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Five of the most common interview questions

Written by: ICAEW Careers
Published on: 14 May 2024

five interview questions

You can never predict exactly what you’ll be asked in an interview, but here are some of the most popular questions – and how best to prepare for them.

1) Tell me about yourself

What not to say: “Well, I was born in 2003…”
This tops the list of most common interview questions, a useful way for an interviewer to find out more about you, as well as put you on the spot and see how you handle it! They’re not looking for your life history here, so keep it brief and to the point – ideally around two or three minutes. It’s a good idea to prepare what you want to say in advance, but you don’t want to sound too rehearsed. Think about which elements of your skills and experience to date are relevant to the role, and which aspects of your character make you particularly suited to the position or the organisation. If you don’t have much work experience yet, focus instead on highlights from your academic career and any relevant extracurricular interests or activities. Finally, don’t forget to show your passion – phrases such as “I love…” and “I’ve always wanted to…” will demonstrate how enthusiastic and committed you are.


2) Why do you want to work (or study) here?

What not to say: “I don’t know much about it.”
This is your chance to show that you have researched the company or institution thoroughly – an essential part of any interview preparation. Start with their own website and social media, as well as doing a Google search to see whether they have appeared in the news. It’s also important to check out any competitors or similar organisations – that way, you’ll be able to talk confidently about what sets them apart from others. Think about which aspects particularly appeal to you – do their values align with your own? Would it be a good cultural fit? Do they offer opportunities for personal growth beyond the role itself? If you can find a connection who already works there to talk to it shows that you’re interested in finding out as much as possible about the organisation.


3) What’s your biggest weakness?

What not to say: “I’m a perfectionist.”
Beware clichéd responses here: that you work too hard, that you’re a perfectionist or, worst of all, that you don’t have any! The interviewer is looking for a sense of self-awareness; that you’re able to make an honest assessment of yourself. You don’t want to give them a reason not to take you on, though, so try to focus on things that won’t necessarily affect your ability to do the job. It’s also important to show that you are taking steps to improve any weaknesses or gaps in your skills or knowledge. ‘Positive’ answers to this question might include: “I’ve got a tendency to only trust myself to do a job well, so I’ve been practising delegating to others,” or “I’m not very good at accepting criticism. I need to get into the habit of asking for constructive feedback to try to get more comfortable with it.”


4) Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

What not to say: “In your job.”
While ambition and a desire to progress and take on more responsibility are great, you don’t want to come across as arrogant (and you should never assume that an interviewer shares your sense of humour). Again, keep it relevant – how do your goals align with what the position or organisation offers? What are your short and longer-term targets, and how will they make you an asset to the organisation? Another common trap people fall into is making it obvious that they see a role as a stepping-stone to something better, so make sure you’re serious about the position you’re applying for. If you don’t have a five-year plan, that’s fine too – and it’s OK to say that. Again, frame it positively: “I really enjoy x and want to get more experience in y before I decide exactly where I want my career to go.”


5) Have you got any questions?

What not to say: “Er, no, I don’t think so.”
This is another question you’re almost guaranteed to be asked in any interview – and another opportunity to show that you’re genuinely enthusiastic and engaged. Prepare a list of at least five or six in advance, but stick to questions about the position, organisation and career development opportunities. Avoid the temptation to ask too much about details such as working hours, holiday allowance and gym memberships – you don’t want to send the message that you’re worried about working too hard, or more interested in the perks than the role itself. Chances are a lot of your questions will already have been covered during the interview – and you should take opportunities to ask questions as and when they naturally arise rather than waiting until the end. If all your prepared questions have genuinely been answered, try turning it around on the interviewer: “What do you enjoy most about working here?”