

Why are you applying for this position?

This question or a similar variant is often asked at the beginning of an interview. Your cover letter should have already answered this, but it gives you another opportunity to state what it is you like about the role, and why you think you would be a good fit. Don’t be to repeat yourself. It’s possible not all of your interviewers will have read your cover letter.

What are your weaknesses?

The bane of interviewees everywhere, on the surface this question appears to be designed to catch you out. There is, however, an important underlying reason for asking it. Identifying your own weaknesses is crucial to self-development. No one wants to hire an employee with glaring blind spots.

It is easy to fall into a trap when answering this question. Reveal a critical flaw and you could be out of the job. Try to pass off a strength as a weakness and you risk coming off as smug. “I just work too hard,” will not do here. Identify an area you would like to improve, preferably something you have already started working on, and you should be safe.

Career-Related Questions

As well as these more general questions, there will likely be questions relating to your skills, experience, and career aspirations. Most of these will be specific to the role you’re applying for, but there are some universal questions that come up frequently.

What can you bring to this role?

This question gives you the chance to explain exactly why your interviewer should hire you. They know the job description. There’s no need to list your future duties. Instead, take this opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates. What will be different about the way you fill the role specifically?

What is your greatest career achievement so far?

As well as being an invitation to show off your successes, this question lets you suggest the kind of accomplishments you could have in your new role. Pick something impressive, but also applicable to the new position.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is an opportunity to display your drive and ambition. It’s always a good idea to express a desire to progress from the position you’re interviewing for, but it’s best to locate this desire within the same organisation.  No one wants to hire an employee who is already thinking about leaving.


Many job interviews include some questions that come out of left field, apparently unrelated to professional experience or skill. Ironically, these can be the most difficult answer.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

This question serves only as a way to gain insight into your personality. Your answer will tell the interviewer what is important to you. Make sure your answer portrays you as someone who will continue to grow and develop even with financial security for life.

If you were an animal, what would you be?

Another personality-based question, this one appears to be asking you to describe an animal with which you share character traits. As with the ‘weakness’ question, steer clear of complimenting yourself (“I’m like a lion because I’m so brave,” etc.). Similarly, avoid all cliches. Choose something fun and creative, but don’t spend too much time preparing for this question. For most interviewers, the others are more important.