What does the interviewer mean when they ask these job interview questions? Chris Dottie MBEon September 4, 2023 at 3:57 pm Career advice | Career tips


In the heat of the moment during a job interview, it’s understandable to take seemingly straightforward questions at face value. The result? You’re either a little too honest with the interviewer, too unfocused in your answer, or you push too hard to sell yourself.

In every case, you risk giving your interviewer the wrong impression. As such, it’s important to stop and ask yourself: what is the interviewer looking for? What do they mean by asking you about your personality, motivations and failures?

Let’s look at five common job interview questions to help you understand what it is the interviewer wants you to say and how you can give the best answer possible.

What is the interviewer trying to find out with these five questions?

1) “Tell me about you.”

What is the interviewer trying to find out?

This will probably be the first question and will shape how the interviewer sees you for the rest of the conversation. Their purpose is to discover why this opportunity appealed to you, in which ways your education and career have prepared you for the role, and whether you have the necessary skills.  

How to answer

It can seem easy to talk about yourself at great length, which is exactly where the challenge lies: to keep your answer on topic. You can’t give one-word answers, but neither can you go on for too long. Plan an answer with a clear structure that covers the below points:

Your relevant educational and professional background

The key skills and expertise you have which directly relate to this opportunity

What you are looking for in your next role and why this role appealed to you

2) “Why are you looking to leave your current job?”

What is the interviewer trying to find out?

If you haven’t already discussed your motivations fully in your answer to the above question, your interviewer may want to learn more. Careful, though: even if the question is phrased in this way, do not fall into the trap of badmouthing your current employers. If you talk negatively about your current or past company, it might give the impression that you’ll talk negatively about your future workplace.

Your interviewer doesn’t want to hear that you only want this job because you’re dissatisfied. Put a positive spin on it, show you’re proactive in your career. They are interested in knowing whether you genuinely want this position because of what it offers, and whether you’re the right fit for the team and organisation.

How to answer

Instead of being negative, focus on the opportunities that this role brings, such as developing new skills, or exposure to certain industries or markets. Make sure you’ve researched the hiring company beforehand and mention something that you found particularly attractive.

3) “Tell me about a time that you failed.”

What is the interviewer trying to find out?

The interviewer wants to be sure that you learn from mistakes and that, when you inevitably do make an error in this role, you’ll be able to do so again.

How to answer

This is not the time to tell a story about the time you saved the day. You’ll come across as lacking self-awareness, especially if you don’t accept responsibility for the initial problem. Likewise, don’t make any excuses.

Explain what happened, how you identified what went wrong and what you learned for future experiences. If you later encountered a similar scenario, tell the interviewer what you did differently – this will show that you learned from the previous situation. Breath, smile and tell your story.

4) “How would your friends describe you?”

What is the interviewer trying to find out?

Bringing in a new recruit isn’t just about finding someone who can fulfil the responsibilities of the role. Will they get on well with the rest of the team? Will they be a good fit for the workplace? How will they interact with other stakeholders?

How to answer

Simple first step: share the job description with your friends or family and ask them which of your attributes are relevant. They might be able to offer a fresh perspective on what you’d bring to the role and team.

Try not to use anything generic that won’t mean anything to the interviewer. For example, instead of “fun” or “clever”, try “sociable” or “perceptive”. It’s also an opportunity to mention your emotional intelligence (or EQ).

5) “Are you interviewing with any other companies?”

What is the interviewer trying to find out?

This is often one of the final questions your interviewer will ask, and it’s not because they want to know that you’re a good candidate. They want to know whether you really want this role, and how long they’ve got to offer you the job.

How to answer

In this instance, honestly is the best policy – but don’t reveal the whole picture. Make sure the interviewer is left in no doubt that this role is your preference (ok, that might not always be true!). If you are interviewing with other companies or you’ve already received a job offer, let the interviewer know but don’t give away any names.

Next steps for job interview success

Got an interview coming up? Or maybe you’ve just started your job search? Download our free interview guide today for detailed advice on:

How to prepare for different questionsWhich questions to ask your interviewerWhat you can do during the interview to improve your chances of successWhy your actions matter after the interview is over

The post What does the interviewer mean when they ask these job interview questions?  appeared first on Viewpoint – careers advice blog.

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