What hiring managers REALLY want to know when they ask these 4 common interview questions

When you’re in the hot seat interviewing for a job, you’ll most likely be asked questions like,
“What are your hobbies?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

They may not seem all that difficult, but chances are, the hiring manager doesn’t want to hear you rattle off your favourite extracurricular activities or go on about how you’re CEO material.

We spoke to experts to find out what hiring managers really want to know when they ask some of the most common interview questions. Here’s what they said:


1. 'What's your biggest weakness?'

About this question:

Most hiring managers will at some point pop this dreaded question.

Asking this is similar to sifting through résumés looking for a reason not to hire a person, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of 'Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.'

'Since the question has a negative slant, it's designed first to test your mettle, and second, your character. This is why it can be a deal maker or breaker, depending on whether you handle it with thought,' she says.

Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, and author of 'Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad,' says this type of questioning accomplishes two things: 'In addition to potentially revealing any professional weaknesses that may derail a candidate, it also provides insights into if that person is of a mindset of continual improvement.'

What they really want to know:

• That you're honest. Hiring managers ask this all the time, so they will know if you're giving a fake, rehearsed response. So be honest, but don't provide a laundry list of flaws. And remember that hiring managers can play back your answers to any references you provide, so your integrity may be measured after the interview is over.

• That you're not a robot. Your interviewer will want to hear a prompt and thoughtful answer. Try to avoid using cliché answers to this question, like, 'I'm too much of a perfectionist,' Kahn says.

• That you're self-aware. Your response should show the hiring manager that you objectively examine your own strengths and weaknesses.

• That you're working on the weakness. HR representatives want to hire someone who is not only aware of his or her personal-development areas, but also taking steps to grow and improve.

• That you can handle tough questions. Your response should not be overly general, Taylor says. 'Indicate that you have genuinely thought about your answer.' And be sure to keep your composure, no matter how difficult this question is.

• That you're a positive person. 'If you can incorporate a positive thing about yourself into the response, that's even better,' Kahn says.

• That you will be a good employee despite your weakness.'Read the job description carefully in advance. You don't want to inadvertently play up a weakness that collides with requirements,' Taylor explains. However, if your weaknesses would impair your ability to perform well in this role, know that it might not be the right job for you.

Read more about how to answer this question here.

Miriam Doerr / Shutterstock

2. 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years?'

About this question:

According to David Wishon, chief recruiting officer at job-search site Happie, the purpose of asking this common interview question is to understand whether a candidate is looking for a career rather than just a job, whether their goals align with the organisation's goals, and whether they have a realistic plan for their future.

Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, says your response to this question can also tell the company if you have the requisite work ethic, attitude, and loyalty to be a good hire in the long term.

What they really want to know:

• That you've put thought into your response.'Don't get caught without a long-term plan,' Wishon says. Show the interviewer that you have thought about this question and have a basic trajectory mapped out. But let them see that you're flexible.

• That you're driven, but that you have realistic goals. You don't want to come off as overly ambitious. 'It's OK to mention some future promotions within the organisation, but it may be overkill to say you want to be CEO in five years if you're applying to an entry-level job,' he says.

• That you are willing to pay your dues before expecting a promotion. 'The hiring manager doesn't want to hear that you are looking to move up to a higher-level position within a year or that you want to become eligible for your boss's job,' Kurow says. Don't threaten anyone else's career -- and let them know that you realise it may take time, and a lot of work, before you'll move up.

• That you're loyal and willing to make a commitment to the company for at least five years. Companies invest a great deal of time and money in recruiting and training candidates, and they don't want to lose their investment in a hire who's going to leave in a year or two, Kurow says. That's why it's best to avoid saying that you hope to be at another company, in another industry, or even a drastically different role than the one you're applying for -- even if it's true.

• That the company and role you're applying for fits into your long-term goals. 'Make sure the role you are interviewing for is at the foundation of the answer you provide,' Wishon suggests. 'Tell them that how you can achieve your long-term goals by performing this role to a high standard.' Also share how you plan to contribute to, and grow with, the organisation over the next few years, Kurow adds.

If you want to make sure your five-year plan is aligned with theirs, take the lead and ask what results the interviewer is looking for from this role, Wishon suggests. 'This will help to best understand the progression and potential timeline.'

Business Insider/Jacquelyn Smith

3. 'What are your hobbies?'

Why they ask this question:

This question may seem like a piece of cake. But before you start babbling about your lifelong obsession with horses or your newfound passion for baking, consider this: The hiring manager wants to get a better sense of who you are, so it's important to think about which hobbies best showcase your strengths, passions, and skills -- and then only discuss those in the interview.

'The employer is trying to determine whether you'd be a good fit, and getting insight into your interests, hobbies, and personality all help in evaluating that,' says Amy Hoover, president of the job board Talent Zoo.

Workplace expert Lynn Taylor agrees: 'By learning more about your outside interests, they can glean more about your personality, and even draw some conclusions about how you may thrive in the organisation.'

That said, they are also looking for well-rounded individuals, so you don't want to limit your pursuits to only those that relate directly to your career.

What they really want to know:

• That you're team-oriented. 'Since most jobs involve a certain level of group interaction and support -- and cross functional work teams continue to thrive -- any kind of activity that you do in your spare time that demonstrates your ability to be a team player, such as playing a team sport or working with a group on a volunteer project, would be well perceived by your prospective boss,' Taylor says.

• That you possess strong leadership skills. 'If you lead a group in a leisure activity, such as anything from a book or hiking club to a charitable effort or community activity, that speaks well to your ability to lead on the job,' Taylor explains.

• That you actively work on honing your skills. If you stay with a particular leisure pursuit and try to better yourself -- which could relate to anything from artistic or musical talents, to bettering your communication, writing, or research skills -- you will likely be viewed as having perseverance.

• That you're well-rounded. Hiring managers like to know that you have an array of interests and are not just focused on the type of work you do 24/7. 'It's assumed that if you engage in a diverse assortment of hobbies, you may be better equipped to manage a broader array of experiences and people on the job,' Taylor says.

• That you're able to set and stick to goals. Hiring managers like to see applicants who set goals in their leisure pursuits. 'For example, they want to see that you enjoy completing a project and have the desire to reach certain milestones in your leisure activities,' says Taylor. So, if you're training for a 5K run or taking a class in an area in which you wish to excel, this is the time to talk about it.

• That you're passionate. If you're excited about your leisure pursuits, it can show a side of you that interviewers typically appreciate and value.

• That you won't be distracted at work. You may have a few entrepreneurial interests on the side.'Even if you claim that such endeavours have nothing to do with the job at hand, you are still raising a red flag,' Taylor says. 'No interviewer wants to feel as if you're just trying to gain a salary or work experience until you're ready to launch your own business.'

• That you do, in fact, have interests outside of work. Here's a terrible response to this question: 'I have no real specific outside interests. I'm just too busy.' This tells the employer that you're a workaholic -- which isn't a good thing -- and that you don't take time outside of work to refuel and recharge by doing the things you enjoy.


4. 'Have you ever been fired?'

About this question:

If you've ever been fired or asked to resign from a job, chances are it's not something you enjoy talking about ... especially with prospective employers during job interviews.

But if there are any gaps or red flags on your résumé, hiring managers will likely ask you about them — and it can be uncomfortable.

'Employers are often so swamped with job applicants, they're programmed to use a process of elimination mindset,' says Taylor. 'And this can easily be one of the questions that keeps you off the shortlist — unless you plan ahead.'

What they really want to know:

• That you won't be a risky hire.'They're trying to piece together 'the fit,' but also the risk factors of hiring you,' Taylor says. 'For instance, have there been several terminations that suggest an issue or pattern? Do the reasons behind a termination underscore one of their fears -- especially one that could be a deal breaker based on the requisite job duties?'

• That you're able to handle adversity. Your job interviewer is also trying to determine if you're able to shrug off setbacks and move forward. Nobody is immune from job challenges, she explains. 'In other words, do you view negative experiences as failures or learning opportunities?'

• That you respond well under pressure. Do you become defensive or upset when they ask this question, or are you poised and confident when responding? 'It can help a hiring manager evaluate how you handle real-time stress, presumed to be a predictor of how you'll handle job challenges,' Taylor says.

• That you're honest.This is one of those interview litmus tests of how forthcoming you are, Taylor warns. 'Savvy hiring managers can typically read job seekers. They may consider how long it takes you to respond, your intonation and body language, and whether you're being vague, evasive, or honest to a fault.'

• That you learned something from the experience. Taylor says this is one of the primary objectives behind this question. 'Demonstrate that you left with positive lessons from the experience.' Perhaps as a result, you were able to take greater initiative in communicating with your team, or incorporate a better time management system. 'By focusing on the positives, you're illustrating that you're capable of self reflection and are interested in advancing your personal development.'

• That you don't point fingers. You definitely don't want to fall into the trap of speaking negatively about your former employer or blaming them for what happened. 'The interviewer will be listening carefully to whether you describe interpersonal conflict -- always a big red flag,' Taylor says.

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