The 5 Questions an Interviewer is REALLY asking


So, you’ve got an interview next week, your palms are sweating at the thought of it, and you haven’t got a clue where to start. Put simply, you’re worried about what the interviewer might ask.

Interviews come in all styles and flavours.

They can veer from the “Tell me about yourself” approach to the “How many airplanes are in the sky above New York City at any moment?” type of brainteaser. Some approaches are structured, others feel more off the cuff.

So how can you prepare yourself for the onslaught?

Regardless of how the questions are packaged, fundamentally the interviewer is only asking you – in isolation or in combination - one of five questions.

Why are you here?

They know they’re not the only company you’re courting. But you’ve got to be prepared to answer questions to say why you like them. This is where you check out the company website, reach out to people on LinkedIn and do all manner of online research. You’ve got to have a story that shows that you know the company, its industry, its products and so on. To be interesting, you’ve got to be interested.

It’s also good if you can align the company’s story with your own. Suppose you spent last summer volunteering in Cambodia, being able to talk about the company’s corporate social responsibility programme could be a big plus.

Example Question: What differentiates HSBC from its competitors?

What can you do for us?

So, they know that you like them, but now you’ve got to prove you can be valuable. This is about aligning your skills with the role in question. Questions that evaluate your strengths and knowledge fit the bill here.

Give examples of how you’ve used the required skills in the past. If they are looking for a spreadsheet wiz, be ready to give examples of how you have created Excel models as a student or in a previous role.

Even the brainteaser question mentioned earlier is simply a test to see how you think. It’s not so much about getting the right answer (which is completely unlikely anyway). It’s about showing how well you can apply logic and assumptions to a challenge, however wrong they might be.

Example Question: Do you think China’s economy will continue to liberalise and by how much?

What kind of person are you?

You may well have all the relevant skills, but are you a team player that is easy to work with? Do you have the right personality for the organisation? Are you a good “fit”? This is your chance to show how the way you perform is aligned with the values of the company. Competency-based questions target how well you have applied your relevant skills in the past.

Example Questions: How do you ensure you meet delivery deadlines? Speak about a time when you faced a challenging experience.

Why should we pick you over all the other applicants sitting in the waiting room today?

How do you stand out? What’s your unique selling point? Say, the company is looking for a Mandarin speaker with strong computer skills. The thing is, all the remaining candidates have that to offer. But have you, for example, learned how to code in Mandarin? Have you created spreadsheets when doing separate internships in both London and Shanghai?

Find a way to sell a story that connects with the interviewer. Show what makes you different.

Example Question: Why should we hire you and not anyone else?

Can we afford you?

You tick all the boxes and they like you. But are you available to them at the right price?

This might not come up at the interview, but it’s worth getting a sense of whether your expectations are in the same ballpark as the company’s. Are they willing and able to pay? There isn’t a football club in the world that would turn away Lionel Messi. But if he did become available, very few would and could even contemplate buying him.

Example Question: What kind of package are you looking for?

That’s it.

Do still prep for the interview questions, read up on the company, note down your strengths and work out your motivations. Go about your business the normal way.

But to improve your chances of success, take note of the concepts above to have a sense of what the interviewer is really trying to get out of you.

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Godfrey Oyeniran

Career coach, financial coach, passionate about personal transformation.

3 min read

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