What Interviewers Need to Hear
About the Author

Michelle Aikman is a military spouse and career management expert.

I recently had coffee with a friend preparing for a big job interview. She was already at the table enjoying her coffee but still in her puffy winter coat, visibly anxious. As soon as I sat down she confessed, “I am so scared. I don’t even know how to start preparing! I haven’t interviewed in years.” This interview was the gateway to a job she really wanted.  

She told me she was confident she could do the job and do it well, but she was worried the interviewer wouldn’t see it because she had so many gaps in her employment history and didn’t meet all of the desired work experience qualifications. She also was worried about the standard interview questions, including the dreaded, “What is your greatest weakness?”   

I’ve heard everything she said from others before. Rather than trying to help her find the perfect answers to these questions, I opted to help her understand the position and interests of the interviewer.  

As we talked, I watched her face and body language slowly change; she became more relaxed, reflective, and hopeful. About the time we finished our coffee, she told me she had a lot to think about. The next time we spoke, she said she had made major breakthroughs. She felt confident in her ability to give a good interview and was able to focus her energy on her appearance, calming her nerves, etiquette, and questions she needed to ask.   

If you have a big job interview coming up, think about what interviewers need to hear from you:  

  1. You Can Do the Job
  2. Interviewers need to know you can do the job, so they often ask questions in the form of, “Tell me a time when…” to understand if you have the skills needed based on examples drawn from your past experience. When you answer those questions, use actual examples, not hypothetical ones, and select an example that demonstrates skills needed for the job in which you are interviewing. If you have employment gaps or varied work experiences, these questions are a great opportunity to give interviewers the information they need to know you can do the job.  

  3. You Fit With the Company
  4. Even if you can do the job, interviewers also are very interested in understanding if you fit with the company culture. Hiring decisions are made with a specific job in mind, but also take into account long-term growth. If an interviewer can’t see you as a good addition to the team as a whole, then you likely aren’t going to move forward in the hiring process. Do your research before an interview to understand the company culture. (This is a great time to use LinkedIn to see if you have connections within the company.) Decide for yourself if this is the right company for you,  and consider responses that will give the interviewer the information they need to know that you understand, or are actively trying to understand, the culture and are a good fit.  

  5. You Will Give Them a Return on Their Investment
  6. Hiring decisions are business decisions, and business decisions come down to making sure every dollar spent gives a return, financial or otherwise. Depending on who is interviewing you, the interviewer may have different return interests to consider. For example, a human resources professional is interested in making the right hiring decision because they don’t want to deal with problematic employees requiring a lot of energy from the HR department or replace employees who quickly depart or are terminated. A hiring manager is interested in making the right hiring decision because they don’t want to have to replace a new hire if it doesn’t work out. Keep these interests top of mind when you are in interviews. If you suspect you may give them concern about getting a return on the investment of hiring you, be prepared to communicate how you will deliver a return for the company and your interviewers. 

  7. Why You Want The Job

Motivations say a lot about a job candidate. Interviewers want to understand why you want the job. If they suspect you are desperate, they likely will question the honesty and sincerity of your answers.  They will also wonder if you really want that job — or just a job. In today’s job market, with many job seekers applying to tens or hundreds of jobs, interviewers are trying to weed out candidates who aren’t honed in on them and being a part of their team specifically. Spend time before every interview thinking about why you want that specific job with that specific company, and make sure you communicate those reasons to the interviewer.  

This list is not exhaustive, but it covers the major interests of most interviewers. Before you respond to any question in an interview, ask yourself what they are trying to understand through their question before you frame your response. It is always okay to take a moment before your respond. If you feel your pause will cause awkwardness, let your interviewer know you need a brief moment. And remember, not every interview is formal. Any time you interact with a potential employer, treat it with as much care and effort as you would an official interview.  

A word of advice from Alicia Hinds Ward, a military spouse, a member of the board of directors of MOAA’s Voices for America’s Troops , and director of government contracting at a company operating in the federal and state contracting space. Ward hires military spouses and veterans, understands the challenges our community faces, and focuses on the potential employee as a complete person. “Gauge what employers need but also how their skills can exceed their expectations,” she advises military spouses. “Sell not by what you did, but what you can do at and for that company. As military spouses, we typically don’t sell ourselves well enough. We undervalue our skills and experiences. Employers want our skills, but it is our responsibility to sell them. Think from the perspective of the hiring manager, and be prepared to justify why you are a good hire and deserve the salary you want.”  

What are your favorite interview tips? Share them in the comments.   Want more interviewing tips? Make sure to download the Military Spouse Employment Guide

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