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Decoding Interview Questions - What Are They Really Asking?

Interviews can be very stressful, so the more prepared we are, the better. One way to prepare ourselves is to brainstorm ideas about questions we may get asked, so we'll be ready when the time comes. But how do we know how to answer them? More than often, we get asked at least one question in an interview that seems to have little or nothing to do with the job. Believe it or not, there is a reason for every question they ask. Here are some tips to help you decode interview language and find out what they really want to know.

Interviewers ask various questions to find out what kind of person you are and how you might be as an employee. Here are some of the more popular interview questions and tips on how to answer them:

Q: "What is your greatest accomplishment in life so far?"

A: They're not just trying to find out what kinds of things you're good at. Interviewers ask questions like this because they're trying to find out about your values. The way you answer this question reveals how you see the world. The things that are of value to you contribute to your overall personality, which has a lot to do with your work habits. For example, if the position requires the applicant to have more education than learned skills, you might answer by saying you're most proud of your college or graduate level degree. This shows the interviewer that you have a solid understanding of what they're looking for in an employee and you might be a good fit as well.

Q: "Why do you want to work for this company?"

A: Although this question seems fairly simple, a lot of people don't seem to realize how important it is. Again, this relates to the "good fit" idea. The way you answer this question has a lot to do with how much chemistry you may or may not have with the company. Like any other relationship, it's important to have good chemistry with the people you work with. While it's not the same kind of chemistry you need in a personal relationship, it's still important. They need to know if you have what it takes to join their team and if you're willing to deliver. Instead of focusing on how good you would be at the job, focus on exactly how you will help them exceed their goals. Try to come up with unique ideas that make sense and will separate you from other candidates. Be creative and show them you've taken some time to really think about your answer.

Q: "So tell me about yourself..."

A: This question usually comes towards the middle of the interview or at the very beginning to help start things off. If it seems like a very straightforward question- it is. However, don't make the mistake of thinking the interviewer wants to get to know you on a personal level. Interviewers ask this question in order to find out about your strengths and weaknesses and how they may affect your work performance. So instead of telling them what you like to do on weekends, you might want to say something like "I'm very sociable and I get along with all kinds of people." An answer like that would show that you work well with others and you're probably fairly easy to get along with.

Whatever you do- don't stress too much about the actual questions. A lot of times, a first impression has more to do with the way you conduct yourself than the things you actually say. If you come in with pre-rehearsed answers and a script-like presentation, you probably won't win them over. But if you are asked a question that you weren't prepared for, but you handle it well, you are exhibiting both sincerity and "grace under pressure." Now that you understand the meaning of these questions, you should be able to come up with some personalized answers. Keep in mind that they ask these questions to get an idea of who you are, not to put you on the spot. If you ever feel like you're being asked an unfair or inappropriate question, you always have the option to leave the interview and turn down the job. But in most situations, the person is just trying to get to know you a little, so let them!

- Scott Brown

Scott Brown is the author of the Job Search Handbook. As editor of the weekly newsletter on job searching, Scott has written many articles on the subject. He wrote the Job Search Handbook to provide job seekers with a complete yet easy to use guide to finding a job effectively. To download your own free copy of the Job Search Handbook visit Job Search Handbook.

For additional popular interview questions and recommended answers, check out the Job Interview Guide