Recruiters – what are they thinking, exactly?

Interview questions can be difficult and sometimes even strange. To decode them, you need a better understanding of what recruiters want to know.

Above all, job interviews help recruiters determine which candidate will best be able to handle all the responsibilities that go with the position. To figure out if you’ve got what it takes, the interviewer will probably ask you about your past work experience and may ask how you’d respond to certain situations. The idea is that if you can resolve the problem in theory, you’ll be able to do it in real life too.

Once your competence has been established, the recruiter will try to find out more about your personality. Three points that he or she will want to clarify are:

1. Will this person fit in?
Picture it: you apply for a job as a computer specialist at a major company where the deadlines are always tight and the relations among the different levels of staff are very formal. To be happy in this position, you had better be able to manage stress effectively and accept the authority of your superiors. Since it’s up to the recruiter to gauge whether or not you fit the bill, he or she will inquire about your personality, interests and values. Finding the right person reduces the turnover rate and thus saves the company money. To determine your stress-management skills, you might be asked to talk about how you dealt with a difficult situation, such as facing impossible deadlines. When answering, make a point of explaining what you learned from the experience.

2. Does this person have any skeletons in the closet?
Recruiters have many roles to play, including that of judge or policeman, in that they have to verify your credibility and reliability. So if you talk a lot without making a point, you’re sure to come across as confused and untrustworthy. You might also seem suspect if you are vague or if you contradict yourself. That’s why you could be asked, for example, to describe your past responsibilities in detail or to explain why certain accomplishments you mentioned are not included on your resumé.

3. Do I really want to work with this person?
Although recruiters want to make an objective decision, at the end of the day, they’re human and can be influenced by the overall impression they get of a candidate. They’ll ask themselves, Is this person friendly? Polite? Dedicated? Your non-verbal communication counts a lot in this evaluation, as do questions like: How would your friends and family describe you? What do your bosses say about you? When preparing for an interview, ask your colleagues and friends for their input.