In job interviews, a hiring manager is looking for far more than just things that qualify you for the job. They’re also looking for anything they can use to cross you off the list. Once they’ve narrowed their field of potential candidates from a hundred resumes to the top 10-20 deserving of an interview, it gets really (really!) hard to make the right hiring decision.
Narrowing the field further, down to just the top five candidates or less, requires that hiring managers be picky and pay attention to the tiny details. That way, they can better judge each candidate on both their merits and their flaws and make informed decisions.
While you’re interviewing, you’ll get some questions that sound clear and straightforward. But understand that even though the aim may be simple, a hiring manager will learn more from your answer than just what you tell them.
Here are some obvious things that you’ll be asked in an interview, and the not-so-obvious things a hiring manager will learn from your answers.
What they ask: What are your qualifications?
This is an easy one. The hiring manager wants to know if your skills match up well to the requirements of the role. They’ll ask you questions that get to the core of your competencies and figure out how your accomplishments can positively impact their team.
Their questions will come from the job description, the needs of the team, and your own past experience. How you answer and how your work matches the desired skillset will tell the hiring manager if you’re qualified.
What they learn: Are you honest?
Does your work experience as advertised in your resume, cover letter, and online presence match up with what you’re saying in the interview? It should. The hiring manager will be looking to spot any red flags that might allow them to label you as someone of questionable honesty.
If the way you describe your role sounds different from what they’ve read in your resume, that’s a red flag. If you talk about your accomplishments with uncertainty, that’s a red flag. That’s why it’s imperative that your online profiles, resume, cover letter, and any other marketing device you use to find a job present a unified front.
Go through all your application documents and professional and social profiles and make sure they match up. Because if a hiring manager has any reason to doubt or question your work history, they might not want to go through the hassle of confirming your honesty.
What they ask: How do you perform when working in teams?
Every hiring manager wants to know if they’ll get along with their prospective employees. Clashing personalities can lead to lost productivity and often result in a costly hiring mistake. This is something every company and every team needs to avoid, and making a right hire from a culture fit perspective is crucial.
As you speak and interact with the hiring manager, they’ll learn about your personality. They’ll be able to understand how you will fit with the rest of the team. They’ll often bring along members of the team to sit in and contribute to the interview, just to get a better sense of how you’ll get along. Their view and their team’s view on you as a person will help them decide if they actually want you to work with them.
What they learn: Are you loyal?
As you answer questions about your past, your prior employers, and why you left your old job, the hiring manager will learn about your sense of loyalty.
Some unasked questions they’ll find the answers to are: Do you approach new opportunities as stepping stones? Are you truly passionate to join their company? Are you bitter or angry about previous jobs? Do you present a risk as a potential disgruntled employee? Will you cause more drama than you are worth?
It’s important that you don’t make the mistake of bashing former employers. If you had a truly horrible experience in your last job, be diplomatic and be the better person. The point isn’t to tell the hiring manager that you left because you hated it. The point is to show them that you learned what you could at your old job and are looking for new challenges.
So make the case that your previous jobs were great learning experiences, and that you’re excited to make a fresh new start with their company.
What they ask: How and what have you learned in your last job?
Throughout an interview, there will be opportunities for you to answer questions that display your how you process information. It may be quirky questions about the number of manholes in Manhattan. It may also be serious questions about how you would tackle specific projects.
In either case, the hiring manager will use your answers to understand your thought processes. How you dissect a problem and how you find a solution is important for them to understand. It gives them the ability to see whether you’ll actually be able to take on the problem-solving mindset needed to succeed on the job.
What they learn: Are you teachable?
The best types of employees are ones that come in with an open mind and the desire to learn. Hiring managers know that, which is why the way you process information will reveal for them how teachable you are. For example, the difference between the right and wrong answer to a specific problem you are asked to solve may lie in whether or not you ask the right questions.
If you give the wrong answer because you neglected to ask the right questions, you only end up hurting yourself. So ask away - working together in a team requires collaborative problem solving. Asking questions is not taboo.
Want an additional way to show your teachability? Never stop learning. Take online courses, get relevant certificates for your field, and constantly strive to be better tomorrow than you are today. It shows.
What they ask: Any questions for me?
The questions you ask the hiring manager are as important as your answers to the questions they ask you. An important trait for strong team collaboration is inquisitiveness. Asking the right questions can often expose problems with the way a team is approaching a project.
Those questions could also lead to brainstorming that results in a smarter and more effective approach. Ask smart questions, follow up with further questions that go deeper, and start meaningful discussions, and you’ll show a great inquisitive side.
What they learn: Did you do your homework?
Don’t waste a hiring manager’s time with questions you could just as easily have answered with a simple Google search. Being inquisitive doesn’t mean you get to ask questions like “Tell me about a recent project that went really well for you.” It means you go deeper.
When you already know the project that went well, you should ask about specific steps that were taken to result in success. When you already know that a project failed, explain your thoughts on why it happened, present your ideas for how it could be revamped, and ask for feedback.
The Q&A portion of the interview is your opportunity to show you did your homework. It’s also a chance to show that you’re full of ideas and brimming with questions. So research ahead of time and use your knowledge to have conversations as though you’re an insider, not a candidate. It will make the job of imagining you in the role a whole lot easier for the hiring manager.
Hiring managers don’t always know what they want. They do, however, know how to narrow the field at each step of the way until they land on the right person. Be the right person by understanding both the face-value of the questions they ask and the deeper meaning they’re trying to uncover.