Common interview questions for graduates

Job interviews can take many different formats and how they’re dealt with and the style of the interview will often depend on the industry you’re getting into, the company you’re applying with along with the individual who’s interviewing you. 

In this guide, we’ll explain the types of interviews, include a few of the most common interview questions for graduates that are asked, and include a few tips that will help you get prepared.

Common interview questions for graduates

In an unstructured interview, it’s really hard to know what you could be asked. Spending some time on the organisation’s website might give you a better idea, but it really comes down to the team or individual interviewing you. Questions tend to be open-ended to allow you to answer as fully and creatively as you can, so the best way to prepare for questions like these is to think hard about:

  • Why you’re applying for the job: this is almost certain to be asked in any job interview
  • Why do you feel you’ll be right for the organisation
  • What you can add to the team
  • What it is about the company that resonates with you: you should know enough about the organisation that you can tell a friend all about it
  • Why they should hire you
  • Your greatest accomplishment
  • How you heard about the position: this is an opportunity to show how keen you are eg a friend who works for them always speaks enthusiastically about their role and it sounds fascinating to you, or, you were actively looking for a role at this particular company because of its values
  • What are your 3 greatest strengths? 
  • What your biggest weakness is: this is a tricky one. It can be too obvious if you try to turn a strength into a weakness. Instead, It might be a good idea to choose an element of the job description that you don’t have a great deal of experience with (that isn’t one of the key parts of the role) and tell the interviewer just that, but that you’re keen to learn
  • Where you see yourself in 5 years or 10 years: Another tricky one. Keep this relevant to the role you’re applying for, a clear step-up, whilst still being realistic. 


'Getting to know you' questions

Most interviews will start in quite an informal way where the interviewer will want to get a better idea of who you are as a person. This is a great way to break the ice as you can show them a bit of your personality whilst also giving them a reason to believe you’d be a great addition to the team. Don’t be fooled that this isn’t part of the interview – the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question is often the most important question they’ll have for their candidates.

A great way to format your answer for this is to structure it by Past, Present and Future:

By Past, as a graduate, you might want to include details like where you’re from, what university you went to or have just graduated from and why you chose the course you did.

By Present, you could tell the interviewer what career it is you’re keen to begin that your degree has led you to (and why), any recent accomplishments that are worth sharing, and some information that tells them about you personally like where you’re living and why you love it or a new hobby that you’ve taken up.

By Future, finish off with explaining what your career plans are which will contextualise why you’re going for this particular role. This will help demonstrate that you’re a forward thinker and understand the step-by-step nature of progressing to the next level.

Competency-based questions

Put simply, these are questions to test how competent you would be at the role based on how you have performed previously. They’re also sometimes known as situational or behavioural questions and are fairly common interview questions for graduates. Employers will use this kind of question to measure your suitability for a role based on specific attributes and how you’ve behaved in the past. 

These will usually focus on certain skills that are important to the role and will be formatted in a way that asks ‘Tell me about a time you demonstrated…’. Here are a few of the most common competencies an employer will ask you to demonstrate through your past experience:

  • Organisation
  • Persuasion 
  • Time management
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility
  • Decision making
  • Adapting to change
  • Conflict resolution
  • Communication skills
  • Being a team player
  • Problem-solving
  • Applying knowledge 
  • Leadership
  • Independence

To get the best idea of what competencies the company most value, take time to go through the job description for the role you’re applying for, and on the career section (if they have one) of the organisation’s website. These will often detail what they value in employees. These are a great place to start, but try to prepare an answer for all competencies you feel will be relevant to the kind of job you’re applying for.

The best way to prepare for these questions is to make a list of all the situations in previous work, university and other experiences where you feel you excelled. You will find that you demonstrated more than 1 or 2 of these competencies in each example. The more examples you have, the better. They might ask you a question that will need more than 1 competency ticked off – for example, Describe a time-pressured situation where you were asked to do something that you’d never attempted previously’.

Competency-based questions

There is a handy tool you can use to help you structure your answers well. It’s called the STAR technique and it’s a simple acronym that will help you to explain your answers in a way that gives enough detail whilst preventing you from going too far and going off on a tangent. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Here’s how you can use this tool to help formulate your answers to competency-based interview questions where you’ll need to give examples of times you demonstrated certain skills or attributes like the ones we’ve mentioned above, eg describe a time you’ve managed to persuade someone.

S is for situation. This is all about setting the scene. With your example in mind, start by contextualising it. When was this, where was it, what team were you in, and what was your role? Was it a university project for example? Only include information that will be relevant to the rest of your answer. 

T is for task. This is where you go into detail about the challenge, problem or task that you excelled at. Include information like who or where the task came from if this is relevant, but most importantly, what is it that was needed from you or your team and why? What was the objective? For example, you might have had a challenging team member who wanted to do things differently to you and the rest of the team, and you could see a presentation going very badly because of it. 

A is for action. This is the action you took to rectify the situation. This is probably the most important of the four prompts and it’s where you can go into detail of how you managed a difficult situation or came up with a creative solution to the problem. Flesh out your answer by explaining how you came up with the solution or what you needed to put in place before actioning it. Include whether you did it alone or whether you led a team.

R is for result. Following on from the action, this is where you tell the interviewer about how a problem was resolved, or what great results your action led to. You might want to include quantitative data here if it’s relevant – like how your actions led to an X% increase in sales or enquiries. Or, it might be that you can tell them about the positive feedback you got on that university presentation.

Going through your answers in this way will help you with storytelling effectively. It can be easy to get flustered, muddled and jump around with your answers in a way that won’t make sense to someone who is hearing about it for the first time. Using this framework, it will help you get the essential information across clearly and in an order that’s easy to digest.

Questions you can't prepare for

Some organisations want to test your on-the-spot thinking. To do this, they might ask you something that you can’t really prepare an answer for. For example, ‘What’s the biggest object you could throw over a fence?’ Or ‘Are there more doors or more windows in London?’

The purpose of these kinds of questions isn’t to catch you out, and there’s no right answer. They simply want to see how logically you can think or how you go about problem-solving. So, the best way to answer these is:

  1. Get as much additional information as you can from them, eg. How long would I have to find something? Could I get help to throw it? How high is the fence? They mightn’t want to give you any more information, but asking relevant questions demonstrates you have good attention to detail and investigation skills.
  2. Problem solve aloud. For the second example, perhaps you know the population of London, you assume everyone has on average 6 doors in their home, 10 cupboard doors etc. Going through your calculations on paper and out loud is what will help demonstrate your problem-solving skills. 

Sometimes these questions will be timed. For example, ‘List all the things you could do with a brick. You have 2 minutes’. A question like this might be used to see how creatively you can think on the spot, how you can handle time pressure or even to see if you have a sense of humour. Try not to overthink it, but instead, try to enjoy any fun questions like these if they happen to come up. 

Questions to ask

Yes! It’s always a good idea to come prepared with 2 or 3 questions for the interviewer. It shows you’re engaged, curious and not afraid to speak up. Just avoid any questions that suggest you think you have the job already – eg questions about annual leave, pay or lunch breaks! 

You could ask questions like how the team works with other teams across the business, and what format/s training would come in. You could also ask for more detail on any aspect of the job description.