What Recruiters Say & What They Really Mean

I know, the job hunt is hard. You’ve spent hours upon hours updating your resume. You’ve applied and applied and applied, and FINALLY you land an interview (hopefully for your dream job). Now the pressure is really on. I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of candidates, so I’m going to share the real meaning behind those sometimes hard to answer interview questions that are regularly asked and some tips on how to answer them (and how not to answer them). So here it is, interview tips on how to answer those tough questions and why we ask them in the first place.

Tell me about yourself

Mean: Give me some insight into what makes you tick, what motivates you, who you are as a person and your personality.

Don’t: Don’t use this time to talk about your work experience or why they should hire you. If they asked for you to tell them about YOU, then they want to know about YOU, not your resume.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Meaning: The purpose of this question is generally to simply gain more insight into who you are as a person. PersonallyInterview Questions and Tips I don’t ask this question so that I can judge your accomplishment, I ask because I want to know what’s important to you. If you tell me your kids are your greatest accomplishment, that tells me a bit about what you value.

If you tell me your remodeled thunderbird with a hemi engine is your greatest accomplishment, then again, that tells me about what you value. So just be honest with this question and trust that regardless of your answer it should provide insight as to who you are and what you value.

Don’t: Say you can’t think of anything or confuse personality traits with accomplishments. I have had many candidates respond that their greatest accomplishment is their loyalty (when they’ve never been anywhere more than a year or two) or that they are smart. That’s not an accomplishment, that’s a strength.

What is your greatest strength?

Meaning: Can you solve my problem? That’s really what a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know when they ask this question. If I’m hiring for an inventory control position and you tell me your greatest strength is customer service, well that’s not going to help me in this role. But if you tell me that you’re good with numbers and highly organized, then I know that you may be a good fit in that specific role.

Don’t: Highlight a strength that is irrelevant to the position you’re applying for.

What is your greatest weakness?

Meaning: Do you have enough self awareness to be able to identify your weaknesses (because you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken) and can you take a negative and turn it into a positive? Everyone hates being asked this question and I’ve seen many posts that call it outright rude to ask. I actually am a proponent of this question. Part of growing professionally means identifying your weaknesses and improving on them. If you don’t have enough self awareness to identify your weaknesses, you can’t improve or grow.

I prefer that candidates give candid and honest answers to these questions. However, I also think it’s admirable when a candidate is able to spin their greatest weakness into a positive. For example, a candidate once responded that their greatest weakness was public speaking, but that they’d been focusing on improving by taking some public speaking classes and they felt that they had made improvements over the past several months. An answer like that speaks volumes.

Don’t: Say you don’t know or sit there saying “ummmm” for five minutes before the recruiter decides to move on. I have a lot of candidates do this and it’s very frustrating. Interviews are hard and you’re nervous, but at least make an attempt to answer the question.

What made you apply to our company/this position?

Meaning: Did you do your homework. We aren’t stupid, we know that many of you are applying to anything and everything and you don’t have the time or energy to invest in really doing your research on a company first. Many of you subscribe to a “apply first, research later” attitude. You don’t research a company until you get an interview.

When we ask why you applied, what we really want to hear is from the research you’ve done, what stood out and spoke to you. If you tell me that you applied because you were impressed with the fact that we are a woman owned and operated business, that’s going to tell me that you did some research and at least know something about us. You’d be surprised by the number of candidates I have tell me that they apply to every position and know nothing about the company. It’s not a good reflection on you as a candidate. If you expect a recruiter to read your resume, the read up on the company.

Tell me about your last position

Meaning: Explain how experience your last position may have prepared you for the role you’re applying to. This can be difficult if you’re making a career change or looking for something new; but try to highlight some key areas of similarities.

Don’t: Quote your resume word for word.

Why are you leaving your current position? / Why did you leave your last position?

Meaning: Recruiters are really wanting an honest answer here. You definitely don’t want to lie, but don’t be too honest or arrogant. If you don’t get along with co-workers, it may be better to say that you’re looking for a more amiable work environment (which wouldn’t be a lie). If you’re leaving because you’re wanting more pay, but haven’t been with that company long, it may be better to say that you’re looking for a position that will offer more growth and development opportunities than your current/past situation.

Don’t: Use this time to bash your current employer. It’s OK to point out specific hurdles that you’ve had to overcome in your current or previous roles. I never mind hearing about those. What I don’t like is a 30 minute conversation of you basically bashing your employer. It’s distasteful and frowned upon by recruiters, so don’t do it. Also, it’s not a good idea to mention lack of advancement opportunities or pay increases as a reason for leaving if you haven’t’ invested at least 1-2 years in an organization. (Example: I see you worked in customer service for 3 months at Company XYZ, why did you leave that position? Candidate answers, “with the amount of time I was with the company I felt I deserved an increase and advancement, and didn’t receive it”.

If you haven’t already read my other posts on Sloppy Resume Mistakes that could be keeping you from being hired and a simple resume template, be sure to check them out! Happy hunting!