5 essential practice interview questions

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After reading and understanding as much as possible about the job, apprenticeship or school leaver programme you are hoping to secure, the second stage of preparing for the inevitable interview is to take a look at some stock questions that are likely to come up, and have a think about how you’ll answer them.

1. Why do you want this job?

This is one of the most predictable questions, and as such it’s very important! You need to demonstrate you’ve researched the employer and the position, and link your knowledge of them into your own skills and interests.

Try to find something specific about the employer that you are attracted to, eg. their training, their client base, their individuality, their public image, etc. This will go down well with the interviewer and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role and organisation .

2. Describe a situation in which you displayed leadership skills

This is a  competency-based question. Many positions – including apprenticeships - involve some people management, even if it’s managing client expectations, working relationships or leading on a small project. You also might be expected to move up in the organisation at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Examples could include leading on planning the prom at school or being team leader at your Saturday job.

Outline the situation, your role and the task of the group overall, not matter how big or small. Describe any issues that arose and how they were tackled. Say what the result was and what you learned from it.

3. Describe a situation when you worked effectively in a team

Another competency question. The interviewer wants to assess how well you relate to other people, what role you take in a group and whether you’re able to focus on goals and targets.

Examples could include a group project at school, a Young Enterprise project or overcoming an issue as part of a team at your Saturday job.

4. Where do you want to be in five years?

This is a tough one, especially at the beginning of your career. Try to avoid vague answers; be specific, but flexible. Recruiters want to know that you know what you want. Hiring, training and developing staff and trainees costs a lot of money and/or effort, so they want to make sure you’re committed to staying with the organisation or industry. You could say for example: "I'd like to gradually take more and more responsibility and perhaps by then be a brand manager for a major product."

Talk about your interest in the industry and emphasise the value you can bring to the organisation.

You need to show that you are ambitious but also your goals must be realistic - saying you expect to be a senior manager after two years is unlikely to go down well! Use the employer's website and LinkedIn profiles to get a realistic idea of the career paths followed by past employees, apprentices and school leaver trainees. 

5. What are your weaknesses?

The dreaded – but classic – interview question. Avoid falling into the trap of using a strength disguised as a weakness, such as "I'm too much of a perfectionist" or "I push myself too hard". Interviewers know this trick.

A better strategy, is to choose a weakness that you have worked on to improve and describe what action you are taking to remedy the weakness. This is honest but also demonstrates your willingness to tackle problems head-on.

For example: "I'm not a very self-confident person and used to find it very difficult to talk to people I didn't know well, but my Saturday job in the local library meant that I had to help people with all kinds of queries and that helped me a lot. Now I'm perfectly happy talking to anybody on a one-to-one basis. I've also joined the debating society this year to give me experience of speaking in front of people.  

Read more:

Preparing for a school leaver interview

What questions should I ask at a job interview?

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