When an interviewer asks you about yourself, of course they want to learn about your previous experience and qualifications, but that's only part of it. They're really trying to gauge a variety of factors when considering you for a job, like how well you'll fit with the company and more.
This post originally appeared on The Muse
Interviews are fairly anxiety inducing, especially when your interviewer has what can only be described as a professional poker face. You could drive yourself insane trying to figure out what exactly is going on behind that diplomatic smile.
To save you from the agony and to help you better prepare, here is an insider look at what goes through a hiring manager's mind during an interview. In general, employers are looking for the best technical and cultural fit that their budgets will allow for. While these questions will all go through their minds, the questions they end up asking usually aren't as direct. So, know that no matter how wacky or irrelevant the question might seem, they all come back to these five core concerns.
Have You Successfully Done Similar Work In The Past?
Really, the question should be more along the lines of "Can you do the job?" but that's not always the easiest thing to evaluate. That's why such weight is given to your ability to show relevant work that you have done, whether it was for another company, for school, or just independently.
Any chance you get, you should be talking about your relevant experience and transferable skills. Of course, it's not always just about results. Being able to talk about why you were successful is also important. Tell stories about your previous experience, and be introspective. The interviewer will be attempting to draw insights from your answers, so you might as well spell them out to make sure you're sending the message you want to send.
Will You Work Well With My Current Team?
There is always some context that you're being hired into, and it's in the hiring manager's best interest to make sure you will be a good fit and can hit the ground running.
How exactly can a hiring manager discern whether or not you'll work out? In the end, it's still a bit of a gamble, but a few things you should definitely try to get across are your communication style and effectiveness, your work ethic, your career values, and how you approach problems. Think broadly about these things, and then come up with a concrete supporting example as you're preparing for the interview.
And remember: There's no right or wrong answer here. After all, you don't want to end up in a situation where you're a bad fit either.
What Do You Know About My Company?
You're applying for a specific role that probably exists in many other companies as well, so why this one? Hiring managers want you to show not only that you know what makes their particular company special, but that you're really excited about it. Doing your homework on the company and considering why you'd be a good fit shows that you're invested.
Naturally, it doesn't stop there. Asking thoughtful and informed questions about the company is a great way to show continued enthusiasm as the interview progresses (here are a few great ones). Do the company research beforehand, and show off what you know in both your answers and your questions.
Does The Job You're Expecting Align With What The Job Actually Is?
In other words, do you know what you're signing up for, and is it what you're really looking for? No one wants to hire someone who just wants the job to tide him or her over until a new, more desirable job turns up. And, while we're on the topic of expectations, are your salary expectations in line with the company's? To get to the point, can the company afford to hire you?
To get to this, the interviewer might ask anything from your motivation for leaving your previous position to what you're most excited about in the new role. The current salary question will likely come up at some point as well. In the end, there are a hundred different questions that could get at this concern. To prepare in a realistic amount of time, figure out what your career narrative is. Where did you come from, where are you going, and why? How does this job fit in with your goals? Oh, and read up on negotiation.
Are You Confident In Your Abilities?
This might not be something hiring managers are thinking about consciously, but you can bet that their perception of your confidence will make a difference in how they remember you. Now, confidence can mean different things to different people, but in general if you can show that you're passionate about the work and you look the part, half the battle is won. If you want to boost your confidence even more, set some time aside to do a few power poses before the big interview.
Of course, looking confident is just a matter of practice, but being confident requires a whole new mindset. If you're short on time, get a pep talk from your support network of friends and mentors. Having the right people in your life can make a world of difference when it comes to self-confidence — not to mention it's easier (and more effective) to say, "My manager would describe me as hardworking," rather than "I'd say I'm a pretty hard worker."
If you can get across a clear message that addresses all of these concerns, you're well prepared to meet the mysterious hiring manager. So, before you go into your next interview, make a point to check off everything on this list. You still might not be able to read the person across the table, but this time you won't need to.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter.
Image adapted from aslysun (Shutterstock)