How would you unload a planeload of jelly beans?

“If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?” Not the foggiest? How about: “Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?”

Believe it or not, these are both questions mischievous interviewers have apparently asked of job candidates recently, according to careers site Glassdoor. Fortunately, most recruiters follow a more predictable line of questioning. Here are six common questions for which you should have answers down pat when you go for interview.

1. Why do you want to work here?

If it's just the attractive salary and benefits package, keep that to yourself for now! This question is all about doing your homework so that you can persuade your interviewers that your interest in their organisation runs much deeper.

You need to know enough about the organisation to articulate what appeals to you about it. That could touch upon anything from its mission, culture or strategic approach, to the products, projects or services it delivers. Knowing about some of the organisation’s recent successes or current challenges also lets your interviewers know you haven’t just read the About Us page of the company website!

Focus on two or three of the main things you like about the organisation and don’t pass up the opportunity to explain how your attitude, skills and experience match its culture and philosophy.

2. Why should we hire you?

A direct question deserves a direct answer. Using concrete examples from previous jobs or experiences, explain how you meet each of the core requirements exactly as they are listed on the job description. The more you can back these up with tangible results that you can claim personal responsibility for, the more you will stand out as the self-motivated problem-solver that employers are crying out for. 

3. What are your strengths?

There is leeway here to describe personal qualities and experiences outside of work but throughout the whole interview, your ongoing task remains convincing your interviewers you are the best person for the job. So while you may bake a brilliant flan or swim like a fish, continue to focus on those strengths that meet the core requirements for the job, with more (and different) examples that prove the skills and qualities needed, and the tangible results to back them up.

4. What are your weaknesses?

Genuinely admitting your shortcomings is a sign of honesty, self-awareness and humility, which are good personal traits in any working environment.

Think of two or three areas for improvement that are relevant to the job you are being asked to do.  Be ready to give your interviewers an example of where it has been an issue; how it could potentially affect how you do the job you are applying for; and most importantly, what steps you are taking to overcome it.  This not only shows them your sincere desire for personal improvement, but also your ability to solve problems.

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is a great opportunity to get across your confidence, sense of direction and tenacity. But also to show how grounded you are about your career path. Ahead of the interview, take the opportunity to map out what an ambitious but sensible trajectory for your prospects could look like. It should begin with an enthusiasm to get your teeth into the role you are applying for and all that it offers, followed by a realistic assessment of the skills, experience and responsibilities you hope to build up over that time and the practical steps you plan to take to acquire them.

6. Do you have any questions?

If there’s one question you can guarantee you’ll be asked, this is it. Strange then that so many interviewees don’t prepare properly for it. Don’t be fooled – this is only a ‘soft’ bookend to an interview if you make it one. It’s actually the perfect chance to build a rapport with your would-be colleagues and show an interest in working together with them.   

Imagine yourself (and have them imagine you!) in the advertised role and what you’re going to need to know or do to make a positive start. For example, you might want to know: what big project the team is working on right now; what the work culture is like; or what they like and dislike about the workplace. 

(However, a word of warning: don't ask obvious questions you should really know the answer to, or ask questions for their own sake. Your interviewers will spot it a mile off.)

Other questions...

Other typical areas of questioning revolve around your problem-solving abilities, responsibilities, how you work as part of a team, your capacity to work under pressure or respond to a changing environment.  But whatever your interviewers throw at you, so long as you demonstrate your experience, back it up with evidence of your initiative, and explain how you can bring those skills to the new role with enthusiasm, you won’t go too far wrong.

For more general information and advice on interviews and the job application process, visit our Getting That Job section and read our recent blog on The 7 habits of highly successful jobhunters.