Hacking Your Interview


In my experience managing businesses, I have had the opportunity to interview many, many, prospective employees. Through those interviews, I have learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to get an interviewee to spill the beans without even knowing it. Yes, as an interviewer I am trying to get you to slip up. It’s my job to investigate you fully in order to get an accurate picture of the kind of employee you will be.

But I’m about to break the rules, I’m going to give you the inside scoop.

Here are 9 of my favorite interview questions and what they really mean:

#1) “Tell me about yourself.”

Sure I want to hear about your hobbies, your schooling and your family– I want to know if you commit. Do you work out? Are you a member of any groups? Do you play sports? All of these things inform me about whether you are a team player, have self-discipline, and how socially active you are. The more commitments you have, the more confident I am that you will be committed to our company and will be an active member of the community of employees.


#2) “What do you know about our company?” or “Why do you want to work at our company?”

I want to know if you did your homework. Did you just blanket the area with applications or are you actually interested in the company? I am much more likely to hire someone who has a connection and interest in our company and it’s mission, than someone who’s just looking for a paycheck. Plus, experience tells me that, if you’re just in it for the paycheck, you won’t be persistent enough to last.


#3) “What kind of position and pay are you looking for?”

The way that you answer this question tells me how ambitious you are and what kind of future you see for yourself. Are you a go-getter or an underachiever? The best way to answer this question is to state exactly the position you want, even if it is not available. For instance, if you want to be an assistant manager, but don’t have the credentials, you could say something like “I see myself in a management position, and I am eager for the opportunity to begin at an entry level in order to prove my value to this company and earn my promotions.” 

As far as pay, you should really try to find out what the company currently pays an employee in the position you are seeking. I have thrown out applications due to outrageous pay requests that were not backed up with experience. On the other hand, you don’t want to go too low. When you do request a wage, make sure to back it up with any experience that will bolster your asking wage.


#4) “What special skills will enable you to fulfill the duties of this position?”

Yes, I want to hear about your credentials– but more importantly, I want to know that you understand the skills that will be needed to fulfill the position. Did you read the job description? What special qualities can you bring to the table that will help you stand out from other prospective employees? Use this question to brag a little. Talk about the qualities that make you unique and will help you add unexpected value to the company. 


#5) “Why did you leave your last job?”

If you’re not careful, your answer to this question can easily disqualify you from the job. Tread lightly and think before you speak.

When I ask this question, I am specifically trying to find out whether you are a quitter. Did you leave your last job because of low wages, lack of vacation time, or drama with coworkers? Knowing the terms on which you left your last position adds tremendous insight to what kind of employee you will be in the future.

Don’t knock your last employer. If you’re best answer for why your last job didn’t work out is anything like “my boss was a jerk” the only company that will be hiring you is McDonalds. No one wants to hear about your dirty laundry. No matter the situation with your last employer, you should absolutely never speak negatively about them during an interview (or otherwise, in my opinion.) When an employer hears you talking negatively about a previous employer, the first thing they will think about is how you’ll talk about them when/ if you leave. 


#6) “What is your greatest weakness?”

Do not tell me you’re a “perfectionist” and that it’s “both your greatest strength and weakness.” If I had to tally it up, I would venture to say that a good 80% of interviewees use this cop-out. It’s like they’ve all read the same article on how to dodge questions. (Not to mention the fact that none of the prospective employees who claim to be perfectionists are even within the ballpark of being perfectionists. )

Everyone has multiple weaknesses. What I am looking for is an honest answer that tells me that you are humble enough and introspective enough to understand your weak points. But don’t just tell me about your weakness– tell me how you are working to overcome it. After all, you can’t fix something that you don’t even know is broken. 


#7) “Where else have you applied?”

I want to know how important this particular position is to you. Is this job just a number on a list of potential employers or is there something more that has drawn you to our company? In addition to being a great indicator of how interested you are in the business, it is also a great way for me to find out how focused you are. Are you applying to all different industries? Are you applying in different locations? All of these questions help me to determine your commitment and focus, which, in turn, informs me about your drive and ambition.


#8) “Tell me about a problem that you solved for your last company.”

If you don’t have an answer for this one, you’ve been doing the bare-minimum for too long. After all, the saying goes: “You will be paid in proportion to the size of the problems that you solve.” If you’re not solving any problems, you’re not really valuable to a company. Think hard and come up with a great answer to this question. Think about a bad situation that you were able to turn around, or a new strategy that you developed that increases efficiency, or maybe just an angry customer that you were able to convert into a happy one.


#9) “What are the most important qualities a manager should have?”

This is a trick question. 99% of the people I’ve interviewed respond to this question with the belief that it means I’m considering them for a management position. Not so. When I ask this question, I am looking to determine whether a prospective employee understands the difference between a professional relationship and a personal relationship. For instance, if an interviewee responds to this question with something like “It’s important that a manager is really understanding and kind” I know that they don’t understand the role of a manager and, therefore, will likely take any constructive criticism as a personal insult. The best response to this question would sound something like this: “The things that I look for in a manager are leadership, integrity, structure, discipline, and knowledge.” That answer would nail it.


Now that you know the secret language of the interview, use these questions to prepare the next time you’re seeking employment. And don’t forget to let us know how it went in the comments!

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