How to Decode Answers to the 7 Most Common Interview Questions

Every so often you see an article about creative or offbeat interview questions, but recruiters and hiring managers always include a core set of commonly-asked questions that can be asked by phone, on video, or in-person. The distinction of a great recruiter is not in the questions he or she asks, but in the skill of identifying the best candidates based on nuggets in the answers to those questions.   Here are some signals that you may notice in top talent:

1.  “Tell us about yourself” 

What you are really asking is, “Demonstrate your ability to stay on task.”  You’re looking for answers pertaining to their professional self. If the candidate goes off track, perhaps there’s a reason for it. If there aren’t any professional accomplishments or milestones to speak of, they will turn to matters of their personal life. With that said, this question also gives the candidate the chance to show their personality – during video interviews and in-person interviews, observe their level of excitement when they are talking about their previous work.

2.  “Why are you interested in this position?” and/or “Why are you leaving your current position?”

These questions can give you a glimpse into a candidate’s career goals, while also hinting as to how they handle challenging situations. If they mention they are leaving for an active reason rather than having passively been pushed out, you’ll get a sense of how career- and goal-oriented they are. Note their tone. Are they remaining positive? Even if they departed on bad terms, are they able to put a positive twist on it? Of course, you don’t want a candidate who will lie to you, but you do want a candidate who has the diplomacy to preserve business relationships and the conviction to make difficult decisions, both for himself and for your company. They might also be looking to do a complete career switch, and this question gives the candidate the chance to explain their situation.

3.  “What, if any, responsibilities were added during your time with your last/current company?”

It’s important to note how they were perceived at their last (or current) employer. How long were they there before being promoted? Were they tasked and trusted with projects that made an impact on the company? If able (via video or in-person), check any indication in their facial expression that they are uncomfortable answering the question. There’s a difference between talking up your abilities and outright lying.

4.  “What do you know about our organization?”

Serious candidates should have a solid answer to this question. While they obviously won’t know every in and out of your company, they should know what direction your organization is headed and be familiar with the brand. The way in which they can relay information about your organization is a good indicator of how strongly they feel about your company and how well they fit with your team culture.

5.  “Please share your strengths.”

Most candidates will know this question is coming. While this might seem like an easy question for candidates, you’ll see a broad variance in the quality of candidates’ answers. In particular, candidates should play up the specific strengths that fit with the job they are applying for. If you feel like they are giving you generic answers (“I work well with others”, “I enjoy a challenge”) then they may not be good advocates for your company’s products either.  If you are hiring for sales and marketing roles, the first test is how they sell themselves before they can promote your products. If you hare hiring for product or strategic roles, the candidate’s ability to identify truly unique strengths will correlate with their ability to identify truly strategic differentiators for your product.

6.  “What are your long-range goals?”

Candidates who set goals for themselves and have a plan are candidates who will be here for the long haul. If they express interest in moving up in the company, how do they plan to make it happen?  This is a great way to check their potential for long-term retention.

7.  “Do you have any questions for us?”

Any candidate who is taking this interviewing process seriously should come ready with questions. Career moves are a serious part of life and they should be handled as so. If the candidate doesn’t have any questions about the position, the company, or expectations, this might be a red flag. It could indicate a lack of earnest interest. Even if the interview is on video, candidates should still prepare as if they are meeting in-person. If they glance down it could mean they’ve done prior research and jotted down notes, which is a good sign.

The executives at top employers like Google, Facebook and Amazon consistently look for attitude, passion, and personality over hard skills as indicators of a good hire. It’s easy to construct a glowing resume, but it is not quite as easy to fake having a personality. While new recruiting technologies like video interviewing and applicant tracking systems can make the process more efficient for recruiters, recruitment is still very much a people-driven field.  Make sure to use your interviews to discover who the candidate is and what motivates the candidate, rather than focusing on just what the candidate has done in the past.

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