The Job Interview Translation

Frankie Kemp

5 October 2023

We’ve all been there, sat in a job interview, heart pounding, palms sweaty awaiting the impending doom of the first question.

And then it arrives…

“How was your journey here today?”

Your chest tightens, you feel like you’re at Guantanamo Bay. What do they mean? Are they assessing your ability to follow a SatNav? Are they probing you for your capability of making small talk? Is the prostate exam next?

There is the distinct possibility that they may actually be asking you if your journey was eventful or otherwise. This is actually harmless small talk designed to put you at ease.  After all,  it’s worth remembering that having a nervous interviewee who can’t focus or promote themselves properly is no use to the interviewer or the business. Consequently, they do actually want you to be comfortable enough to project yourself fully.

But we’ll gloss over that fact for now and look at the communication skills you need to navigate typical interviews. Here, we will translate some potentially cryptic interview questions from “interview speak” into English for humans.

This will help you understand where an interviewer is coming from so that you can use your conversational skills to come back with the type of answer that ticks their boxes.

When they say: “So, tell me about yourself.”

They mean: “Please take this early opportunity to destroy your chances of working here. Here’s a noose.”

What’s needed: Keep it brief, keep it positive and explain to them the qualities and characteristics that will make you suitable for the job. They don’t want to know what you got up to on Saturday night.  Here’s how to do it.

When they say: “You seem to have a gap in your employment history, could you tell me about that?”

They mean: “What did you go to prison for?”

What’s needed: There is probably a simple explanation for this – you went back to college, you had a period of illness, or you simply struggled to find work – it’s best to be honest in this situation. However, where you may have been unemployed or bringing up children, you could emphasise relevant transferable skills you have including resilience, the ability to multi-task and manage difficult behaviour.

When they say: “What’s your greatest weakness?”

They mean:“I googled ‘interview questions’ 10 minutes ago when I remembered you were coming. I insist you humour me.”

What you should do: Ideally, any weakness you offer needs to be totally unrelated to the job itself, so it won’t hamper your chances, and if you are feeling bold, claim that your weakness is that you are a workaholic, or too honest: so you take a strength and make it excessive.  However, don’t leave it at that: describe what strategy you have In place to mitigate this characteristic.

When they say: “Why do you want to work here?”

They mean: “Obviously the money’s great and you get a swivel chair, but I need you to put your head in my backside for a few minutes. Go ahead.”

What’s needed: Don’t say “because my bus stops right outside” or “because there’s a great sandwich shop next door for my lunch”. Doing some research on the business is vital.  Use that intel here.  You may focus on the reputation, awards, staff engagement initiatives or other such factors that attract.

When they say: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

They mean: “Despite the fact that I know the outcome of this interview will change your answer, and that you’re not thinking far beyond this Friday evening, please pull out your crystal ball and answer my question.

What’s needed: You don’t want to come across as unambitious, and at the other end of the scale you don’t want to sound too cocky either. To strike the right balance, talk about the skills you’d like to use more of rather than the actual role.  After all, you may want their role so don’t be cornered into naming a job title.

Your Action:

  1. Click the link in ‘So Tell Me About Yourself’ to prepare a response that can have them decide you’re the person they want within as little as five minutes.
  2. Prepare your responses for the questions above.
  3. Add confidence with the two minute trick that’s described here.

In an economy with so many people applying for so few positions, the pressure is really on in interviews as the chances are, whatever experience you have, there’s somebody else who has been doing it longer than you.

Take heart, though.  Going into an interview with some communications coaching can stack the odds in your favour. Being prepared can make you feel confident and collected, two qualities that will make even the most unlikely candidates look appealing.

So contact me here, if you need to sharpen your interview skills and start getting offers, you can achieve this through my communication skills training and conversational skills training courses.


Any particular questions I’ve missed out? Add them in the comments and I’ll help you with a response.????

This article was originally published in January 2014 and rewritten in October 2023.

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