Job Interview Guide – Spotting what is Behind the Questions

An interview will typically follow a question and answer format. Nevertheless, as we saw yesterday, the questions thrown at you will vary widely. They depend upon:

  • The kind of interview
  • The interviewer and his or her background, experience and quirks

Some questions clearly call for straightforward factual answers, whereas others have you puzzling about where they are leading.

Listen to questions
Do not do the politician’s trick of answering a different question to the one you have been asked because:

  • It will waste precious interview time (the interviewer will have to put the question to you again)
  • The interviewer will find it irritating

Listen to questions carefully. It sounds obvious but it is surprising how many candidates develop cloth ears as soon as they sit down in the hot seat.

Are you suitable for the job?
So much has been written about interviews that it is easy to forget their purpose. Broadly speaking an employer is seeking to find out:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you fit in?

Are you competent to do the job?
With jobs sourced on the invisible market, your competence is not such a big issue. Where, for example, you have been approached or you have sourced a job by tapping into your networks, the people interviewing you will probably have some knowledge of your track record. Indeed, the fact that you are there can be taken as an indicator that what they know about you is good. All you need to do now is:

  • Confirm that opinion
  • Do not do anything to raise doubts

However, your competence is an issue if the interviewer does not know you, i.e. the typical visible market situation where you are just a name on the interview list. This is where you have a task on your hands. You need to bear in mind the following:

– Remember that employers are not impressed by candidates who give glowing descriptions of themselves. They have heard it all before.
– Professional interviewers (e.g. consultants, human resources managers) will not be over familiar with the ins and outs of what you do and you need to be interviewer friendly by avoiding technical jargon or losing them in long, detailed descriptions. Going back to yesterday’s lesson, your visual aids could help.
– Most information assimilated at an interview is taken on trust. You give some information in answer to a question and the interviewer believes you – unless they have reason for doing otherwise. The point at issue here is your credibility – you will not get anywhere in an interview if the person on the other side of the desk feels you are being economical with the truth. In addition, the commonest way that applicants sow seeds of doubt about themselves is by introducing contradictions between what they say at interviews and what they have written in CVs and so forth. Revisit CVs, application forms etc. before you go to the interview.

Will you fit in?
With so much accent these days on team working, a concern in every employer’s mind is whether you will fit in with the rest of the team or whether you could turn out to be a square peg in a round hole and be a thorn in their sides.

Emphasise the team effort
When answering any questions put to you at an interview, always emphasis the team effort if talking about your present and previous jobs. Do not make it sound as if turning the business around from massive losses was something you did single-handled because, apart from anything else, no one will believe you. Here are a couple of tips:

  • When talking about past achievements, always mention the contribution of colleagues
  • Use ‘we’ and ‘us’ in your descriptions, rather than T and ‘me’

What makes you tick?
Part of the assessment of whether you are a potential square peg in a round hole is finding out what drives you. Why did you choose the paths you took? Why did you leave Company A to join Company B? Why did you take time out to do an MBA? Why did you decide to work in Japan for four years? It is answers to questions like these that give interviewers insights into what motivates you and whether it is consistent with being a good team player.

Because of the disruptive effect it can have on the workings of a team, employers are anxious to avoid taking on the kind of people who grumble about everything and are never satisfied. Therefore, you need to be very careful about the reasons you give for leaving jobs.

Allowing for interviewers’ omissions
An important part of keeping control of interviews is having some fail-safe systems to take account of:

  • Poor interviewers
  • Interviewers who do not give themselves enough time
  • Interviewers who are distracted by interruptions

Inexperienced interviewers and those in a rush sometimes omit to ask all the questions. They get half the story and then they move on. In the example below the candidate is being interviewed for a job where knowledge of certain types of software (XXX) is a requirement, although the candidate is unaware of this because it was not mentioned in the advertisement.

Interviewer: I see you’ve been with Bloggs & Co for the last two and a half years. What software do you use?

Candidate: YYY.

Interviewer: What about XXX?

Candidate: There’s talk about buying a package, but as far as I know no decision has been taken.


Interviewer: What about your previous position with Baggins Brothers?

Candidate: That was all XXX. I worked with it for four years.

The dotted line in the script indicates where some interviewers would end the interrogation. As a consequence they would wrongly form the view that the candidate has no experience with XXX.

Where a particular line of questioning is followed, try to spot what is behind it (why am I being asked about XXX?). If the questions peter out before the interviewer has got the full story, seize the initiative and take control. See to it that the interviewer goes away with the right facts. Note: lines of questioning such as these often reveal hidden selection criteria.

Questions that do not get asked
Another type of question that does not get asked is one the interviewer finds difficult or embarrassing or that could give the impression of prying.

Pre-emptive strikes
Sometimes it is necessary to put yourself in employers’ shoes and see their concerns. Where there is something in your life that could come into conflict with the demands of a job then, rather than leave employers to draw their own conclusions, take control and clear up the concern.

Whether you are looking for a challenging opportunity in the the Business world or looking for available mining jobs around the world, you will have to succeed and overcome the interview challenge.

Stan Waldorf is a career consultant in Sydney. He conducts resume workshops yearly and has recently written a piece about available mining jobs in Australia.