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Interview Answers Revealed

How to Decode Answers to Common Interview Questions
Antonio Guillem/123RF.com

The internet is rife with standard interview questions job seekers can prepare for; many even offer the “best” answer you can give. For many recruiters, these generic questions are asked by rote, with little interest in the response given. But even the most common interview question can be revealing, if you take the time to decode how it is answered.

Tell me about yourself

Many hiring professionals start an interview with “tell me about yourself.” It seems like a benign intro to the process – an ice breaker for candidates that are nervous, an opening for those who are confident. Responses can run the gamut, from a laundry list of professional accomplishments, a checklist of their likes and dislikes, or their achievements on Fortnite.

Candidates that list their likes/dislikes may be telling you they’re not quite workplace-ready, but take note of what they’re saying. Someone whose list of favorite things, for example, could reveal he/she prefers solitary pursuits rather than group activities; he or she might not be a great fit for a front-facing position. Is a candidate particularly proud of his online gaming achievements? He might be a perfect for an IT spot. Does her list of professional accomplishments ring true? She might be a rock star, or she might be exaggerating – your gut instinct can usually tell which.

If the applicant hasn’t listed a professional profile, follow up with, “Now tell me about you as a nurse, doctor, administrator, etc.”

Tell me your strengths

This is another standard question with a host of top-notch responses available online. Your typical answers: I’m a people person, organized, compassionate, etc. Rather than allowing an adjective as a response, follow up with –“Take a moment and give me an example of how you used that strength in your last job.”

Tell me your weaknesses

The internet offers a shocking number of indirect self-compliments for this question. “I’m too dedicated,” “I hate leaving work undone.” Again, rather than allow self-congratulatory terms as the response, request an example. Ask the candidate to tell you about an instance where that weakness negatively impacted his work and what he did (or is he doing) to overcome this problem.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This question has evolved a great deal. It’s come in and out of fashion, but today’s iteration really should be more specific. “What are your professional goals?” Candidates may reveal they’re not looking to stay at your facility for very long. A great follow up, no matter what their answer, is “What are you doing to achieve these goals?”

Situational interview questions

Many interviewers are using situational questions to get candidates to reveal themselves. They can be quite effective. Ask an applicant to “Take a moment and tell me about a situation where you had to…”

Choose something relevant to the vacancy:  handle a difficult patient or family member; respond to an unusual situation, train a new hire. Situational questions give an applicant an opportunity to boast about their professional skills. Their responses can help you understand if their actions in a particular situation would be appropriate in your facility.  For some interviewers, it might be a good idea to ask the Department Head or Manager for examples of situations the job seeker may encounter, as well as what they feel would be an appropriate response.

It’s important to remember that job seekers are not always at the top of their game when interviewing. Being in the hot seat, knowing that “anything you say can be used against you,” can put a lot of pressure even on highly professional candidates. Many recruiters find the job seekers who are best at interviewers are not always great hires – they may just have a lot of practice!

Just as important as candidates’ answers is often how they respond. An applicant who jumps quickly to answer (even if you’ve asked her to take a moment to think of an example) may not be a great listener. Another who takes too long to provide a response or a similar situation may not be the best choice for a high-pressure position. If you want good information from a candidate, be prepared to wait for the most revealing answer.

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About Riia O'Donnell

Riia O’Donnell has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource function. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of HR, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years. Connect with Riia on Twitter at @RiiaOD.