Interview Questions: What They Ask Vs. What They Mean

Have you ever wondered why an interviewer asks certain interview questions? Some of the questions seem so vague and random that it can be hard to figure out the logic behind the interview process. What's right? What's wrong? What does the hiring manager really want to hear? Below is a quick guide to the translations for some of the most common interview questions.

Question: Tell me about yourself.

Translation: Why should I hire you?

Recommended response. Don't take the question too literally. Hiring managers don't want to hear that you grew up on a small farm in Kansas or that you enjoy world travel. Furthermore, they don't want to hear that you are a great communicator, team player, and fast learner. They want you to show tangible proof of why you would be a good fit for their organization. Outline two to four of your key competencies and couple each competency with proof of success. For example a customer service representative might showcase one of his/her competencies by saying, "I have strong research skills and can quickly resolve customer inquiries. For example, in my last job, I resolved 98 percent of all pending customer inquiries within 24 hours which was 50 percent faster than the company's expectation for problem resolution.

Question: What is your weakness?

Translation: We know what your weakness is. Prove to us it's not a liability for this position.

Recommended response. Before your interview address any potential obstacles that the hiring manager may pick up on. Perhaps it is your lack of knowledge with a specific software or your lack of experience in a particular industry. Show how you would overcome these obstacles or demonstrate how you have overcome similar obstacles in the past. For example, if you apply for a position that requires PowerPoint skills and you have limited experience, give an example of another software you are proficient in and how you gained that proficiency to prove that your current limited knowledge is a minor liability that can be quickly overcome.

Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Translation: Do you have a realistic perspective on what this job/company is about?

Recommended Response. Craft a response that makes sense for the employer's business environment. If it is a small company, don't say you expect to have a position with increasing responsibility -- that may not be feasible in their organization. If you are taking a job as a bookkeeper just to get a foot in the door of the company but really want to be a sales representative, don't bring that up during the interview. The hiring manager needs to know that you are committed to the job you are applying for, not already thinking about a new job. You can mention that you see yourself in a position where you can continue to learn and contribute to the company's bottom line and give an example of how you were able to successfully do that at a previous organization. This answer will help managers feel confident in your level of commitment to the current job and your future commitment to the organization.

Question: What have you been doing since your last position ended?

Translation: Why have you been out of work so long?

Recommended response. Discuss any volunteer or consulting assignments you may have had in the interim. If you have been actively interviewing but haven't been extended an offer, you can mention that you have been interviewing but haven't found the right fit yet. If you have had limited activity, you can let the hiring manager know that you have been using this time to evaluate your skills, craft your resume, conduct informational interviews, and network within professional circles. Obviously saying you've been watching re-runs of 20 consecutive seasons of 'Law & Order' won't go over well, so stick to discussing the professional activities you have been involved in.

Question: Are you interviewing with other companies?

Translation: Are you worth investing some time in or are you about to take another offer?

Recommended response. Generally it's best to be somewhat vague in your response, particularly if you are at the beginning of your search. If it is early on, let the employer know that you have just begun the interview process. If you have been in search mode for awhile, let them know that you have been actively searching but haven't found the right fit yet.

Question: Tell me about the accomplishment you are most proud of.

Translation: Is your past experience similar to what we need you to do here?

Recommended response. The accomplishment you are most proud of might not be the one that is most relevant to the organization's needs. Showcase an accomplishment that proves you have the specific competencies to do the job they need you to do. The story you select may be different for different interviews. That's OK. You can be proud of more than one accomplishment, and it is more important to showcase the right accomplishment than it is to bring up the achievement that brought you the greatest personal satisfaction.

Question: Tell me about a time when you lacked the appropriate resources to do your job and how you handled it.

Translation: We are severely understaffed or we don't have a budget for anything.

Recommended response. Give an example that proves that you have been in this situation before and that you can do more with less. But if you notice this is a running theme throughout the interview, proceed with caution. You could be setting yourself up to assume an impossible role with very limited support.

Question: How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

Translation: Are you analytical, how do you solve problems, or do you mind if we just want to mess with your head?

Recommended Response. This type of question is often referred to as a brain teaser. Interviewers don't expect you to know the answer, but they will want to see how you tackle figuring out a strategy to come up with an answer. These questions tend to be most popular in high-tech companies, but job candidates in other industries sometimes get them as well. For more tips on handling them, read How to Answer Brain Teaser Interview Questions.

Next: 7 Cringe-Worthy Interview Questions to Avoid Asking >>

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Since it is require that you must speak english to have am american citizenship. the requirement for a prospective employee too speak multipul langages should be considered a discrimatory question.

September 27 2010 at 3:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How it should go in a sane world (but never does):

Tell me aobut yourself: I am alive, have a pulse, and am smart enough to fill out an application. There's nothing that would red flag me in a background check, so the rest is none of your business.

What is your weakness? A low tolerance for bulls**t & unprofessional questions. Next please.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Alive and gainfully employed. Anything beyond that is personal and unprofessional.

What have you been doing since your last position ended? Nothing that concerns you.

Are you interviewing with other companies? No, I enjoy being out of work and I want to limit as many options as possible. In fact, I should walk out for the simple fact that you are insulting my intelligence.

Tell me about the accomplishment you are most proud of? Living a crime free, drug free life where I am capable of being interviewed for employment.

Tell me about a time when you lacked the appropriate resources to do your job and how you handled it. I updated my resume.

How many golf balls can fit in a school bus? This interview is over. You clearly wish to assign me nothing but busy work. I am uninterested in busy work. Thank you for wasting my time.

September 27 2010 at 2:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gr8bsn's comment

Amen to that!

Oh, and if you were an animal, what animal would that be, and why?

November 12 2010 at 5:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Bailey

You all are correct.

September 27 2010 at 2:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R

Sears and Macy’s should be sued for age and reverse race discrimination. I worked as a bench technician at a couple different companies for about 18 years but was laid off as most of those type jobs were outsourced overseas..

In 2008 I applied at Sears here in So. California for a service tech
position and took a long test and aced it. When I was called in for an interview, the hiring manager seemed concerned about my age (45) and mentioned a few times about the physical aspects of the job. I assured him that I am in excellent health and could easily handle the work. I was told I was over qualified for the job which of course means I was too old.

Several months later the HR from Sears called me about a appliance inspection type position. Because it had been over 6 months, I had to take the long test again so I did. When I was called in for again for an interview this hiring manager asked if i was bilingual and I of course replied no. He said many of their customers are now Hispanic. Of course I was not hired.

I had a similar experience at Macy's when applying for seasonal work around Christmas.

Total reverse discrimination and age discrimination. it's the same
with most of these companies. If our government wasn't so f**king
corrupt they would never get away with this crap. Like that other dude
said we need a revolution badly.

September 27 2010 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R

Pretty much our entire economy in the USA is now based on scams.
Everyone’s out to trick you out of your money in one way or another.
The only way to survive in this country is to lie, cheat, BS others.
It's sickening. It's because all the decent jobs have been outsourced
thanks to our corrupt government. There must be over a 100 trillion
different online scams. My ex girlfriend fell for several on-line
scams and lost hundreds maybe thousands. No matter how many times I
warned her she would not listen. Since we broke up last year, I went
on some dating sites. Even most of them are scams. You sign up and
women pretend they are interested so you pay to join and contact
them. Then they never respond back because they are planted there by
the dating service to get you to join.

September 27 2010 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R


The reason why our piece of shit government is so concerned with terrorism and could care less about massive unemployment is because terrorism affects the Goddamn rich and unemployment does not. Sure terrorism affects everyone but it's mainly the rich and wealthy who take trips on airplanes not the poor. If terrorism only affected the poor like unemployment, our goddamn government wouldn't give a rats ass. And since unemployment actually benefits the rich, our government isn’t about help fight that.

September 27 2010 at 12:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R

Why It Doesn't Matter Who We Vote For

It's because no matter who we vote in, they always turn on us and join the rest who support Global Big Business and filthy Goddamn rich. They can't resist the temptation of favors mainly bribes, kickbacks and payoffs.. Even Obama turned on us after promising to fight the offshoring of jobs. He hasn't done one damn thing to help create jobs or keep jobs from leaving. He even supports allowing illegal’s to stay and take our jobs. Face it, just like the rest, it was all bullshit.

That's why we need to revolt and install a government that cannot be bought off by enacting strict penalties for those who sell us out for favors. In Russia they are branding the hands of crooked politicians with the letter K for krooksie. This shows their government will no longer tolerate corruption.

Of course here our entire government is so saturated with corruption.
Without a major revolt, nothing is going to change for the better that's for damn sure.

September 27 2010 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R


We all know that the war on the middle class has been going on for quite awhile (well before 2007) but now it is official. Now that Global Big Business has teamed up with the US government, they plan to completely wipe out the US middle class. Global Big Business (all the million/billion dollar corporations along with the Global Banking System ) have always had some control over the US government but now that they COMPLETEY control the government, they will be able to eliminate the middle class much faster. They started their attack in 2007 and they were easily able to collapse the fragile US economy which is was mostly based on stocks rather than goods.

Team effort of the Fed and Wall plan back in 07’ to cause the crash the market and suck up half of everyone’s retirement savings worked brilliantly

Now they plan to keep outsourcing our jobs until every single Goddamn job is gone then continue boosting taxes on the middle class, utilities, food, gas, transportation, everything up and up higher and higher and destroy all the small businesses that don’t outsource their work..

Bush’s plan to help eliminate hundreds of millions of jobs by signing free trade agreements with Mexico and South America, giving tax breaks to companies that outsource, trap us into a multi billion dollar war to help out his oil partners, drive the price of gas up, drive inflation through the roof all worked brilliantly and has paved the way in totally wiping out the middle class.

G. Bush believed that the middle class should and must be eliminated. There should only be two classes, the wealthy and peasants. Most of the country of course will be the peasant population. who will work like slaves while the very small percentage known as the rich and filthy rich (like all his friends and family) should live in total luxury.

Obama is following in Bush’s footsteps .and he's done nothing to slow inflation or the offshoring of jobs or anything to create new jobs. Even after almost two years in office, he’s done nothing but waste hundreds of Billions on war and Billions helping his filthy rich supporters from the greedy crooked banks. If I was color blind I’d think Bush was still in office.

You may not want to face it but if your part of the middle class, war has been declared. You can either fight our evil corrupt government or be eliminated. We need to protest and riot like we did against the British in the 1700’s and take back our country from this evil corrupt government..

September 27 2010 at 12:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve R


Yes, we have been in a recession since mid 2007 and now entering the second great depression, which will be much worse than the 1930’s because the cost of living is twenty times higher.

..Massive job losses everywhere, crime on the rise
..Over 30% foreclosure rate on homes in California
..Food, utilities, taxes, fees, medical expenses, prices skyrocketing
..Almost half the country is on food stamps and/ or welfare

Our government leaders knew along time ago if they continued to help Big Business to outsource our jobs along with turning a blind eye to the banks recklessly giving unsecured loans to anyone no matter what their financial situation was that eventually the economy would collapse. Since their jobs are secure no matter what happens, they didn’t give a Goddamn.

Matter of fact our government leaders think it’s all a big joke. They know their enormous pay and million dollar pensions are guaranteed no matter how bad the economy gets. 25%. 35%. 50% unemployment our government doesn’t care. And instead of controlling inflation, They kick back and do nothing as prices skyrocket ( Food, Utilities, Healthcare, Etc) All they do is laugh and vote themselves BIG pay raises instead of dealing with the problem. And to make up for the lost revenue they continue to borrow billions from countries like China which will soon bankrupt our nation.

Our evil corrupt government traded our jobs for favors like campaign contributions (bribes and kickbacks) from all the million / billion dollar companies, banks and corporations. Some people think just because they haven’t lost their job to outsourcing (yet) that it doesn’t affect them. They are so wrong. Not only does the dollar become devalued but what happens when a friend or family member loses their job to outsourcing and can’t support their family. Soon the only way people will able to survive is to steal once the rest of the jobs are gone.

Over seventy percent of our Industries have now been lost to foreign countries. Over twenty percent of our domestic jobs are now taken by Illegal Aliens. Almost all credit, financial, and health records of Americans have crossed over at least once to other countries via off-shoring. You don’t find out about it until your identity is stolen. The government says too bad it’s your problem. The government says” So your job gets outsourced or given to an illegal alien, your identity gets stolen and your credit and life is destroyed, a small price to pay to help the filthy rich

If our government would at least regulate the outsourcing, healthcare and energy prices then maybe we could reverse the destruction of our economy but they won't. Instead they have done the opposite giving tax breaks to companies that outsource our jobs overseas and to Mexico. It's simply because we have the most lazy, evil, corrupt, worthless government in the world run by sacks of human waist who only care about the fitlhy rich who give them favors.

September 27 2010 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why don't thest bastards just ask the questions they want, instead of being vague about everything. They try to trip you up, and they'll probably lose a great fit for the position because they are too wussified to ask what they want to hear.

September 27 2010 at 12:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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