Deciphering Interview Questions

When an employer welcomes you into an interview and asks, “Tell me about yourself”, this question is more than just a simple icebreaker. Like all interview questions, they are formulated to get a response that reflects you as a potential employee. Sara McCord, a blogger who has been featured on websites such as Forbes and The Daily Muse, gives some insight on these questions through an interviewer’s eye. Here are some common questions asked in interviews, and translations of what employers are really trying to get out of you.  

Question: Tell me about yourself.

Translation: Tell me why you are the right fit for this job.

What a broad question, really. How are you expected to paint a picture for an employer that shows all your experiences, but isn’t just reiterating everything that they have already read in your resume and cover letter? McCord advises that you focus on 2 or 3 specific accomplishments that you really want the employer to know about. See if you can also try and intertwine all those stories together to present a ‘story’ of sorts that explains your professional life.  And yes, professional life. Meaning, though the interviewer wants your personality and personal values to shine through, they don’t really care that you “grew up in Boston and love to jog on the weekends” as McCord would say. Since this is such a big (and important) question, make sure you’ve practiced your response multiple times. Not to the point that you sound as though you are reading off a teleprompter, but to avoid rambling on about unrelated topics.

Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Translation: Do you truly care about our work?

Even if you think this job will simply be a stepping stone to reaching bigger and better things, an employer wants to invest in a worker that truly cares about the position and company.  If you are interviewing for a position, you really should be genuinely interested in making this experience a significant step in reaching your career goal. McCord gives a helpful example, “If you’re interviewing for an account executive position in an advertising firm, and you know your goal is to become an account supervisor, say that…Add specifics about the sort of clients you hope to work with.” Key idea with this question: Sound genuine and continually connect the dots between where you are now, and where you want to be.

Question: Do you have any questions for us?

Translation: Have you really been paying attention?

Whew. The signal for the ending of the interview. Well, maybe not; always ask questions. And though it could be easy to come in with a paper covered in questions, that’s not necessarily what the employer wants to see. They want to see if you’ve been actively listening throughout the interview, and are able to ask questions on topics touched-on in the interview process.  While you should come up with questions specific to your position, here are some basic questions that McCord suggests you ask: What do you like most about working here? What drew you to work for this organization? What do you think are the current strategic challenges facing the organization? What advice would you give to someone in this role?

While we all wish that there was some sort of ‘magical interview answer’ that applied to every person and every position, it simply doesn’t exist. Instead of losing sleep stressing about an interview, think of it as an opportunity to showcases how great of an employee you are.