What your interviewer wants to know, but can’t tell you

Any self-respecting interviewer will try to extract as much information from you as possible. So what do they really want to know but can’t ask you direct?

1. Do I want to spend time with this person?

Life’s too short to work with people you don’t like. While you may have rock-solid qualifications and skills, if the interviewer doesn’t think they’ll enjoy working with you, they probably won’t hire you. So MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION. They can’t ask you whether you’re likeable and fun, but they will make up their minds in the first 90 seconds. Remember the basic rules of likeability: smile, make eye contact, sit forward in your chair and be enthusiastic. One trick that many interviewers use is to ask the receptionist or PA what they made of the latest interviewee: were they nice, polite, did they pick their nose on the way in? Be aware that you’re being watched.

2. What are his life plans?

Anti-discrimination laws exist for good reason, but they do make it tricky for interviewers to ask direct questions (like, “are you are planning a family soon?”). Being candid about your circumstances can help your case. Remember, interviewers are people just like you. They have families, children, elderly parents – they understand the pressures of daily life. Telling your potential future employer about what’s going on in your life will humanise you and establish a bond with them. They’ll appreciate your honesty and, if you land the job, may well go out of their way to make it work for you.

3. How long’s she going to stick around for?

Particularly for younger applicants, your interviewer will try and fish out information about what your career plan looks like. Are you just applying for the job as a stepping stone for another future role, or are you actually keen to work for their organisation in the longer term?

The company that hires you will invest significant amounts of money to train you and help you settle into the job, so they want to see a return on that investment. Even though your interviewer will not say this outright to you, they will want to see a commitment from you that you will stay for a certain period of time.

4. Is he desperate?

Enthusiasm is one thing; desperation is quite another. If you’re working for another organisation and tell your interviewer that you could start work straight away, this could translate as: I’m willing to make an unprofessional exit from my present job without giving any notice, and I may do the same thing again… Ditto a follow-up thank-you note after an interview. One nice, polite message is fine; persistent calling or emailing smacks of desperation again. Manage their impression of you.

5. What’s her real motivation?

Almost certainly, your interviewer will want to tease out what non-monetary benefits – working from home, season ticket loan, free laptop – you want from your potential new job. Share your thoughts honestly, and you may get a more balanced offer. As Jean Martin, executive director at advisory firm CEB, puts it: “Many businesses wrongly assume that money is the only workforce motivator that truly matters. In fact, the top three factors cited by UK employees as most important when considering a new job are work-life-balance, location and stability.”

And one other thing…

Finally, we fired up the AAT Comment Random Interview Statement Generator to highlight telltale phrases that your interviewer might use to signal what’s ahead:

  • “We tend to lunch here in the office = Don’t expect to leave the office during the day. Ever.”
  • “The boss is very hands-on = It’s her show and she wants things done HER way.”
  • “We’re pretty flexible in the way we work = You could be doing a totally different job in a few weeks’ time, hope that’s okay”
  • “We’re very much a team = We’re generally quite risk-averse; personality extremes don’t go down too well here.”

Jason Hesse is a journalist who specialises in writing about entrepreneurship and small business.

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