Sunday, May 11, 2014

Four Common Interview Questions - But what they really mean (and it is not what you think the interviewer is asking) and how to nail them …

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - ― Stephen R. Covey

You go to an interview loaded for bear. Ready to dazzle. Charged and energized and yes, ready for any question … you think  …

… as long as you know what the real question is behind the question!

I found a very interesting article that discussed the four most common interview questions and what the questions are really probing for. In my years, I used these questions all the time and most applicants didn’t get what I was looking for. So, to help you “ace” your next interview, let’s look at the four questions – what they really mean and how you can turn these into strong statements of your qualifications.

Four Most Common Questions – and what they mean … 

1. Question: Tell me about yourself.

The “Usual” Answer: Well I was born in XXX, NY and went to high school here, college here and worked for X, Y and Z. 

Waste of energy and not what the interviewer is looking for. After all, your resume with that info is right in front of the interviewer.

What is really being asked:  Tell me why you’re the right fit for this job.

The interviewer is looking for you to sell yourself with compelling statements about why you are right for the job. Think of 2-3 accomplishments that demonstrate what you have done in the past (and where). Practice by reading your proposed answer out loud  pass  by someone else for their opinion.

2. QuestionHow would you explain our organization’s mission?

The “Usual” Answer: “I read all about the company, your products, services and history and know the industry you are in and what you do.

That wasn’t the question and anyone can read the “About Us” page of a web site.

What is the real question: Tell me how you align to the mission of the company – not just what we can do.

First, be sure you understand the mission and don’t just rely on the web site. Google the company –see if you can glean more and present a piece or two of information. Find one item that demonstrates that you went deep and did your research. Start with one line that shows you understand the mission, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two. For example, if you’re interviewing at a school that stresses character, share some specific character-building education activities you’ve led for students in your last job, or reference the recently released BullyIf you’re interviewing for a position at a hospital, talk about the 5K you recently ran to raise money for leukemia or your passion for volunteering your time to help children with cancer.

3. Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

The “Usual “Answer: I see myself growing in the company and taking on more responsibility as I feel I could be here for the life of my career.

Really – think someone believes that and it isn’t the question behind the question. 

What is the real question: What the interviewer really wants to know is whether this particular job and company is part of your career path, or whether you’ll be jumping ship in a year once you land your “real” dream job or if you care about the work they do.  Your job – sell your connection to the company – if it really exists. In her article, Sara McCord (, May 14, 2012) suggests that if the position you’re interviewing for is on the track to your goals, share that, plus give some specifics. For example, if you’re interviewing for an account executive position an advertising firm, and you know your goal is to become an account supervisor, say that. And then add specifics about the sort of clients you hope to work with, which will help your answer sound genuine, not canned—and again show why this particular company will be a good fit.

If the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations, the best approach is to be genuine, but to follow your answer up by connecting the dots between the specific duties in this role and your future goals. It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision, or that you’re excited about the management or communications skills you’ll gain.

4. Question: Do you have any questions for us?

The “Usual Answers”: They range all over the place but from my experience, either you as the interviewer don’t get any questions or the questions have no depth at all. 

What is the real question – and what does the interview seek to see?: Depth. Depth of understanding not just the position, but rather the company, mission, opportunities and more. You find this through listening – really listening – and then posing questions that dive deeper and demonstrate your commitment to learning, being the best you can and more. In last weeks blog, I discussed the four top questions you can ask when asked if you have any questions ( . Good idea to review before your next interview. 

Remember, you have one chance to make the best impression – so nail it! Make every interview count and of course, learn from the experience.

And thank you for reading this. - Dan

Dan Moran
President & Founder
Next-Act, Division of DVG, Inc.
Career Management & Transition Specialists
Corporate Management Services

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Albany, NY 12205
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