30 Common Graduate Interview Questions and How to Answer Them [UPDATED FOR 2020]
Whilst you are writing your dissertation, you might also be applying for graduate jobs at the same time. The process can be very stressful, particularly when you’re invited for a face-to-face interview. Interviews typically are a good sign meaning that your potential employer is at least interested in your application. However, presenting yourself in a positive light and impressing your interviewer might be difficult. To help you out, we have put together some interview questions below to help you with those first interviews and to ensure that you’re prepared and can secure a role. We also briefly comment on how you should answer each question to leave a long-lasting positive impression. While there isn’t a single best way to succeed at job interviews, our suggestions should put you on the right track.
Over time we will be adding in the best responses to these interview questions and giving even more tips and guidance, so please feel free to bookmark this page for yourself and check back regularly.
CV based questions
- Why did you choose the university you are attending?
The purpose of this question is to quickly assess your personal motivation and criteria for your career development. It’s best to focus on the measurable outcomes reported by the university. For instance, if you’re studying at the University of Manchester, you could always mention the fact that more than 160 nationalities are currently represented at the campus. These facts are easy to verify and strongly suggest that you’re the type to conduct rigorous research before making a decision.
- What is your favourite subject?
The point here is not necessarily to learn about your actual favourite subject but instead to evaluate your decision-making. Focus on why exactly you favour one course over all others and what influence your decision could make on your professional life. Don’t forget to mention if you wrote an essay or assignment on this subject.
- Do you prefer to work in groups or alone?
There’s no single best answer here. Working in groups means you’re a team player; working alone suggests you’re a creative person with a lot of self-discipline. Try to focus on these strengths and incorporate them into your answer.
- Details about your extra-curriculum activities.
The focus here is not only on your interests but also on how to plan your day and how you choose to prioritise your hobbies. Try to provide a brief rationale for each of your extra-curricular activities to make the most out of your answer.
- What have you done during time gaps in your CV?
One great way to answer this question is to refer to online learning. Fortunately, there exists a myriad of online academies such as SkillShare or Khan Academy. You could always focus on how you’ve been productive during the time gaps and improved your skills and competencies.
- What is the title of your dissertation?
You shouldn’t limit your answer to simply defining your dissertation title. Instead, try to go in-depth on the rationale for your study and how this ties to your personal and professional experiences.
- Why do you want to work for this organisation?
This one is a staple of all job interviews. It’s best to focus on the factors that are reported by the company itself in its annual reports or press releases. By doing this, you will explicitly highlight your own interest in the organisation and your commitment to planning your career.
- Tell us why we would want to give you a role in our company
Again, this is a question that you’ll hear a lot during interviews. It’s best to not only mention your strengths but explicitly link these strengths to benefitting the strategy of the firm. For instance, if you want to work for a software design firm, you might want to focus on your creativity and unorthodox solutions when writing code.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A staple of job interviews, there are a variety of ways you could answer this question. The one we recommend is learning a little bit of the career progression paths offered by the company before coming to the job interview. When you are faced with this question, you could always signal your interest and enthusiasm in the firm by mentioning these opportunities and how you could take advantage of participating in these programmes.
- What are your weaknesses?
A great way to answer this question is to present your weaknesses and strengths. For example, if you’re an anxious person, you could always acknowledge this by stating “I’m very anxious so I like to spend a lot of time proofreading and making sure there are no issues before submitting a big project”. This way, you’re truthfully admitting your own shortcomings but also highlighting that there are two sides to every coin. Another great example is bluntly stating that you could be lazy; because of this, you always search for the most creative, easiest and most effective solution to complex tasks. A personal reflection report will help you to review your personality.
- What is your most impressive achievement to date and why?
It’s best to tie your achievements to the qualities that are valued by the company. As an illustration, if you’re applying to work in a highly creative industry, you might want to mention something that involves original or outside-the-box thinking such as an art project. If your employer focuses on discipline and decision-making, you could always focus on self-improvement or group projects. For example, you could always discuss how you’ve managed to learn a new hobby from scratch.
- What demotivates you at work?
It’s best to link your answers to the characteristics of the job you’re seeking. If your company is creative, you could always mention that not having enough creative freedom to work is a negative influence on your job performance.
- What makes you different from the other candidates?
This is your opportunity to make a strong case for yourself. Instead of listing your strengths, you could focus on the firm’s strategy and how you could help the organisation attain its objectives.
- How do you deal with conflict?
Conflict is unavoidable so you will need to present a specific strategy that you use regularly. One suggestion is to argue that you’re always open to new ideas, meaning that you try to de-escalate any conflict to an exchange of valuable knowledge.
- What makes a good leader?
The reason why this is considered a promotional question is that the interviewer is trying to determine whether your own perceptions align with the firm’s work environment. If you have time, you could read about the leadership practices employed by the firm to improve your chances of getting the position.
Questions about the company
- Highlight for me the strategy of the company and what we have achieved to date.
The best way to answer this is being prepared. Spend at least 30 minutes before the interview to read the firm’s reports and press releases to learn its mission statement and strategic objectives. Don’t just copy-and-paste phrases from these documents into your answer and try to paraphrase the information using your own ideas.
- What do you think will happen to general market conditions in the next 18 months?
As a part of the general preparation for the job interview, a good method is to briefly look at news websites with a strong focus on economics. This way, you could always use topical and industry-relevant examples. As an illustration, job seekers in the aviation industry who would mention the recent Boeing 737 controversy are sure to impress their job interviewers.
- Who do you think are our main competitors? How do you think our company is different?
If you feel that this is the type of question you could encounter, spend 20-30 minutes reading secondary research on your employer’s competitors. Remember that the interviewer is not looking for you to critique their business rivals. Instead, you should mention performance figures and strategic differences between the organisations.
- What made you apply to this company?
This is a very simple question that is simultaneously very difficult to answer. To succeed, it’s better to name specific performance figures displayed by the company such as positive financial statistics. This way, you’ll explicitly communicate your commitment to the organisation.
- Do you think our company is ethical and why?
A good way to answer this question is to say “Yes” followed by “…but I think there’s still room for improvement”. You should also list specific examples of how the organisation could be more ethical. Community initiatives and partnerships with charities are all great examples of expanding your answer.
- How is our company helping the environment?
Again, the interviewer is looking for very specific examples of initiatives and programmes established by the company. You should also suggest your own recommendations or pathways for improvement.
- Describe how your previous work experience supports your current application?
If you’ve radically changed your previous career path, this might be a very difficult question to answer. The trick is not necessarily to compare firms and industries but, instead, focus on your strengths.
- Describe a time when you were part of a work group, what did you do to ensure that the group share a common goal?
If you don’t have sufficient work experience, a good way to answer this question is to mention student projects or any volunteer work you might have done. It’s perfectly fine to answer that you were supporting a designated leader as this communicates motivation and engagement.
- Describe a position of responsibility that you have held that will support your application.
This does not have to be a formal position. Being in a supportive role could still carry a lot of responsibility. Your goal is to justify your past responsibilities and tie them to the goals of whatever project you’re describing.
- Describe a situation when you failed.
This is one answer that requires you to be very truthful. If possible, you should try to focus not on your failure but on your reaction to the situation, the lessons you have learnt and what you’re planning to do in the future.
- Describe a time when you felt you lacked the experience to deal with the task, project or situation. Why did you take this on? How did you feel? How did you handle the situation?
This is similar to the previous question. However, this time the focus is on your emotions and decision-making. Your goal here is to acknowledge your shortcomings but also provide a strong rationale for your behaviour in whatever situation you choose to discuss. There’s no need to be defensive; your focus should be on what you have learnt as a result of past failures.
- How many people can you fit inside the M25?
The right answer is that the M25 could theoretically fit the entire population of our planet. What your interviewer is looking for, however, is your approach to solving this problem. A great way to answer is to quickly estimate the diameter of the M25 based on the number of lanes (the right answer is 40 km).
- What is the best invention in human history and why?
Obviously, there’s no clear right answer here. You could always list some of the most well-known inventions such as penicillin or composite plastics. The Internet is also a very reasonable answer. However, you could always think outside the box. For example, you could always mention duct tape or post-it notes. Just make sure to at least provide a humorous rationale for your answer.
- If you could go back in time, where would you go and why?
Again, thinking outside the box is heavily recommended for answering this question. One great answer is saying that you could go back in time just before the job interview to give yourself a better chance of landing this position. Another interesting answer is stating that, for you, your future achievements are much more interesting than travelling back in time.
- What is the cubic volume of the Earth?
The right answer is that Earth has a volume of 1 trillion cubic kilometres or 260 billion cubic miles. You can calculate this if you remember that the density of the Earth is 5.5 grams per cubic centimetre with its meridional circumference equal to 40,008 km (or 24,860 miles).
- Be time specific (e.g. in January, in October 2017).
- Focus on what you did (e.g. my role…).
- Describe what happened, not what might have happened.
- Be confident.
- Stay positive.
- Don’t say anything negative about your current boss, company or university.
- Remain enthusiastic (but don’t go too far with this).
- Be honest.
- Think before you talk.
- Stay calm.
- Do not name drop.
- Don’t be late.
Job interviews are probably one of the most stressful stages of looking for work. We hope that our guide would be helpful in landing you the position you have always wanted. Just remember to go easy on yourself and avoid unnecessary stress. Job interviews are not designed to deliberately fail you but are instead an opportunity to highlight your best qualities. Try to make the most of it and you’re sure to impress any interviewer out there. Contact us if you need professional advice on subject-related questions.