4 Secret Questions Every Hiring Manager is Really Asking

Secret Questions Interview

And how to give them the answers they need

As an executive recruiter, I’m often asked (by friends, acquaintances, or even complete strangers) for “a little feedback” on a job search.  It’s an occupational hazard.  And honestly, I don’t mind.  I love what I do.  I’m genuinely interested in people’s stories, goals and backgrounds.  And I like to be helpful when I can.  

I also have a confession to make, however: I’m not always in a position to give the kind of feedback a candidate might really need.  (At least, not without risking offending someone I barely know.)  

If you’ve got an excellent resume and have been applying for jobs that are a great match for your skills and experience – yet you keep tanking out after the first interview – you might be missing some critical clues along the way or sending unintended messages during your visit.   

Yes, the manager is looking for proof that you have the technical skills and knowledge to do the job competently.  (That’s no secret.)  But in most cases, what a hiring manager really wants and needs, is someone they can trust to make their lives easier.  If that sounds cold or unfair, think about it some more.  The manager is in charge of getting great work produced, keeping team morale high and, whenever possible, exceeding goals and expectations.  And when they’re hiring, they’re looking for someone who will make all of that easier, not more difficult.  

Check out these 4 things that most hiring managers want to see (and hear) from a candidate, even if they won’t say so.

Are you smart enough to keep up with this job and this department?

While it’s rare to administer an IQ test, the truth is, all hiring managers want to see evidence of solid intellect.  In fact, most managers are more comfortable hiring someone with a little less experience if they demonstrate that they’re a quick study – than someone with perfect experience who just doesn’t seem as bright as other candidates.  So, what can you do to answer their question?  Please don’t say, “I’m smart.”  Instead, demonstrate some of the key characteristics of highly intelligent people:  curiosity, tenacity, a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to experiment with ideas and make corrections as necessary.  For example, when you’re asked about previous successes, provide answers that show your inquisitive and relentless pursuit of knowledge.  Come prepared with questions that reflect a deep and sincere interest in how the job functions and what the future goals of the position and department are.  Ask about professional development opportunities.  Make sure the manager is reassured that you’re someone who is always learning and loves to learn.  

Are you socially adept enough to work positively and productively with my team?

The last thing any hiring manager wants is toss a difficult personality into a functional team.  It’s not worth it.  How can you provide a great answer to this unspoken question?  Guess what great hiring managers do after meeting with you, especially if they found you qualified, polite and easy to get along with?  They’ll ask everyone else in the office with whom you had contact how you behaved around them.  If you were rude, careless, sloppy or generally annoying, they’ll hear about it.  And they will care.  Deeply.   First and foremost, be kind, professional and low maintenance with everyone.  Everyone.  Second, be prepared to describe how well you work with others in your current job. Describe situations in which you have collaborated, resolved conflicts professionally, and just simply enjoyed your professional relationships.   

Are you honest and trustworthy?

I do not need to explain why this is important.  But consider some ways in which you may be missing opportunities to reassure a manager of your integrity.  Hidden inside certain questions, you will likely have an opportunity to talk about when you have made a mistake on the job.  Pounce on that opportunity to describe how you take ownership of your mistakes, work diligently to correct them and always, always keep your boss in the loop.  

Are you professional enough to make me look good to my boss?

By the time the hiring manager is interviewing candidates, they’re likely already feeling pressure from their own boss to get the decision made already!  But a bad hire – or even a great hire who doesn’t present himself well to senior management – is often seen as a poor reflection on the hiring manager.  In fact, if you end up getting fired within the first few months on the job, you won’t be blamed.  Your manager will.  Get ahead of this worry by demonstrating clear, professional communication skills.  Be aware of the expectations around conduct, attire, and communication styles.  Be honest with yourself about whether these things are a good fit for you.  And if they are, make sure the hiring manager can imagine you interacting with her boss in a way that makes her look like a rock star.