The prospect of your first job interview is likely to have you breathing into a paper bag from nerves. But with proper preparation, you can calm yourself down and blow the socks off your interviewer. Here is a list of some commonly asked interview questions, and some advice on how to answer them.

1. Tell me about yourself?
This question is not an invitation for you to start talking about your hobbies or describe your massive action figure collection. You’re not trying to make a friend, you’re trying to land a job. The trick is to be honest and open, and avoid sounding arrogant or pretentious. So think about who you are and work this into your answers.

If you are the life of the party, you could describe yourself as an extroverted people-person who can get along with almost anybody. If you prefer to stay out of the crowd, you could describe yourself as a quiet, calm person who likes to deal with people one-on-one. If you are someone that has a lot of neatly filed and colour coded study notes, describe yourself as highly organised and efficient. If you’ve never filed a note in your life, describe yourself as a free thinker that likes to focus on the big picture. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you’re being truthful.

2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Again it is important to be honest here and not sound arrogant. The only wrong way to answer this question is to list strengths you think you should have and deny having any weaknesses. Pick two or three strengths you do actually possess, and mention a couple of your weaknesses, too. That said, pick weaknesses that you can spin in a positive way. For example, rather admit to ‘not being a morning person’ than to never being on time for anything. If you have a problem with being told what to do, admit to being very independent and sometimes finding it difficult to ask for help.

3. What have your achievements been to date?
As a graduate with little or no work experience, you’ll need to refer back to your participation in sports, campus societies and maybe even high school achievements. This question is about finding out what you really are good at because it gives the interviewer practical examples of your successes. Give details on the achievement. Instead of just saying “I was captain of the varsity soccer team” add how many matches you led your team on to win and describe some of the challenges you had to overcome to do it.

4. What is the most difficult situation you have had to face and how did you tackle it?
Try to keep this professional if you can. Think about the situation you prepared for the achievements question, and describe one of your biggest challenges here. Perhaps there were two team mates that couldn’t get along, and you had to find a way to get them to work together for the good of the team. Perhaps your team needed money to be able to compete, and you had to find a sponsor. Give details on how you tackled the problem and explain what the outcome was.

5. What do you know about our company and why do you want to work here?
This is a big favourite for graduate interviews. The interviewer wants to know if you know anything about the company and feel passionately about joining it, or if you just applied to companies at random. Since you don’t have any real work experience for the interviewer to measure your abilities by, passion and an understanding of the business are some of the best indicators of whether or not you’ll make a good employee. The only way to answer this question well is to do research. If you’re being interviewed by a commercial law firm, for example, saying you want to join them because you want to make sure criminals end up behind bars is not going to impress them and will definitely lose you the job. Make sure you know what the company does, and map this back against what you want for your career.

6. How do you think you are going to fit in?
Each company has its own particular ‘vibe’ or company culture. One of the biggest reasons that companies lose staff is because the employee doesn’t like/ fit in with the company’s culture. Since the interviewer wants to be sure you’re going to work for the company for a few years if you get the job, it’s important for them to ask if you can see yourself being happy there. Working through the company’s Web site and checking out any photos or articles on company events will give you a good idea of what the culture is like. So will observing the people that walk past you in reception while you wait for the interview to start.

Be honest when you answer this question, for the interviewer’s sake as well as for your own. If everyone you’ve seen so far seems like they’re under pressure, and you don’t cope well with that, be honest. Perhaps you feel it will be a learning experience for you to have to cope in a high pressure environment, but that you are always up for a challenge. If the company seems to offer its employees the opportunity to do volunteer work and that is important to you, mention that you think it’s important to give back to the community and that you think you will fit in well with the company’s apparent interest in doing so. Make sure that you have as a good a feel for the company’s ‘personality’ as possible.

7. What can you bring to this organisation?
Translation: “Why should we choose you instead of the guy that was here yesterday?” This ties into why you chose to apply to this company in the first place, but your answer needs to focus on the company, not on your own career goals. For example, if you’re being interviewed for a job in the marketing department of a big retail company, you might feel your passion for what the company sells and your youth will help you connect with the younger part of its target audience and you’ll be able to bring some fresh, relevant ideas to the marketing strategy. It also ties in with the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question. Would some of the strengths you mentioned earlier make you better at the job than someone who doesn’t have them? How?

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is about establishing your maturity levels and what your priorities are in life. “Australia” is probably the wrong answer, unless the company has offices there. “Married with my first child on the way” is probably the wrong answer, too. This question is about your career, not your personal life. “I don’t know” is definitely the wrong answer. How can you be trusted to perform well if you’re not working towards anything? So think carefully about what you want to achieve in the next five years, and answer honestly. If you want to travel, say so but try to link this to your aspirations for growth within the company. If you want to own a Porche, think about what you’d have to do within the company to be able to earn that level of salary and describe this to the interviewer.

9. What are you looking for in a job?
The interviewer is trying to find out what motivates you, and what will keep you happy at work. Don’t say what you think he or she wants to hear. If you don’t want to work in a team, don’t say do. If you want to be able to move into management quickly, tell the interviewer you want a job that will allow for quick career growth. If you want a massive salary, tell the interviewer you want a job that will reward you for performing at your peak. If the job you’;re applying for isn’t going to give you what you want for your career, it’s better not to get it.

10. Do you have any questions?
Yes! The answer is always yes. Prepare three or four questions for the interviewer, but don’t ask about money or benefits unless he or she brings it up first. Questions about training opportunities, mentorship programmes, the company’s corporate social investment policies or new projects you know the company is involved in are all good.

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