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I had a job interview today. It was with an internal recruiter who reached out to me over LinkedIn. I feel that I did a bad job at answering most of her questions and was sort of caught off guard. In my experience usually the recruiter does most of the talking in the first phone call, especially if they were the one reaching out. I guess I should've been prepared to answer questions.

I sometimes get messed up with "tell me about x" questions as they are so vague. For example "tell me about your job", "tell me about your previous job", "can you tell me more?", "what is your experience with WordPress?". Is it OK if my answers are a repeat of my resume? I guess the ideal answer is to somehow show that my experience lines up with the position they are trying to fill based on the job posting.

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  • You might see them as 'vague' and don't you think they're also your chance to say anything you have to say on that topic? If that doesn't work for you, what Questions would you prefer? Feb 24 at 19:33
  • I wanna apologize to anyone who saw my (deleted) answer. I missed the important detail that this is an internal recruiter, not one of the mass-spamming middle-man recruiters that inhabit LinkedIn. The meaning of the general questions is much different and I defer to all of the other answers.
    – Mars
    Feb 26 at 4:52

9 Answers 9

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Is it OK if my answers are a repeat of my resume?

Of course it's okay, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you only repeat what is on your resume.

This is a chance to expand on what you wrote, not just repeat it.

If you can't do better, an interviewer may well conclude that you don't really understand the topic.

I guess the ideal answer is to somehow show that my experience lines up with the position they are trying to fill based on the job posting.

That would certainly be much better.

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    While it's okay to just say what's in your resume, as Joe says, it's better to expand on it, since a resume is normally, of necessity, edited down to the bare essence. So there's your chance to say the things you left out of the resume. Just be very sure you don't contradict anything in your resume. A recruiter may actually do this to help weed out people who BS in their resume, as they will tend to be more truthful "in person".
    – Jeffiekins
    Feb 23 at 21:01
  • Another way to look at this is if the resume actually has everything you could say about a certain job in it, then the resume might be too detailed. Feb 25 at 7:52
  • Not sure if it changes anything that the recruiter never actually had a copy of my resume prior to the meeting. She was going off of my LinkedIn profile.
    – curryarias
    Feb 27 at 17:28
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Another way to approach this question -- ask a clarifying question:

Sure, I can definitely share more about that. Is there anything in particular about XYZ you'd like to know more about?

This gives them an opportunity to ask a more pointed question or put the question in context that will help you.

If they say, "No, just tell me more about XYZ" -- then you can do the scaffolding for them:

Sure -- I will focus on the work I did there [or whatever you believe to be the most important aspects for purposes of this interview], but let me know if you'd like me to elaborate on anything in particular.

This at least gives you a chance to convert the original open-ended question into one that is more specific.

It also buys you a few seconds to come up with a plan for answering the original question in your head, instead of an awkward silence.

And if it does work out, you will get a question that is more clear and gives you better direction and a sense of what they are most interested in hearing. Good luck!

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    This. Your standard answer to all vague questions should always be "with pleasure. What exactly would you like to know?" Don't play stupid games.
    – Tom
    Feb 25 at 0:07
  • I actually did ask clarifying questions but it didn't help. She just responded with an equal vague "just talk about what you with x". In general I felt a disconnect/discomfort with the recruiter but I guess that's the way it goes sometimes.
    – curryarias
    Feb 27 at 17:26
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As mentioned, bring able to reply to an open-ended question with a prepared and rehearsed story can be a valuable investment of your time. Especially as companies have been increasing the use of non-directive interview questions of this kind.

When developing these stories, you may want to look at one of the formal patterns for doing so, since they help make the story clear, memorable, and effective in communicating your skills. The one I've used is SAR -- describe the Situation, describe the Actions you took to address it, and describe the Results for the business (preferably in quantifiable terms). One of these stories for each of the major skills/projects in your resume will probably give you enough variety to respond to many questions, and will also give you practice in case you need to come up with a new one on the fly to address an unexpected question.

Building the story that way helps make sure you hit the points that will most benefit you in the interview. Telling each story should only take a few minutes. Be prepared to answer questions if they find it interesting and want more detail.

(Caveat: SAR may be a copyrighted/trademarked term since I learned it from a specific outplacement company's literature. But "ideas can't be patented" so feel free to come up with your own mnemonic for this general structure. There are also similar frameworks that have been published elsewhere, which shift the emphasis a bit depending on the kind of position you are seeking.)

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    The generic name I've encountered is STAR - Situation Task Action Results Feb 22 at 18:17
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    @ChrisDavies Its also called PAR (problem action result)... But all of them are the same thing. Show that you can solve problems and produce results..
    – Questor
    Feb 22 at 18:24
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    @Questor yes. I was responding to keshlam who noted that "SAR" might be protected in some sense Feb 22 at 21:52
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    Open-ended, loosely defined questions are great for giving the answer you want to give. "Tell me about your job", you can start blowing your trumpet how you improve X, are essential to Y, single-handedly developed Z. The yes-no questions leave you no space to brag. But yeah, it's nigh-impossible to come up with that on the spot, you need to prepare and rehearse your answers ahead of time. There are books and websites with "standard" interview questions to cover.
    – Bennet
    Feb 23 at 9:14
  • I'm less of a believer in trying to guess the questions than in learning how to give effective answers, but if you find that a useful practice tool ... Whatever works.
    – keshlam
    Feb 25 at 5:10
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Interviews with recruiters are just conversations and discussions. You should treat them that way. How would you describe something on your resume to a friend or a relative? It often helps to practice talking about various things on your resume with a family member or someone else you feel comfortable talking to so you become comfortable talking about these topics in general.

Yes, you're being measured in a recruiter call, and that's always a little jarring or discomforting. I think practicing is a good way to overcome that anxiety and reach a comfort with the topic even if you're not there with the person.

Write down different ways to say things on your resume. Jot down notes and acronym definitions if you have trouble remembering on demand. Create note cards that remind you of anecdotes and stories from the job. These will help you with the notion of instant recall in case you become nervous. Preparation is the best antidote for performance anxiety IMO.

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    All of our interviews are conversational. I have maybe 2 questions I ask every candidate. We start every interview by asking the candidate to tell us about their experience and highlights of their resume and then just follow up on whatever sparks our interest. Some people find this more comfortable, but we definitely put some of the candidates expecting more typical questions off-balance. My advice is to think about what you want an interviewer to know about you, and practice saying that. Also, don't put anything on your resume you're going to blank on if you're nervous.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 22 at 16:03
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    @ColleenV This is a good approach if your job opening requires someone with a strong EQ/SQ based skill set (like sales or management), but if you're hiring for a more IQ/AQ based skill set (like technicians, engineers, or legal), you may have better luck opening up with more pointed and direct questions.
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 22 at 22:48
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    @Nosajimiki Nonsense. We hire for a very specialized engineering niche that almost no-one we interview has the skills for before we hire them. We are looking for people that are going to enjoy the work, and have a good foundation of skills so we can train them. We’re not going to give them skill tests or ask them questions that will basically measure how well they prepared for the interview and not how successful they will be in the role we’re hiring for. We do panel, so it’s also a chance for the candidates to get a feel for our team and how we interact with each other. We’re all engineers.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 22 at 23:40
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    @Nosajimiki Even in a technical role, a candidate who can't converse freely about technical subjects isn't someone we're interested in employing. People work in a team, they're involved in making decisions, so a person who can't communicate well is a liability, no matter how technically skilled they might be. Feb 23 at 5:18
  • @Nosajimiki - As an engineering leader, I build teams. Teams need to be able to communicate. There just isn't capacity for someone who can't communicate in basic terms. Feb 23 at 16:00
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Speaking as someone who does a lot of technical interviews, the purpose of these questions is to see if you can speak knowledgeably about the subjects you claim to be proficient in.

Because interviewers/recruiters aren't stupid. We know that resumes are almost always exaggerated, and that half the things listed as "skills" are things that you touched on briefly in a previous job, and have no practical experience in. So as an interviewer, my role is to find out what you really know.

For example, if you've listed "technology XYZ" on your resume because you've been using it regularly for the past year, it's my expectation that you should be able to express an opinion on the subject. Whatever it is, it will have had good and bad points, things that helped you with your job, or made it miserable.

And so if you can't think of anything interesting to say about it, I'm probably going to conclude that you don't actually have any real knowledge of it.

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  • Certainly for me the test of whether someone really understands a technology is that they can analyze its strengths and weaknesses. I've found that some people are shy of expressing their views here in case the interviewer disagrees with them: remember that you know far more than the interviewer does about the technology, and they're not actually interested in your opinions, only in the depth of thinking and experience that led to them. Feb 25 at 11:43
  • @MichaelKay Sometimes... but usually, I am actually interested in their opinions. The interviewees may not have my depth of experience, but they've almost certainly worked on things which I'm less familiar with, and I am genuinely interested in what they have to say on such topics... Feb 25 at 20:34
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I don't really think STAR is a useful method on a screener call. It's great for specific questions ("tell me about a time...") but when you're handling very vague questions you'll want to take things in a different direction.

Especially in that first call, recruiters are listening for relevant keywords, and context that make it clear you have the experience they are looking for. It's going to be a two-way street between them asking probing questions and you doing your best to read into them.

Read the job description beforehand, think about what kind of candidate they are looking for, and then steer the conversation towards what you want to say that'll paint you as that candidate - AND make you stand out from other candidates they've already spoken to.

From this perspective, "tell me about your job" is a fantastic prompt. If you're interviewing for, say, a lead software developer role you might want to talk about:

  • The software development work you do (the product, the stack)

  • The leadership work you do (organizing Scrum, raising the bar on architecture, collaboration with PMs/the business)

  • Your recent wins (did you release anything with a measurable business outcome or a common metric such as downtime?)

This is your opportunity to do a deeper dive into aspects of your resume that you feel are most relevant to the role, and highlight or connect the dots on things that might not immediately jump out to someone like a recruiter who isn't as familiar with your work as a colleague would be.

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If you just regurgitate your resume, you're not doing yourself any favors. Tell us about the biggest differences you've made for your employers/clients. Look up the STAR system (Situation, Task, Action, Result), and structure your responses that way. Put numbers onto your results; "improved profits by...", "xxx new subscribers", etc.

I want to know why you'll earn more money for the business than you will cost. Prove your worth.

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    This is not applicable to most jobs. Most jobs are not coupled directly and individually with measurable outcomes. If I make a website 10% more responsive while the UX design team makes it 10% easier to navigate, how exactly do you translate potential increase in customer retention to my contribution? Feb 23 at 12:34
  • 'Numbers' can include items such as 'made website 10% more responsive' (be aware that you would then be asked how that was measured)
    – PeteCon
    Feb 23 at 19:28
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Others already added some hints on how to interpret these questions. I want to in addition give you a suggestion how to handle this next time.

If you tend to get stumped when faced with an open question like this, ask this question yourself when you have free time and try to make a list of points to mention next time you are asked. Do not create and memorize complete sentences, as you'll be liable to get derailed when interrupted with questions for clarifications or a change of topic.

The goal here is to have lists of things to create your answer from, so you don't have to think about it on the spot. If interviewer changes the topic, switch to another list.

If you can help it, do not use this list in the interview. Remember the individual points beforehand. Looking into notes to answer questions like these might suggest you're basing your answer on something you found on the internet and not real experience.

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Good recruiters will ask about SPECIFIC examples.

  1. Bad: "How do you handle conflict?"
  2. Good: "Tell me a about a time you had to deal with conflict?"

The first version is bad, since it will typically result in a meaningless cookie cutter answer. The second one is good, since it goes into actual behavior and personal experience.

Good preparation for an interview is to write our some stories from your past that illustrates typical topics: conflict, project success, project failure, team work, mistake, learning new technologies/skills, making difficult decisions, etc. You should also have at least one specific example for each of the skills/technologies you list in your resume.

If you want to prep extra, look at the requirements of the job posting and cross-check if you have a specific example or answer for each. It's OK if you don't. No one every matches 100% and just being upfront about a miss or two is much better then trying to fudge it or talk around it.

"Tell me about your job?"

This is a VERY common starter. Again to focus the answer, I usually use "specifically what you like about it and what you don't like about it". That's IMO the best way to answer it since it makes it easy to assess your fit for the new role: If you hate overtime and the new job requires lots of overtime, it's a non-starter, and the sooner you figure this out, the better for both parties.

An interview is NOT a test that you need to pass, it's about determining fit: will BOTH you and the new employer be happy with the new arrangement. Hiring the wrong person for the job will just make everyone miserable.

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  • I perfectly agree, but the OP is asking about how to respond to "Bad" questions. Perhaps this answer would be better if you included something about how to pivot when a bad question is asked.
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 22 at 22:54
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    In the context of an interview, I see zero practical difference between the bad and the good example. The only way for me to answer a question "How do you do X" is to remember when I did X and tell the other person about that. Feb 23 at 12:31

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