The 8 things Job Interviewers are REALLY Looking For

careers Aug 06, 2018

What are interviewers REALLY looking for at your job interview?

“So tell me what you want what you really, really want” bellowed the Spice Girls in the most unconventional job interview ever. And yet Wannabe was the interview that won us over and allowed them into our lives way back in 1996.

Damn, where did the time go?

This isn’t about me though; this is about you, and your interview! Woo!

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for various roles, and to achieve professional recognition. I’ve worked with recruiters, hiring managers, and people drafted in at the last minute to do the interview.


Here’s what interviewers are really looking for.



– The Clothes Maketh the Person

First off the bat are you dressed appropriately? This will change for the type of role; for an office job chances are it’s formal business wear – shirts, ties, suits, skirts as appropriate.

 For that trendy tech startup it might be much more casual and jeans and t-shirts be more fitting.

Learn about the organization and if you’re going through a recruitment agency ask them what’s appropriate. It’s their job to know and your job to ask.


– Words can be your Undoing

Next do you fit in with the culture? I once lost out on a job because I told them about some training I’d been managing for an author of a book called ‘Getting the Buggers to Behave’. It was a top seller and very well respected, but they questioned my professionalism by using the title in the interview.

Ultimately I was pleased, I wouldn’t want to work somewhere like that, but it shows how I misjudged the situation.

The location, the environment, the receptionist, the nature of the emails and calls you received will all give you hints at the culture of the organisation.

Match that level – they likely want someone who’ll fit in at a cultural level.



Some basic stuff here – have you introduced yourself? Did you wait for an invitation to sit down? Did you throw away your paper cup at the end or ask what to do with your cup or mug?

All basic stuff but easy to forget in a formal interview. These things matter – your interviewers are just people after all.

Also sit up straight; a slouched posture looks disinterested.



What do you really know about the company? When I was a youngster I went for a job at Game, the videogame store, in Wolverhampton. They’d just merged with Electronics Boutique and the surly manager bombarded me with questions about both companies. 

This was the early days of the internet and I did not have Google in my pocket. I hadn’t done any research and he basically tore me apart. Again, glad I did not get that job, but it could have been avoided by finding out more.

These days it’s easy. The company will have a website, they may have affiliated or associated companies; they may even have a Wikipedia page.

I expect you to know who we are, what we do, and a bit of the company history and ethos. I will be impressed if you can give me a few facts and figures, what the core products or services are.



Listen to the question and then answer it. So many people answer the question they want to answer, instead of what‘s actually been asked.

If I have to repeat my question, please make sure you answer it this time.

I don’t want to employ someone who’s slippery and avoids the question.



Show an interest.

Please show an interest by asking some great questions. Show that you were listening by asking something relevant and no, ‘what’s the pay like?’ isn’t a great question (and should already have been covered during the application process).

“What would success look like in the first 6 months?” is a great one. It shows you’re already thinking about what you could contribute and how you might demonstrate meeting your goals.

“What can you tell me about the culture of the organization?” here you’re wanting to know what it’s really like to work there, what are the people like? Do they go to the pub together or is it more formal? Is it loud and jokey, or quiet and serious?

“This one’s a little awkward but needs to be asked… why has this position become available?” this one works best if you have built up good rapport with your interviewer. It shows you want to know why your predecessor left; did they leave under a cloud, is there a lot to do, or is it simply that they have progressed in their career?

“What training and development can you offer?” – This one shows you’re ready to learn more in order to be great at your job.

“Can you tell me more about X aspect of the role?” – Fact finding. It’s OK to not know everything about this exact position, chances are you’ll need to learn something and this shows you have read and understood the job spec – even if you don’t know all of it.

Prepare a handful of questions to ask, and tailor them according to what you learn during the interview.

If you don’t ask any questions then I would be worried that you take everything at face value and don’t show due diligence in your work.



“Tell me about something that didn’t go to plan” is a common interview question, and one which most of us have managed to craft into a positive.

What really impress me is if you tell me about a plan that when horribly wrong, and then go on to tell me what you learned, what you would differently, and what the outcome would be if you were to embark on that project now.

Owning, and owning up to, problems and mistakes is a valuable trait and one I look for.

You need to be able to back it up, don’t just say “Oh yeah I was project lead and it was an unmitigated disaster”, you have to be able to add in the extra detail!



Bring a copy of your CV along, even if you haven’t been asked to. Bring a portfolio or examples if appropriate, even if you haven’t been asked to.

I am not going to spoon feed you. I expect you to be able to use your initiative and bring what’s required to the interview to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and experience and ultimately your suitability for this role.

Think about what’s appropriate; is it a social media job? Would a comms plan be useful? Or some brand guidelines?

Not every role will need something extra, but keep it in mind and try to impress me.



This is what it all comes down to; can you actually do the job?

They have read your CV and believe that you can, so it’s time to shine.

Be ready to explain the points and experience you have outlined, and expand upon them.

I probably have a list of competencies that I’m marking you against. No you can’t see the sheet, sorry.

You’ll have a good idea of what I’m looking for from the job spec; do a keyword review and see what comes up the most, what’s emphasised, and what do I really want from my new employee?

Maybe we’ll expand on this one soon.



There you have it, the top things interviewers are really looking for at interview.

Go knock ‘em dead (not literally, that’s a terrible move in any interview).

There’s lots more help on the blog and you can book an interview coaching session to get some real world practice.



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