Is That a Trick Question? Reading Between the Recruiting Lines

Published: Oct 01, 2015

More often than not, questions posed in an interview are more than what they seem. Recruiters and hiring managers are a tricky bunch, and often have a knack for soliciting responses from their candidates that answer much more than the question they are asking on the surface. Here is a sampling of a few of those "read between the lines" questions, and how you can best answer them on interview day.

They ask: What do you already know about our company?
What they're really asking: Do you care enough about this job to do your research?
Recruiters and hiring managers love this one because they can learn early on in the interview whether or not you are prepared for the meeting. Someone who recites back what was listed in the ad, and not a lot more, is not nearly as attractive as the candidate that went to the company website, read press releases, went to some industry sites, etc. The more research a candidate has done before the interview, the more serious they are about the opportunity.
Our advice: Do your research. Find information online about those you will be meeting with, peruse the company website, and familiarize yourself with competitors. A little legwork up front can be invaluable in setting yourself apart from your competition.

The question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
What they're really asking: How ambitious are you?
While this is the classic cliché question, the responses can carry great value as this gives the interviewer some transparency into the level of aspirations a candidate has pertaining to their career. A candidate who sees themselves in the same role for 5-10 years may be the perfect employee, and will be viewed as reliable and someone who would view themselves as the cornerstone of a department. Other roles require a level of high ambition, and hiring managers are seeking someone who is looking to climb the corporate ladder.
Our advice: Be honest. If a role isn't a good fit for your ambition level, you'll be unhappy and looking for a new role sooner than later.

The question: If you could improve two things about yourself what would they be?
What they're really asking: What are your weaknesses?
This is a great way of asking the "weakness" question, without directly asking it. Some recruiters don't like coming right out and asking what you're bad at, and this helps skew the question in a slightly more positive direction. This positive spin also helps solicit a more honest response from a candidate. This question is often followed by a series of follow up questions, which often include how committed a candidate is to improving the areas identified, and whether or not they have attempted to address these issues before.
Our advice: Please do not respond to this one with "my biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist" or any variation of this answer. It will make you seem inauthentic and rehearsed - not what employers are looking for in a potential new hire.

The question: We verify dates of employment and educational credentials. Are there any discrepancies on your resume that we should be aware of?
What they're really asking: Are you a liar?
Every year, surveys are published that say more than 50% of resumes have inaccuracies and some form of misrepresentation. Due to these staggering numbers, most employers are now conducting comprehensive third party background checks. So why ask this question if they are just going to uncover the truth anyway? Because they don't want to waste their time falling in love with what seems like the ideal candidate only to learn that they were in fact too good to be true.
Our advice: Tell the truth right off the bat. Any exaggerations will be discovered - it's in your best interest to be honest.

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