20 Things an Interviewer Looks For During a Job Interview

CN_Marc_v1_eAre you wondering what an interviewer looks for during an interview, or what you should do to get him to like you? Is there some secret to figuring out if the interview is going well or something else you can do to insure that it does?

While you’re in the interview hot seat watching for clues from your interviewer, he or she is busy watching you – looking for their own clues. Interviewers look for things they want to hear in your answers, or ways you handle yourself during the interview, or simply some sign that shows them what you might be like if you worked for them.

So I thought it might help you to know what kinds of things I specifically look for, and what I want to hear when I interview job candidates:

Do you actually answer the questions I ask?

Preparing for an interview ahead of time is really important. By all means, spend time looking at what kinds of questions might be asked and how to handle them. And practice, practice, practice.

But when it comes to the interview itself, listen carefully in the moment and answer the actual questions asked. I’ve had people come to interviews so overly prepared with canned answers that they try to use their memorized answers even if it’s not exactly what was asked.

So listen to the whole question and respond naturally. If you jump ahead to practice your answer in your head while the interviewer is still talking, that’s a big turnoff. Trust yourself and find your own words. Be conversational. It will help you connect with the interviewer, which is what you want to do.

What’s your body language telling me?

Are you slouching? Relaxed is good, slouching is bad. Sit up straight, looking professional and yet as natural as possible. Also, be aware of any fidgets or extraneous body movements (tapping your finger or foot, clicking a pen) that can distract the interviewer from your words.

And don’t forget to add a warm smile as you speak, again in a natural way. Grinning wildly throughout is only good if you’re applying for a job as a smiley face. 🙂

By the way … if you’re nervous, don’t assume that’s a negative. We expect job candidates to be nervous. Just practice a lot beforehand, be yourself during the interview, and remember to meet the interviewer’s eyes with that warm smile. Most likely you’ll begin to relax – at least enough to do your best, which is all we ask.

What kind of eye contact are you making with me?

This is so important, yet for many job candidates difficult. Look me in the eyes when you speak – also when I ask you a question. If your eyes are darting around the room, you may look bored or uneasy in your own answers.

Again, as with the smile, you don’t want to overdo it and create a staring contest. But easy eye contact during the conversational exchanges can help create that connection.

Are you showing me your real self?

Whether you’re using canned answers or spontaneous answers, are you telling me what you think I want you to say or the real story based on who you are and the experiences you’ve had so far? You want to come to the interview 100% familiar with how you match the job.

Use your answers – answers based in truth – to paint the picture of a great match as best as possible. You do this using your career story – the unifying story you hopefully created to write your resume and cover letter.

I’ve had job candidates giving me only the part they think I want to see, and they come off phony or one-dimensional. And they just don’t connect well with me or the other interviewers. If I think there’s enough there, I try other ways to get them to open up to us, but many interviewers won’t go that far.

Do you understand the job you’re interviewing for?

This may seem so obvious, but I’ve interviewed people who didn’t seem to know what the job entailed, even though they applied for it. Of course, you can’t know everything about it.

Asking what the job is like on a daily basis is a valid question for you to ask at the end of the interview.  But at the very least review the job description and look up anything you aren’t completely familiar with.

Did you take time to learn about us?

In addition to researching the job, you need to research the company. What is the business all about? What are the specialties of the division / department you’re interviewing with?

Use the internet to find out all you can – even possibly names of people who work there. Then put together a picture of who they are, as best you can, again looking for ways that you and the company match.

One question interviewers like to ask is “What do you know about us?” Your research will help you prepare for that, too, helping you shape your answers and even how you dress for the interview.

Do you have the skills to do the job?

Hopefully you checked out the job description ahead of time, and can show evidence during the interview that you really have the skills. Some companies have special interviews and/ or tests to make sure, so be prepared.

And if there’s anything they’re looking for that you haven’t used in a while or only know a little, by all means brush up on them before the interview!

Do you have the personality to do the job?

This is an important part of an interviewer’s job. If the job calls for lots of people contact and public interactions, we don’t want someone who seems especially shy.

But conversely, if the job takes place in a cubicle with almost no outside interaction, an extrovert might be bored.

Do you have reasonable expectations?

Employers not only want to know if you’re a good fit for the job, but they’re looking to make sure the job will be a good fit for you. An unhappy employee isn’t good for anyone. And no employer wants to go through the hiring process again too soon.

While most employers want you to look to grow both horizontally and vertically within their company, it’s also important that we get a sense you understand what the position is and isn’t … and how quickly any kind of advancement can be reasonably expected. Something you might want to ask about if this is your concern.

Would you fit in with our company and culture?

There isn’t too much you can do about this. It’s just something interviewers look for and think about during an interview. Even if you give the best interview ever, they may know something about the job or company that you don’t – and they may be saving you both a bad experience.

Again, just be yourself. It pays off in the long run.

Are you adaptable / flexible?

Employers often use behavioral questions, where interviewers ask you how you handled things in the past, to assess your ability to respond to new situations with ease and success.

If you prepare your jobs experience stories well – things you’ve managed to improve or solve or help get done – you’ll present a picture of someone who does rise to the occasion without bringing their own rigidity into the picture.

Are you resourceful?

Once again, your job experience stories (sometimes even life experience stories where appropriate) will help them see that you can manage to get things done without everything being handed to you on a silver platter.

Are you high maintenance?

Some job candidates come in with complaints on their faces about having to wait too long or not being able to bring their parents (yes really). Or they’ve called / emailed with lots of questions ahead of time. Not good.

And during the interview, the way you tell a story can show if you expect way too much from others (without pitching in yourself) and see things mostly from your own point of view. High maintenance is a big red flag.

Are you a problem solver?

We love these. Of course, you want to wait until you’ve gathered all the facts and are really sure there is a problem to solve. I’ve seen people come into interviews ready to fix the company – sure that their ideas would win them the job.

Stories about how you solved problems in the workplace are very good. But trying to improve the company while you’re still in the interview process – not good.

[NOTE: If by slim chance they do ask you how you’d improve the company, base your answer on facts you’ve gathered during your research and not conclusions you’ve jumped to. Focus on steps you’d take to gather what you need to know. And show respect for current management / staff and what you can’t possibly know.

Are you someone who respects management?

As mentioned above, a company wants to know that you’re someone who will work well with managers and respect the company’s mission and culture. If your answers include stories about how you were smarter than management and saved the day, this won’t come across well.

Even if management was terrible, always tell your stories in a way that makes you look resourceful and capable, while not putting others down.  Also … do your research ahead of time to make sure you really are in synch with this company. No sense getting an unwelcome surprise after you start.

Are you a self-starter?

While companies want you to work well with management, they also want to know you won’t just twiddle your thumbs and wait to be told everything.

I always look for clues that the person can operate independently, while still respecting the management structure and coworkers. Not that you can always figure this out in an interview.

Do you initiate useful change?

As mentioned before, most companies welcome employees who are looking for ways to improve things – better quality products, more efficient processes, saving them money. But they aren’t looking for someone just spinning out lots of ideas without focusing on what they were hired to do.

So when you talk about the improvements you’ve made, look for work-based examples that, if possible, relate to the job you want now.

Do you know who you are and what you really want?

Sounds so simple. But if your answers and stories seem to touch on too many disconnected things, you may be presenting a picture that is too disjointed to leave an impression the employer feels solid about. We are too complex to fully present ourselves in a single job interview. Don’t even try.

Be real and be natural, of course. But give them the pieces that help create that unified story we talked about earlier – one that matches the job you’re applying for.

This means taking the time beforehand to really think about yourself and the job – and how the two come together as a result of your past experiences, skills, abilities and personality. If you know this well, then your answers will flow more naturally.

Do you know your own resume?

Again, so obvious. Yet folks come into an interview not having looked at their resume in a while. And I’ve had people have to think a bit when I ask them about something right there on the resume they sent me.

Please give yourself some time to look at it before you arrive at the interview. You should also review it carefully when preparing stories to help you answer interview questions.

Would I like to work with you on a daily basis?

Of all the things an interviewer looks to answer – once we get past “can you do the job” – this may be the most important one of all. Are you a positive addition to the workplace? Can you carry your fair share of the load?

Do you play well with others? Will you pitch in when needed without grousing? Will you be someone I can trust and rely on?

No one answer will tell us this. But when we add up all the pieces, we do our best to find that person who is a match – one whom we’d love to have join us.


Help before, during & after your interview:

=> More Tips PLUS how to answer interview questions


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