In this section we’re going to run through the most popular interview questions for graduates. If you’ve got any thoughts or queries then let us know through the Graduate Links Facebook page
Questions About the Graduate Job Role & Company
Can you define the duties of this job?
This might seem obvious but you should be able to roll this out with no effort. Most of the information should be on the job specification. Do a bit of research on the definition of your job title and the duties involved.
Why do you want this job?
This is always going to get asked! Make sure that you relate back to the job spec, the duties which you’ll perform and why you be able to perform strongly at them because of the skills and experience you have. But also why you will enjoy them. You must reference the employer as a reason. Which brings us on to ….
Why do you want to work for this company?
Talk about their strengths and things that they are proud of or well known for. Things like their reputation, clients, training, career development or continual continual innovation. Every candidate will have access to their website so doing this alone isn’t really adequate. You must be able to show excellent knowledge and stand out. Things to research could be recent news and future plans. How they fit into their sector. Who are their clients and competitors. Also company figures; size, turnover, profit etc. State that you will relish the challenge of any company problems and that you will be able to contribute to specific company targets.
How long would you stay with us?
Even if you don’t intend to you have to give the impression this this is a long term commitment. Some people say that you should answer something like, “as long as we both feel I’m contributing to the company and developing my skills.”
Which other companies have you applied for roles with?
The main point of this question is to determine that you are trying to follow a specific career path. So it is perfectly fine, even an advantage to say that you have applied to their competitors. The second thing to do is highlight that they are your preferred employer and explain why. This can also explain if you haven’t applied for any others as you are waiting for the results of this interview first. Make sure that any companies mentioned are relevant to your career choice, a strong reputable company and not ones that have rejected you.
Related to this the interviewer may also ask:
How many other graduate jobs have you applied for?
Why haven’t you applied to more companies?
Why have you applied for so many jobs?
How many interviews have you had and why haven’t you had more?
Have you had any job offers and if not why not?
If you get offered another role will you take it?
Most of these are unlikely to be asked. You have to be careful and all answers have to coincide with the idea that you are working hard to get similar jobs in the same sector, for a good company. Ideally you will have made quite a few applications, writing directly to companies, received good feedback and have had some interviews or have some lined up. If you have been turned down it’s best not to say unless you can say something constructive like they employed someone with more experience. State that this would be your comapny of choice and that you would consider roles with other companies but will wait to hear back from this company to make a decision.
When can you start?
Just be honest with this one. You want to seem as keen as possible but if you need time to sort things out or have holiday booked then there’s no harm in asking to start a week or 2 down the line.
Questions About Your Personality
Tell us about yourself
It’s easy to spend a long time on this but keep your answer brief and succinct to 1 or 2 minutes. There’s no need to go back to your childhood, just highlight where you are from and particularly where you want to be in the future. It’s useful to touch on your CV but this is a different question to the one below.
Can you talk us through your CV?
Use this opportunity to really sell yourself. Work through in reverse chronological order, highlight your best acheivements and most relevant experiences. They may not have read your CV properly or missed parts.
What do you look for in a job?
Make sure that you relate this back to the job in question. Highlight that you want an opportunity to use your skills, knowledge and experience to perform and to obtain recognition. Employers like to hear terms like , “I want a job that will challenge me”
Also mention training and career prospects.
What are your strengths? or how would your friends describe you?
This will get asked in one way or another, be prepared and start selling yourself.
Make a list before the interview and try to relate them to the job spec. About 3 or 4 is fine.
These are your “Unique Selling Points” – Make them specific not vague and always relate back to examples. Try to use different examples in each (ie not always at University). Here’s some ideas:
Excellent team player, good interpersonal skills, creative problem solving, dependable, reliable, strong leadership, ability to work under pressure, inquisitiveness to learn new things, foreign language skills, quick learning ability and good interpersonal skills, meticulous, cooperative and result oriented, trustworthy, hard-working, honest, decisive, sensible, friendly, outgoing, busy, competitive, punctual, strong-willed, good listener.
What are your weaknesses? or How would your worst enemy describe you?
This is probably the most talked about interview question, some may consider it pointless but still most employers ask it.
Never ever say that you have none! Because that’s just lies. Pick a weakness that is harmless to your job. The only real way around it, although a bit predictable is to highlight a weakness and turn it into a strength.
There are 2 ways of doing this:
1. Turn the proposed weakness into a strength. eg – “I always voice my opinion, but often my points are those that others haven’t thought about, this can lead to different considerations and errors being avoided”.Other examples are of over-working yourself or being a perfectionist and hence pushing deadlines to the maximum.
2. Be honest about the weakness but demonstrate a time when you overcame that weakness and how you are working to improve on it. eg – “I get really nervous when public speaking, but at University I made sure in our final team project that I lead the team presentation. I have also recently joined a drama society to help with this”.
Remember don’t go too far with these, 1 weakness is usually fine and don’t be too negative. Try not to say “I never/always” but more “I sometimes”. Also probably a good idea to point out that you don’t have any enemies and get on with everyone!
Describe the perfect working environment for you.
This varies hugely between roles but some key terms are: busy, focussed, rewarding, fair, equality
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
This is quite simply a test on your interest in the job, career and company. Always try to come up with something even if you are unsure what you want to do. You’ll need to research the company and career paths first. See if you can find previous graduate profiles and see the route that they took. Indicate that you would like to work towards a management role and pick out relevant industry qualifications that you could obtain.
Why are you leaving your current job?
It’s easy here to starting crtiticising your current company but be careful this can look bad on you. Make sure your reason does not look like you just can’t cope with the workload or get along with the peole. Be structured with your decision. Something like the role is not challenging enough, there is no career progression or you want to change career path.
Skill & Competancy Based Questions
Why should we hire you?
Be brief and succinct. Highlight your knowledge, experience, abilities, and skills and show that you will be a strong asset to the company.
Describe a situation in which you lead a team.
Even though you might not be leading a team from the start, employers are thinking long-term and this question is very popular.
The interviewer is looking for a demonstration of strong relationships with other people. They want to see that you can prioritise, delegate and manage others to reach a target.
Explain the situation and the goal of the task. Define your role as leader and on the personal traits that led you to take on this role and which helped you to succeed in it. Highlight any problems and how you worked around them. Give a conclusion of the project and describe what you learned from it. Strong leaders have key attributes in: planning, organising, decision-making, co-ordinating, persuading, motivating and of course listening.
Describe a situation where you worked in a team
A slightly different question to the one above. But be warned most of the time they actually want the same answer! Most employers want to see you as a leader or demonstrating leadership qualities within your role.
How do you order tasks?
Important here to prioritise in a logical order. Decide which tasks are urgent and which are important. Plan ahead with priority given to those tasks which could delay other parts. ie you might need input from a colleague or client so it’s important to account for this.
What motivates you to give your best?
Well if this is a sales or recruitment job then money is one of the top answers. If it isn’t don’t mention money. Key things to motivate you are: acheiving goals & targets, exceptional work that you can be proud of, receiving recognition for good work, making a difference, the opportunity of career progression.
Tell us about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer (how did you resolve the issue)?
You’ll need to think about this before you go in. The key thing is that you didn’t panic, resolved the issue quickly and efficiently and that the customer left happy.
When an issue is given to you, how to you go about resolving it?
You need to demonstrate that you would go through a reasoning process. You need to explain that you would plan and research how to fix the issue. You would show that you would do individual research as well as asking others. You also need to show that you would allocate time and resources efficiently.
Would you or others describe you as competitive?
There can’t really be a good situation to say no to this question. But you have to structure the answer and give examples. It’s a good time to discuss sports and activities teams that you have been in and successes that they had. It’s also good to bring up academic and work situations if possible. This is easiest for sales roles where there is competition for top sales person.
Can you work under pressure, meet demanding targets and hit deadlines
Of course the answer is always yes but you need to throw in an example or 2.
Would you not be more suited to a different size or type of company?
You have to answer no to this, elaborate on why this company and job is ideal for you. If it’s a large company focus on the career prospects and graduate training provided. If it’s a small company focus on working closely with Senior management and more reponsibilty from the offset.
What was the most tricky decision you have ever had to make?
Unusual as a graduate question but it does come up. This needs to be something non trivial where the outcome has a strong effect on something, usually in resolving a problem. It could be on a university project or as a decision maker in a sports team. You need to demonstrate that the decision paid off or that you learnt form your mistakes.
Have you helped increase sales? Profits? How?
Not so common as a graduate question but if you have experience and this does arise you need to give the impression that you have done so on many occasions, but highlight one in more detail. Always back up with facts and figures. eg “I exceeded my targets and brought in £25k of business per month” or “I refined processes and reduced costs saving the company £25k per month”
In your previous position, what did you enjoy the most/least?
The best way to answer this is simply highlight the key duties of the new job that you did in the last job. The bit you enjoy least will ideally be something that you did in your last role but won’t be doing in this role. If you are interviewing for a more sales focussed role then you could say you didn’t enjoy the large amounts of admin in your last role etc. But don’t over enhance the negative aspects. Try not to say you can’t stand doing something because employers like to see people who are willing to muck in and help when needed.
In your current or last position, what are or were your biggest achievements?
You should really have this on your CV, so just elaborate on these. As a graduate they won’t be expecting massive company changing achievements but something like beating targets or solving problems.
What do you do in your free time/What are your hobbies?
There’s lots of skills you can get across here and this is often underestimated as a candidate but can make a big difference to the employer’s choice. Highlight duties, areas of management and responsibility and team work. Get across strong communication and leadership skills and any specific skills that make you stand out such as being able to speak a foreign language.
Describe a time when you made a mistake.
Everyone has made a mistake so saying I’ve never made one is just lies. The key thing here is that you admitted to it and either resolved the issue yourself or got someone else to.
How strong are your computing skills?/ What software packages can you use and to what level?
The main ones here are Microsoft Office or the Apple Mac equivalent. It’s important to point out projects/specific modules/work experience where you used these.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Usually with this question they are hinting towards acheivements outside of work. Many recent graduates say getting a degree but it’s highly likely that everyone else going for this role will have one too. You need to say something that will make you stand out and hopefully be able to relate to the job. Ideas include:
Achieving the Duke of Edinburgh award
Learning a language
Completing an event such as a marathon which required training.
Organising a charity event
Leading a university sports team to success
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
Sometimes irrelevant to graduates but if not talk targets, deadlines met, outstanding projects or problems solved. It’s useful to highlight team work or expertise in a field.
What can you do for us that someone else can’t?
It’s best here if possible to bring up relevant experience. But that could be difficult if it’s your first job. Look at it from their point of view, try and think up what could be useful to them specifically. Be positive about yourself rather than negative about other candidates.
University Related Questions
Why did you choose your university and degree subject?
If your degree relates to the job role then it’s easy to say that “I knew I would enjoy thiis subject and that it would enable me to follow this career path”. If not don’t worry, you can still say that you intended to follow one career path but have learned more this new career is something that you would like to pursue. You can then reflect on transferanble skills from your degree to the opportunity.
Why do you think your degree is applicable to this role?
Often this is an easy answer as your degree relates directly to your job. If it isn’t don’t panic , there are always transferable skills. All Courses build certain skills such as team work, presenting, report writing, computer skills such as analysis. You can always be clever and say that your specific degree will give you a different perspective that other candidates/employees might not have.
What skills did you gain from university?
Always try to relate the transferable skills you’ve learnt back to the job you are interviewing for.
At university did you join any teams or societies?
It’s really important that you have done something outside your studies apart from socialising & drinking. Highlight duties, areas of management and responsibility and team work. Get across strong communication and leadership skills.
Travel & Re-location Questions
Would you be willing to re-locate and how will you cope with this?
You should know before the interview where you will be based but with some graduate training schemes you may not. Some interviewers might say this as a test of commitment but you have to be honest with this from the start really, but if you are firmly against relocation it’s best to say. If you’re happy to relocate, excellent, let them know that you have nothing tying you down and but back this up with experiences of re-location and living away form home. It could be to university or travelling.
How much are you looking for?
You should have a figure in mind before the interview. There are 2 useful comparisons here. The first is that of the average salary for that role in the sector. Total Jobs have a useful salary calculator here.
The 2nd is the average salary within that company. So it’s worthwhile asking that in the interview. If you’ve had a previous role then it’s perfectly fine to say you want to improve on your previous salary.
Going in with a salary that’s too high or too low is a mistake. Too high will give the impression it’s the money that’s important too you and may leave for a higher paying role in the future. Saying you are money motivated is only really relevant when going for a sales role with targets and bonuses. Too low and they might think that you’re not good enough for the role in question.
Have you got any questions?
This is always going to be asked and it’s key to prepare them before the interview. It’s fine to write them on paper and take it in with you to jog your memory. Many of them will get answered in the interview and if opportunities arise to ask questions throughout the interview, go for it. Try to keep them brief.
It’s best to tailor your questions to the job role and company. Be careful not to ask anything that you should know from research before the interview.
Here’s a few examples of questions that you can ask:
What would an average day be like?
Where will the job be based?
Are there any social clubs for employees?
How would my work be monitored and how often would I be appraised?
What career paths have other graduates followed in this company?
Do you have more information on your graduate training programme?
Will I have any opportuniy to use my foreign language skills?
Will I be working in a team? If so, what is the make-up of these teams?
What are the company’s development plans and targets over the next five years?
Whe am I likely to hear back from you?
What are the company benefits for graduates?
Do you support study for external qualifications?
Other common graduate interview questions
What types of people do you like/not like working with?
Tell us of a time of when your work was criticised.
Give us an example of when you were frustrated and how did you deal with this?
How do you handle conflicts of interest in the workplace?
Have you ever disagreed with management and how did you deal with this?
Do you prefer to work in a team or by yourself?
How will you monitor your personal work performance?
Can you think ‘outside of the box’?
What are your feelings on working long extended hours?
Is a Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit?
Have you ever felt out of your depth at work and how did you cope?
Describe your perfect job?
What do you do when you are late for work?
If you could go back and change something about your career/education what would it be?
What can you bring to this company?
How to you deal with setbacks?
Who are our competitors and what do you think of them?
Describe a situation in which you used initiative.
What was your biggest setback? (How do you deal with adversity?)
Tell us about your university project?
Describe a situation where you had to plan or organise something.
Where do you fit in a team?
Give an example of a time when you hit a deadline
Give an example of a time when you failed to hit a deadline