What Your Interviewer Really Wants To Know

Understanding the question behind the question, and how to provide meaningful responses that showcase your skills

Candidates often feel pressure to answer an interview question “the right way.” An experienced interviewer should be asking questions that allow the candidate to showcase their skills and experiences authentically, providing a framework for candidates to give real-life examples of their experiences and capabilities. Likewise, candidates should take time ahead of an interview to think through their experiences and

We’ve pulled together a few questions that are common in interviews, and are lifting the curtain so you can see the question behind the question. Hopefully these examples can help you begin to think deeper and bigger in order to answer an interview question that showcases your capabilities. 

Question behind the Question: THE CHAMPION FOR CHANGE

Question: Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision made at work?

What is the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely a situation that brings up less than pleasant memories or frustrations at work.
Some of the competencies, or aptitudes, this may be targeting include:

  • Your response to a negative experience or ability to influence positive change
  • How you coped with that tension and responded in those environments
  • Are you someone that leans into drama or rises above it

An employer needs to know how you carry yourself professionally amid stressful or challenging situations. Provide examples that show your ability to keep your cool or be a creative problem-solver.

Question behind the Question: The One Who Takes Risks

Question: Tell me about when you took a risk at work, and it paid off?

Interviewers are paying attention to multiple things here:

  • How do you go about building a business case for an idea that has risk associated with it?
  • How likely are you to lead, speak up, and innovate?
  • How do you sell your ideas and influence others?
  • How do you cope with a mistake (either yours or someone else’s) and what have you learned through that process?

This question is an opportunity to display your leadership abilities. Provide specific examples where you may have challenged the status quo or taken a calculated risk. Leaders focus on creating an environment where their team’s talents shine. Beware of using exaggerated titles, be thoughtful about evaluating the scope of your role, and speak to multiple competencies when applicable.

Question behind the Question: The Adaptable Knowledge Seeker

Question: What is an example of a time when you had to learn something new to accomplish an initiative?

In this question, interviewers may be wondering:

  • If you seek out and apply information from a variety of credible sources
  • If you are consciously aware of your strengths and weaknesses
  • Do you take the same approach repeatedly or adapt when coming into a new role

Even experienced professionals have to unlearn old ways and utilize new information to accomplish complex initiatives. Can you point to examples of this in your career? While being a self-starter can be an admirable quality, learning agility, openness to ideas/collaboration, decision making, and problem-solving are critical competencies required for success in a leadership role.

This is also a great place to be upfront about the support you believe you’ll need to succeed in a new role. Demonstrate this by preparing intelligent and relevant questions to ask throughout the interview process (or at the end when appropriate). Sometimes, your questions are just as informative to the interviewer as the questions you answer.

Question behind the Question: Strategic but can execute

Question: What is an example of a significant goal that you have set and achieved?

Companies tend to look for people who set meaningful goals and persist until they accomplish them. While a life goal to climb Mt. Everest is notable, a recruiter may be trying to learn:

  • Whether or not you take initiative and are results-oriented
  • The extent of your entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial drive
  • How passionate you are about your work and life goals
  • If you are adaptable, committed, and resilient when faced with setbacks

In conclusion, the interview process ensures that the candidate and the client have all the information necessary to make the right decision. The top candidates will be the ones who can represent their leadership, business experience and motivations to prove they are the best for the role. And of course, it’s always important for candidates to interview a potential employer to ensure it’s the right decision for them as well.

Looking for more job search tips, hiring trends and current job opportunities? Sign up to get more information.

Stay in the know