What They Really Want to Know


During your interview, you’ll be asked a lot of questions. Usually, the interviewer cares less about the specific answer and more about understanding your character, personality and skills. When they ask you to tell them about a challenge you faced, they’re actually evaluating how you deal with difficult situations. Are you inclined to panic? To be a drama queen? Or to give more or less gravity to a situation than needed? Will your problem solving skills complement the skills of others at the company?  They need to assess if you will fit in and if you’ll be an asset.

When you memorize what you feel you should say, the interviewer can’t honestly assess whether or not you’ll be a good fit for the company and the job is unlikely to make either of you happy.

Stories are not only easier to remember, they’re generally the most effective and efficient way to communicate highly desirable character traits and skills. How you tell them shines a light on your personality. Try to keep them to 1 – 2 minutes each, spending more time on stories that demonstrate the traits the company values. And intersperse them with different responses.

  1. You’ll likely be asked how you deal with difficult people. Here’s your chance to show how you’re able to both cooperate and draw firm boundaries. Describe the difficult person’s behavior without judging them or attributing negative motives.
  2. Interviewers will often ask how you meet a challenge. This is an opening for you to talk about using a balance of appropriate risk taking and common sense.
  3. When you’re asked, “What are your greatest weaknesses,” it provides an opportunity for you to show that you have a willingness to see your own flaws, admit your mistakes and clean up after yourself.
  4. If asked about hobbies, interests or your greatest achievement at work, you have a chance to show how you approach life with passion and demonstrate how that passion can transfer over to work.
  5. For the question – How do you deal with stressful situations? The goal isn’t to appear perfect, but to show how you can get a hold of yourself and take charge when necessary. Think of a time where you were able to get past initial fear and negativity to take care of things efficiently and in a way that resulted in a positive outcome.
  6. When asked about a time you took the lead, consider sharing your ability not only to lead, but to work with a wide variety of people, how you can hear everyone while not wasting time, how you draw firm boundaries and manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  7. You may be asked about your values and work style. This is a chance to show that you will fit in. Before you go in for an interview, find the company’s mission statement and vision. What sort of person has that mission and vision? Think of a time when you were that person and share those stories.

Sometimes interviewers will ask questions with the sole purpose of tripping you up just to see how you’ll respond. Do you have a sense of humor? Irreverence? Attitude? Do you seem overwhelmed and trip over your words? Are you confident? How long does it take you to regain your composure? All of these are clues about how you’ll respond when you inevitably run into difficult situations at work. You can’t prepare for it and there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s about seeing if you’ll fit into the work culture of that specific company.

After your interview, take time to do a little debriefing. Don’t beat up on yourself, but consider what you’d like to do differently next time. Especially remember questions that tripped you up so that you’re ready for the next interview.