Reading Between the Lines: What are they really asking?

In the interview, the interviewee must be aware of what the interviewer really means by his/her questions, and address the underlying meaning.

1.    "Why do you want to work here?"

Will you be satisfied with your job?  Will you stay?  What have you heard about this company?

Response:     Discuss the good reputation that the company has, any positive information you have obtained through your research about the company’s products, philosophy, fair policies, etc.

You may also discuss your confidence in your ability to do the particular job in question, and the advancement potential it may provide for you.

2.    "Why did you leave your last job?"

Are you going to bring me headaches?  Do you have trouble getting along with people?  Were you fired or did you quit?  Did you have difficulties in your last position which may affect your ability to do the job here?

Response:            It is important to discuss the reasons honestly, but in a light that is favourable to you.  Always avoid saying anything negative or critical about previous managers or places of employment.  If possible, avoid disclosing that you were fired, and if you were fired stress any reasons that are not personal, e.g. the job was not sufficiently oriented to your abilities, the commuting was too difficult, there was a re-organization, etc.  Emphasize that you feel the job you are being interviewed for differs in these problem areas.  If you were fired because you were having interpersonal conflicts with management, it is legitimate to make statements such as "I didn't feel my skill areas were being properly utilized."  "I didn't have the opportunity to do the kinds of projects that I felt best suited my experience."  “My management style is 'X' whereas the management style of that particular company is `Y', and although we tried to work things out, it just seemed best that I move to a setting where I could use the style I ‘favour’".

It is important to work things out with your past employers so that they give you positive references.  If an interviewer thinks you were fired, they will most definitely call your last employer to find out what actually happened.

3.    "What are your greatest strengths?"

How confident are you?  What do you see as your skills?  Can you present yourself confidently to the public?

Response:     This is a very standard question and is your biggest opening to market your skills and your accomplishments.  These should include both job-related and interpersonal skills.

4.    "What are your weaknesses?"

Can you be honest about your short-comings?  How much training are you going to need?  What are your problem areas going to be?

Response:     It is important to be honest and open, but to turn this question around so that you are responding with weaknesses that will not interfere with your ability to do the job.  For example, being over-conscientious, being a perfectionist, taking things too seriously, etc.  Do not describe anything which would imply that you are not able to do aspects of the job.

5.    "What are your long range goals?"

How long will you stay in your position?  Are you somebody that is career oriented?  How important will this job be to you?  Is this a stepping stone to something else or will you make a commitment to this position?

Response:     Respond with your intention to stay with the company and grow in your career within the position.  If you know about advancement potential within the organization state your hope that this may occur if you receive the position, but that any promotion would need to be based on demonstrated achievement.  Stress that you like the company's style, and that you hope to become a valuable employee there.  Also stress that you do not plan on leaving the city or on returning to school full time, and therefore you do not see any reason why your term with the company would not be a long one.

However, it is also fine to be open about long-range career goals, such as returning to school or getting a degree, if they are far enough in the future that they will not interfere with your stay at the company.  Emphasize that your advancement can be an asset to the company's future.

Subscribe to Job Postings Feed Subscribe to For Job Searchers Feed Subscribe to The Working Centre Feed Subscribe to Commons Studio Feed