Job Interview Tips: How to Translate what Employers Tell You

Have you ever walked away from a job interview with mixed feelings about an ambiguous remark made by the employer, a little throwaway comment that may or may not have been a positive sign? Have you ever left the room believing that the interview was a disaster—or a slam dunk—only to find out later that your interviewer had the opposite feeling? Here are a few simple translations of some of the confusing comments employers and recruiters tend to make during the job search process.Employer Feedback:“This job will involve a high degree of (an unpleasant or challenging responsibility). Will you be okay with this?”Translation: The employer is looking for a reaction. If you cringe and pause for several painful seconds before answering with a big fake smile, then this will obviously suggest that you’re uncomfortable with the task at hand (public speaking, cleaning grease traps, weeks of extended travel, etc.). If you really do embrace the challenge in question, this will also show. Just be honest. If you’re excited about something most people would dread, then by all means, say so.Employer Feedback:“Describe the most challenging (project/leadership moment/interpersonal conflict) you’ve ever faced on the job. What were the circumstances and how did you respond?”Translation:The employer wants to know what you consider “challenging.” Answer honestly, but choose your episode with care. And remember: it doesn’t matter if you ultimately failed or succeeded. In fact, employers usually like to hear stories about episodes that didn’t end well, since choosing a story with a non-fairly-tale ending demonstrates confidence, and it shows that you’re able to recognize failure and learn from the experience. Show that you know how to turn a negative into a positive.Employer Feedback:“I see on your resume that your last position ended a year ago, so you have a bit of a gap here. What have you been up to during this time? Have you been interviewing much?”Translation:This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but the employer would like to make sure that you’ve been actively looking for work and are on top of changes in your industry. You don’t need to talk about how you’ve been busy keeping your house clean and going to the gym. The employer isn’t really concerned about your general work ethic—she just wants to confirm your readiness for the job at hand.Employer Feedback:“We really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for coming in today!”Translation:Excited voices and warm, friendly gestures don’t necessarily mean the job is yours. But they DO mean that these employers know how to treat their candidates with respect. Which means they probably also treat their employees—and their customers, vendors—and stakeholders—with respect. Pay attention to the way you’re treated during your interview, and remember this treatment before you decide to accept an offer. Keep in mind that you’re here to make a decision about the company while they make a decision about you. Tune in to the clues around you, including both red flags and positive signs.Employer Feedback: “This is an excellent resume. It’s very impressive!”Translation:Again, this doesn’t mean the job is yours. But consider this an opportunity, and use your words and gestures to back up the positive impression made by your resume and cover letter. A great resume gets your foot in the door. But once you’ve earned a moment in the spotlight, you’ll need to make the most of that moment and follow through. Start your job search with a visit to My Perfect Resume and get the tools and information you need to attract employer attention. Then use your interview to close the deal.