Asking the Tough Questions

by Gaby Gramont

TorchLight’s experienced marketing and communications recruiters shed light on why we ask the “tough questions” during interviews (Hint: It’s for your own good)

tough questions

“A prudent question is one half of wisdom,” Sir Francis Bacon once said.

And while the great explorer won’t be sitting next to you during that next job interview, he would be the first to appreciate that prudent questions are an essential part of any interview process. By asking important questions, recruiters like those of us at TorchLight gain valuable insights—and with insights, we can make good matches between candidates and companies.

There are times in an interview when you will be asked questions you’ll find challenging, whether it’s about your current employment, gaps in your work history, or your salary. These aren’t meant to trip you up or make you look bad. Quite the opposite, they are designed to understand you better—your motivations, history, experience, and unique needs—all of which help recruiters and hiring managers to determine upfront whether you are a good fit for the role and the culture of the company we’re recruiting for. After all, it does none of us any good if you are offered a job, only to discover it’s a bad match for everyone.

Here are a few “tough questions” you’re likely to be asked by a recruiter screening you for a potential job opportunity and why we might ask them.

The Question: Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
Why We Ask: We want to know who you are, what sets you apart, what skills you have. We want to get to know who you are as a person, not only as a professional. The more we know about you, the better we can help “sell” you to hiring managers and, ultimately, make the right fit for both parties. Because of the limited time we have in an interview with you, it’s in your best interest to determine in advance—and practice—how you’ll tell your story in a way that’s focused and relevant.

The Question: So, why do you want to leave your current job?
Why We Ask: This question is a window into your motivation, expectations and professionalism. Your reasons for leaving a job—and the manner in which you articulate this—speak volumes about the kind of employee and colleague you will be somewhere else. Hiring managers will want to know: Are you interviewing for this job or are you interviewing away from your current one?

The Question: How do you explain this gap in your work history?
Why We Ask: These days, it’s common to see gaps in work history. Perhaps the economy’s downturn forced your employer to downsize, leaving you without a job. Or maybe you are a stay-at-home parent returning to the workforce after some time away. As recruiters, we want to know what you were doing during these gaps so we can better understand you. The more information you provide, the better we can “sell” you to our clients.

The Question: How do you explain such a short tenure in one job?
Why We Ask: A future employer will most certainly ask about past positions you’ve held for an unusually short time. As recruiters, it’s important for us to know the back story ahead of time so we can address it with the hiring company on your behalf. We all understand that sometimes jobs aren’t the right fit (we are recruiters, after all!) or that circumstances change. What we’re looking for are issues or patterns that may carry over into your next employment.

The Question: Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
Why We Ask: Similar to the above, we want to know more about your history and what motivates you. Changing jobs often isn’t necessarily a bad thing; changing jobs often because of a work ethic issue or recurring problem is. When we present your name to a company, we want to be confident that you are invested in them for the long haul—and the company expects that, too. There is an old saying that “No matter where you go, there you are.” We are looking for any patterns of behavior that might follow you wherever you go, because we know the employer will surely ask about that.

The Question: What is your current salary?
Why We Ask: A common misperception is that a company wants to know your current salary in order to “lowball” the salary offer to you later. Quite the opposite, employers want to know your salary history and earnings expectations upfront to know if all parties are operating in the same league, so to speak. It does no good to go all the way through the interview process and be on the cusp of an offer only to discover that both parties’ salary expectations are far apart. Better to be upfront and discover this right away than to waste everyone’s time. In addition, some of our clients won’t even consider a candidate without knowing the last 3 years’ salary history. If you don’t provide it, you won’t get an interview. (This actually happens.)

You’ll probably get more “tough questions” thrown your way. It’s just part of the interview process. Above all, remember: Recruiters don’t ask these “tough questions” to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable. Your history is what it is—good and bad. How you communicate about this history and your attitude for moving forward is what speaks volumes.

After all, our job is to help tell your story to potential employers so that they, too, will see your strengths and, ultimately, want to hire you! &

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