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Applying for jobs: Example questions and answers

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Knowing how best to answer those tricky questions on application forms makes applying for jobs a lot easier. Let Prospects show you how...

You can expect questions that gather information about your work history, your achievements, and what attracts you to the specific job role (and organisation).

Here are some examples of questions you might face and what's required in your answer:

Question: Please explain your work experience including each of your job roles, responsibilities, organisations worked for, dates, salary and reason for leaving.

Answer: Create a list of previous jobs, putting your most recent role first. For each, summarise your key accountabilities in two or three sentences. 

Emphasise those aspects of your previous roles that relate to the job applied for. For example, for a role working with clients or customers, you might put:

Sales experience in a national retail chain, where I acquired an understanding of how customers need to be listened to and made to feel confident that their ideas and concerns taken into account. 

Question: What is your greatest achievement?

Answer: This question is seeking not only what you are most proud of but also which of your achievements has real value to you. Here you are advised to show that you share similar values or organisational goals so it's important to do your research about the organisation before you respond. Take care to be honest; what you say might be taken up at interview.

Question: Why do you want this particular job/want to work here?

Answer: This is questioning your motivation and, in particular, is asking you to show that you have given thought to how far the job or organisation suits your particular interests and goals. You need to research the job/organisation carefully in order to give as precise a response as possible. 

For example:

After attending a graduate fair and meeting your organisation, I was impressed to find out how much emphasis is placed on professional development and training.

I have always wanted to work in overseas economic development as I would like to make a positive contribution to those living in less affluent countries.

I see this traineeship as providing with me a strong foundation for work in the finance and professional services industry; my medium-term goal is to work in an audit department.

You can also expect questions to test your skills, abilities, knowledge and experience (SAKE). This is where you are most likely to encounter competency-based questions, for example:

Question: Why do you think you are suitable for this job?

Answer: You need to describe how your skills, abilities, knowledge and experience match the job while also explaining your motivation and goals.

Question: Give an example of when you have worked on a team project. What was the outcome and what was your role in the team?

Answer: Start by giving a brief description of the project. Explain what your role was (how you supported colleagues, managed your and others' time, gave feedback on progress, etc) and what you learned about yourself as a team member and about teamwork. Explain what you might do differently with the benefit of hindsight.

Question: Give an example of communicating complex or difficult information to individuals or groups.

Answer: Examples may be drawn from all aspects of your life, but you need to explain the context.

For example:

While in the third year of my course, I was asked to represent students' views at the review and validation committee. This involved speaking to and answering questions from 17 academic staff.

My work with the Citizens Advice Bureau entails discussing sensitive issues with clients. I observe strict confidentiality and give clients plenty of time to collect their thoughts; my questions have to be clear but not threatening.

Question: Give an example of your ability to work to deadlines and how you cope with work pressure.

Answer: This sort of question is seeking information about your time management and organisational skills. The experience of 'work pressure' can be both exhilarating and debilitating and this sort of question is probing for how you behave when under pressure.

For example:

During my degree I always planned my time carefully and set myself a deadline ahead of the due date for each assignment; my coursework was never late.

I really enjoy a challenge. While on work placement, I had to re-draft a document overnight because of new information late in the afternoon.

One of my strategies is to make sure every member of the hockey team has clear instructions by both email and text several days before the match and I organise extra reserves for away matches.

Question: Give an example of how you have had to research or analyse complex information. What methods did you use and how did you present your findings?

Answer: Such a question might be used to assess your problem-solving abilities.

For example:

For my final year dissertation, I wanted to know how to set up a student-led social enterprise. A review of published literature was used to design a questionnaire focusing on the relationship between the Local Enterprise Partnership and the faculty.

The results of my experiment were downloaded to a series of Excel spreadsheets, from which I created bar graphs that were used in a PowerPoint presentation to the other members of the research group.

My research findings were used to inform a new marketing campaign because I was able to identify a gap in customers' understanding of how to use the product.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
April 2013

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