What do employers really mean when they ask these interview questions?

Interview advice

Interviews are renowned for those difficult questions that seem straight forward to answer but beneath your response there is a meaning that your interviewer is looking to find. The important thing to understand is that these are not meant to catch you out. Your interviewer is simply trying to assess the way in which you approach loaded questions to gauge your personality, skills and what type of worker you are in order to see whether you and the company are a good fit for one another.

Take a look below at the most commonly asked questions that carry a lot more weight in an interview than you might think.

Tell me a little bit about yourself?

This is most likely to be the first question your interviewer asks you and sets the tone for the rest of the interview so you need to make sure you create a good first impression. Strike the perfect balance - don't be too vague and tell them your name and current job title but hold back from telling them your entire life story. They want to know what kind of personality you have and what your ambitions are, this will help them understand how well you can fit into the role and company.

What are your weaknesses?

Firstly, avoid the following cliche answers:

  • I work too hard
  • I'm a perfectionist
  • I have no weaknesses

Avoid turning your weakness into a strength. Accept your weakness and discuss how it is something you are working on. There is always room for improvement and the interviewer wants to know what areas you feel like you could improve on and how you will do that.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The interviewer wants to know whether you have any ambitions and whether these are long-term or short-term. Here you need to demonstrate your commitment to the job and let them know your aspirations to grow within the company. Tell them what you want to learn and what you can gain from the role to achieve this and how this will benefit their company too.

Why was there a gap in your employment?

Employment gaps tend to be a negative factor on CVs. Prospective employers will want to know whether you were doing anything productive during this time. It is important to be honest, transparency works better than lying. During this employment gap you hopefully will have been volunteering, blogging, travelling or taking other classes, which can all create a discussion point for how these transferrable skills are beneficial for the role in question.

Tell us about a time when you failed?

Avoid becoming defensive when you hear the word fail. The interviewer isnt trying to catch you out, all successful employees experience setbacks and have to overcome obstacles. The interviewer wants to know how well you recover and assess your ability to solve problems and improve your own skills. Give an example of a real problem and how you overcame it. Tell them what you have learnt from the experience and how you would approach the situation differently next time.

How would your friends describe you?

This question gives the interviewer an insight into your best traits and how self-aware you are of these. Think about the words your friends might describe you as that are relatable to the key traits for the role. For example, if you are going for a call centre job, your friends may describe you as a good listener, calm when under pressure, friendly and organised.

Do you have any questions for me?

This is your final opportunity to wow the interviewer and end the interview on a high. Here the interviewer wants to see whether you have a genuine interest in the company and role so be sure to make the most of this question, by asking questions! Try these the next time you're asked:

  • I'm ambitious - what challenges can you give me in this role?
  • How long have you been with the company and what are the rewarding parts of this job?
  • Is there anything else you would like to know about me?

Now that you have an idea of what employers really mean when they ask these questions, you can impress them by preparing your answers in advance and showing them your ability, not only for the role, but in handling those tricky questions.

For more advice and interview preparation tips, why not check out our career advice section or check out our video on how to prepare for interview success here.