Graduate Blog

The ‘Cheat Sheet’ To The Toughest Interview Questions


We’ve all heard the horror stories – the tales of mishaps and stuttering’s that ultimately gave graduate interviews the bad name they possess today. Experts suggest that preparation is the key to ace-ing these interviews and giving yourself the best possible chance at securing the job, but how prepared can you be?

The one downfall that seems to catch most newbie-interviewees out is the tricky questions employers drop on you just when you starting to feel a little more relaxed and comfortable. Based around your motivation, your knowledge of the company and the position, current news affairs surrounding the industry; the list is seemingly endless. How do you tackle these questions you ask? Here’s a breakdown of the most common areas they crop up in and the questions that they just might ask…


‘What do you know about the company?’

Probably the most-asked by an employer when they are looking to delve into your deeper knowledge – they won’t employ you if you don’t know whether they are in recruitment or specialise in accounting. It’s likely that half the battle has been fought – you will know the industry that you want to be involved in, so you can be confident in the fact you are aware of the goings-on. Going the extra mile means performing some deep research into the company itself, such as number of personnel, names of competitors, any awards they may have won, and your interest in their products and services.

‘What can YOU bring to the company?’

This may be one of the more scary questions, because the interviewer is very literally asking why they should employ you over anyone else. Why do YOU have more worth to the company than Joe Bloggs other there? You need to be aware of the attributes that an employee of the company would require to be successful, and then pair this with a time when you demonstrated said attributes. Backing up a claim of your skills with an actual experience definitely gains brownie points.

‘Why is that you applied to THIS company?’

The trap that is easy to fall into when it comes to this question is some sort of over-complimenting of the company. It’s all fine and well to suggest that ‘you’d revel in the chance to grow in a company which is a respectable brand and market leader’ but too many nice adjectives becomes a load of babble. Find the right balance of compliments and specific points as to why this company was in your field of vision. If you’re one of those candidates who didn’t specifically aim to work at this particular company, but you want to get into the industry, then highlight exactly why ANY employee would aspire to work at that company. This means avoiding hours and wages but hinting at things such as opportunities for growth and the support network.

‘What attributes does a good employer require?’

Again, avoid issues such as pay and working hours and focus on things such as the chance for self-progression, a good employer-employee relationship and so on. Employers like to see that candidates are willing to work hard to gain promotions and opportunities for growth.

‘Have you ever had a negative experience with an employer?’

This is another one of those questions where the answer is seemingly elusive. As an employer, do you want to hear that a prospective employee has been involved in negative experiences with previous employers? The key is to avoid what would technically be a bitching session – that never bodes well in an interview. Instead, don’t be specific or conversely be vague about the details and talk about what you learnt from a negative experience and how you overcame it.


‘What attracts you to a career in this industry?’

This is a question NOT to hold back on. Passion should flow from every orifice- an employer would rather hear TOO much about their industry than not enough. Coming across as lack-lustre in this question might be deemed as an automatic fail. Explain exactly what you love about the industry and why your skills suit it. If your degree is directly relevant, then detail aspects of your studies that led you onto this path. If it is directly relevant then explain what else made you choose this career rather than something that WAS directly relevant.

‘Why should we employ you?’

Similar to the ‘what can you contribute’ question, this is an opportunity to really sell yourself. Show how the skills you possess and have gained relate to the skills required by the position. Go deeper into aspects of extra-curricular activities and work experiences, as well as academics achievements. Don’t fear this question – It is your best chance to convince the employer of who you are and why you ARE suitable for the position, and who knows you, better than you?

‘Why do you want this job?’

In this question, the employer is asking why the job is good for you, rather than why you are good for the job. Slot in key words such as passion, ambition, career progression, dream job – these are all aspects that an interviewer will appreciate. You might also want to praise the company by suggesting that working for such an ‘insert complimentary word here’ brand would be very fulfilling – however, don’t overdo it.

‘What qualities do you think the successful candidate requires?’

Your immediate thought is – ‘Everything I’ve got!’ Unfortunately, you’re wrong. Your best chance at ace-ing this question is to demonstrate your knowledge and the research conducted prior to the interview. This is relatively easy as you have already seen a cheat sheet so-to-speak, in the form of the person specification. Study this before the interview and cleverly highlight the aspects it demanded which you know you possess. You might not be able to actually say the words ‘I’m perfect for this good’ but you can hint at it!


‘What did you learn at University that you can bring to this job?’

This is no doubt one of the more difficult questions in an interview for a number of reasons. Firstly, your degree might not be directly relatable. In this case, you need to highlight skills you have gained that make you more employable all-round. These include time-management, problem-solving, team work, research skills, confidence; the list is endless. If your degree WAS directly relatable, you can add specific knowledge and skills to that list. However, don’t forget that your degree wasn’t the only outcome of university. If you participated in any groups or societies, or took on positions of responsibility, then these will all have introduced you to situations where skills where gained. Handling a part-time job whilst managing your studies also shows initiative and time-management – skills are gained in a whole host of situations and the key is to knowing that you have them!

‘How soon will you be making a significant contribution to the company?’

There are many ways in which the question can be answered – and many of them can go wrong. You might want to reverse the question and ask the employer what they expect. You don’t want to come across as overly-confident by suggesting you’ll demonstrate results the minute you get your foot in the door, but similarly, pausing and wondering for too long might suggest that you’ve not really thought about you’re worth to the company. It might be best to suggest that you intend to absorb all the information and experiences you gain from day one and will progress to the best of your abilities. This demonstrates your intent to contribute.

‘Where do you expect to be in X number of years?’

A very scary question to hear, no doubt. Do you even know where you want to be in, say, 5 years? If not, do you have ambitions of where the position could take you? It’s worth mentioning if you feel you have some idea. Be ambitious and mention the skills you hoped to have improved on and areas in which you hope to have excelled in – after all, employers love ambition.

‘Are you able to relocate or travel?’

There’s no umm-ing and arrh-ing about this question. You should have known this answer to this question before applying! If you can’t move or travel, then maybe the job isn’t for you. If you are unsure, then the interview is your best chance at finding out more about the travel and relocation situations. If you can, that’s great! Flexibility is, unfortunately for some, a job-hunters best friend.

‘What are you expectations of a salary?’

Another frightening question to get in an interview, and it’s one of those you’re sure they’ve thrown in simply to panic you – I can assure you, it’s not. This is likely to be a test of your expectations of the job and the industry. Don’t get too detailed with specific numbers and stick to ‘an estimate’ or ‘round-about’ pay bracket. If you are aware of the salary for this position, its common sense not to go higher than that. And if you’re really reluctant to answer this, simply state that you expect a fair wage for the work you do and results you achieve.

‘Have you applied to any other jobs?’

Employers are realistic in the fact that you’re likely to apply for a lot more than just that specific job. Be honest about this – but stick to the jobs you’ve applied for in the same industry. Applying for jobs in other industries might come across as a lack of passion for the industry that this company finds itself in.

So, there you have it. You’re ready to tackle the toughest of interview questions without even breaking a sweat. The key is preparation, of course; research EVERYTHING. Your best weapon is your knowledge of course. Oh, and a smile wouldn’t hurt… Good Luck!

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