The job interview: What employers really want to know

Published June 8th, 2015 - 09:58 GMT

Your glowing credentials, winning public profile, brilliant references and stellar endorsements on a leading career site like have impressed and you find yourself face to face with your employer of choice. Chances are they have a routine and well-studied list of interview questions to drill you through and clear expectations of what they would like to hear from you to consider you for the role.

Here are just some of the questions an employer, more likely than not, is asking himself even as he guides you through the standard interview script:

1. Is this candidate real?

Clearly you have done something very right with your public profile, CV, Specialties conversations and networking activities or you wouldn’t have made it to the interview invitation. However now the employer wants to know if you really are as good in person as you are on paper. HR professionals often find discrepancies between what is promised on paper and what the candidate is really all about. They will want to know you actually have accomplished all you claim to have accomplished, and that you can present yourself, communicate and project enthusiasm for the role to the levels required. In fact, 55% of employers consider good communication skills to be the most important trait when hiring candidates according to the Job Index survey, February 2015. At the same time, 84% of employers will always conduct reference checks before they hire you, as stated in the ’Skills and Hiring Trends in the MENA‘ poll, January 2015.

2. Is this candidate manageable?

You may be an absolute rocketship and top of your game in all you do but be aware that a less confident manager may take any perceived over-confidence and over-achievement habits as a threat to the status quo or even their own role and status in the company. Great managers prefer to hire excellent people they can learn from and to stand on the shoulders of giants, but even the best managers will want to ensure a candidate can take constructive feedback well, can work in a team and can handle being supervised easily, cordially and professionally. They will be looking out for anything that suggests you have a pattern of not getting along with bosses or disrespecting systems, procedures and managers. Good news is, no matter how hard things may be at work, 8 in 10 professionals in the region claim that they have regular-to-frequent career discussions with their managers; 7 in 10 professionals feel comfortable enough to voice their opinion to their managers, as per the ‘Employee Engagement in the MENA’ poll, April 2014.

3. How ambitious is this candidate?

Always bear in mind the role you are interviewing for and bear in mind you and be realistic in your expectations for the short term. Some roles even with top employer organizations are less glamorous and less highly paid than others, and an employer will want to be absolutely sure you are not going to jump ship or start asking for a corner office and a slew of added resources or different responsibilities shortly after hire. An employer wants to make sure you know what you are getting into and are fully, unwaveringly and sincerely dedicated to the role with all it entails for the foreseeable future. As per the ’Hiring Practices in the MENA‘ poll, 29% of employers say that ‘hunger, drive and ambition’ is the most important factor to them when making a hiring decision.

4. Will this candidate fit in the corporate culture?

If you are used to having a corner office with a coffee machine, the manager may be really pressing to see whether you will fit in a loud rambunctious open space physical office environment. If you are used to a large hierarchical organization with lots of red tape and rigid systems and processes, the manager may question whether you fit in their smaller outfit that requires more creativity, innovation and open fluid communication. If you are used to a small company, the large blue-chip HR head will be wondering if you can handle the more centralized processes, procedures and the different pace and priorities. The interviewer will also be thinking about the different players and stakeholders, and trying to ascertain whether you will mesh optimally with all of them. Finally, they will want to know how much enthusiasm you have for the brand and the company and for work in general and how positively you will impact the general corporate culture.

5. Can this candidate grow in this organization?

Companies know how costly it is to lose great people and in today’s top companies, career growth is expected and career planning is a central facet of HR activities and the regular performance discussion framework. The best candidates are those who can be seen as capable to assume the next role up eventually and to be leaders and managers in their own merit in time. The ‘What Makes a Company an Attractive Place to Work?’ poll, February 2014, states that 20% of professionals in the Middle East would like to work for a company that offers them opportunities to achieve their best, while assisting them, and you should be one of them!

6. How is this candidate in terms of character, ethics and integrity?

You will be assessed in detail for all the hard and soft skills required for the role but just as importantly you will be assessed for sound character. The last thing a company wants is the brand damage associated with disloyal or unethical employees. The interviewer will be watching out for danger signals like lying about past performance, disloyalty to past employers and managers, or negativity in general. In matter of fact, while 55% of professionals assert that they have been asked to do something that clashed with their personal values, 70% of professionals feel that success is possible without compromising their morals and values at work as stated in the ’Values, Ethics and Integrity in the MENA Workplace’ poll, June 2014.

7. How soon will this candidate start making a meaningful contribution?

Some candidates require more training than others, and here is where you need to really prove you know what the role requires and can apply your transferable skills and self-learning and energies and enthusiasm to make a direct and immediate contribution. If the race is between a candidate who has no relevant experience and requires months of training and a candidate who has demonstrated they understand what the role is all about and can make an immediate impact, the candidate who will hit the ground running will be a better business proposition. The ’Hiring Practices in the MENA‘ poll reveals that 67% of professionals in the MENA region say they will hire a person with the skills they need, even with little to zero experience in the field.

8. Is this the right role for this candidate?

At the end of the day no matter how stellar your credentials, the interviewer needs to assess how directly relevant they are to the actual vacancy. They also need to ascertain that your interests, enthusiasm, values and priorities are matched to the role. It may be that you are a veteran in your field but the particular role and environment is simply not one you will grow or thrive or excel in.

9. What do I need to watch out for or encourage with this candidate?

An employer will want to know you better and learn early on what makes you tick and what to encourage or avoid. He will want to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as your desires and dreams. A shared hobby of tennis or golf may bring you closer as may a shared dream of taking the company’s brand name to the stars. Conversely, asking for holidays and dwelling over personal worries, responsibilities and concerns at this stage may dampen the employer’s confidence in your enthusiasm and commitment to the role.

10. What makes this candidate the best candidate for the role?

With hundreds of strong candidates applying for any attractive job vacancy, it is imperative you position yourself uniquely and prove without any shadow of a doubt that you have the energy, commitment, skills and enthusiasm it takes. In today’s very transparent, fast and competitive job market, it’s not just about being suitable for the role. It’s about being the very best candidate there is. Being fully prepared for the job interview helps, as 20% of companies in the Middle East find poor preparation to be the most common mistake a candidate can make in a job interview, as revealed in the ’Hiring Practices in the MENA‘ poll.

By Lama Ataya

This article originally appeared in

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