What Your Interviewer Really Wants to Know

mature business man on a desk, isolated on white

Do you know the underlying interview questions?
Image Credit: Adobe Images

A smart interviewer is not chiefly concerned that you “walk him/her through your resume” or the exact answer to “what are your weaknesses?” or other questions that are commonly asked in the interview process. For many jobs, your interviewer really wants to know the following (or some version of it):

  • Can you do the job?
  • Are you a good fit?
  • Will you make my life easier?
  • Will you solve the problems I really need solved?
  • Will you make or save the company “real money?”
  • Can you extrapolate and analogize, or will you waste time and resources (mine and others) because you don’t know how to think for yourself?
  • Will you anticipate issues before they arise and figure out how to fix them?
  • Will you know how to communicate in a way that people understand (especially me) and on a timely basis?
  • Can I put you in front of my SVP, EVP, CEO, Board of Directors and/or clients, if and when the time comes?
  • Can you grow over time if/when our needs progress?
  • Will you have the resilience to charge through the inevitable setbacks that arise in any job and specifically in the environment in which we operate?
  • Are you able to manage stress (your own and others) in a positive way?
  • Will you make me regret hiring you one day?
  • Will you quit in three months?
  • Will you bail when there’s a crucial deadline?
  • Will you understand and care about what we are trying to achieve?
  • Will you get things done?
  • Can I afford you?
  • Why should I (take a risk and) hire you?

 Of course, most of the questions above are not standard interview fare in most (if not all) roles. Imagine an interviewer saying:

“I have just one question:

Will you make my life easier and by how much?
$150,000 a year easier? Sold! When can you start?”

Skilled interviewers have a dilemma, in other words. They know that if they asked the above questions directly, the answer to most of them would be an emphatic yes or no, as applicable. Easy peasy, as the phrase goes. Any job seeker could give the right answers to sail through an interview like that, so there is no point in asking. So interviewers ask other questions – such as “what is your ideal job?” – that approximate what they want to discover about the candidate, knowing that many of these questions are poor proxies for what they really want to know yet hoping that the questions they do ask get them there.

As a job candidate, the above questions (i.e., the ones a skilled interview would ask, if he/she could) are helpful to keep front of mind. Why? Because these underlying concerns, will help you recognize what you must demonstrate and address to be hired.

When interviewers ask “how you overcame a setback in your professional career,” for example, they are asking for about problem-solving skills and resilience. Any details that you give about the situation should demonstrate those two factors. At the same time, you should be careful that your answer does not demonstrate a propensity to blame others or reveal company or individual confidences, both of which are potential red flags that will peak the ears of an interviewer and damage your candidacy.

The last question from the above list is really the deciding one in any job interview: why should I hire you? I tell my interview preparation clients that every answer they give in an interview should answer this underlying question:

Why should I hire you?

If you know and can internalize that “why should I hire you?” is the underlying question behind all other interview questions, you have a huge advantage in the interview process. You won’t be tempted to go off on a tangent or give the “wrong” response, because you will always gear your answer to what the interviewer really wants to know: the benefits you can bring to the target company.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, writer and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. The above is an excerpt from her new book, Master the Interview, which is forthcoming on Amazon.com in mid-October 2016. For more information about Anne Marie’s coaching and resume writing work, please visit www.segalcoaching.com.

Author: Anne Marie Segal

ABOUT ANNE MARIE SEGAL Anne Marie Segal, founder of Segal Coaching LLC, is a career and leadership coach, author and resume writer who guides attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs through career transitions, advancement, job interview preparation, leadership development and personal branding. A former finance and hedge fund attorney, Anne Marie has presented to the United Nations (ICTY/MICT), University of Chicago, United Way, Association of Corporate Counsel and National Resume Writers Association, among other organizations. She has published two career-related books: Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook, written on career and resume topics as a Forbes Coaches Council member at Forbes.com and been quoted on CNBC.com, Monster.com and other media outlets. You can learn more at AnneMarieSegal.com or visit her LinkedIn profile at linkedin.com/in/annemariesegal.

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