The 2 Things Employers Are Really Asking You In An Interview

Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed more people than I can remember. I did so for years at both McKinsey and The Gates Foundation, and I continue to do it often at the startup I co-founded. I’ve asked about every go-to interview question you can think of.

  1. Tell me about a time you … ?
  2. Explain to me how you would handle … ?
  3. What motivates you … ?

But here’s the thing — no matter what the company or the job, I’m only really asking two questions.

  1. Will you add value?
  2. Are you a cultural fit?

I know you’re qualified. You wouldn’t be in the hot seat if you lacked the bona fides. What I want to know when I’m asking you question after question is how you will work with my team and whether or not you will push my business forward.

Will you add value?

The question of whether or not you will add value seems like a no brainer. However, you’d be surprised at how many people, especially people early in their careers, miss the mark on this one. It’s great if you are applying to this job because you want to learn and grow. I hope you will learn and grow at my organization. But that doesn’t help me right now. I’m interviewing you because we need help. We need someone who can dive in, take on projects and finish them, and ultimately, drive business impact. Take the time to figure out my business model and who my customer is, what you need to be good at, what metrics drive my business, and, most importantly, how you might contribute. If you add value, I’ll help you learn and develop — it’s a two-way street. Show me that you are curious. Never ask a question that could be answered by Google. Use your questions to show that you’ve done your homework. Sure, you can say, “Tell me about your company’s strategy,” but I’d prefer, “I read online that you’ve just launched overseas. How are you balancing your company strategy between domestic and international growth?” There, now you’ve got my attention. When you go into a job interview, remember that you’re there to help the company – not the other way around. Make your interviewer believe that you’ll be the best decision they could make (and then prove them right when you get the job).

Are you a cultural fit?

Companies don’t hire people. People hire people. When you’re in an interview, one of the most important things you can get across is that you will mesh well with the people in this organization. Having a solid EQ will trump hard skills almost every time. I can teach someone how to use Salesforce. I can’t teach someone to be considerate. (You may have heard about the old empty cup on the table interview trick. Don’t be the person comes up short on it.) Before you go into an interview, do some research on what kind of culture this company has. Look up press articles about them, pore through their social profiles, check out Most importantly, look up who works there on LinkedIn – What kind of people are they? Are they all older than you? What kind of work did they do before? Think about how you would fit into that culture and what stories you can tell to demonstrate that. Also, use the interview as an opportunity to dig further. Ask good questions that will give you a better sense of the company and what will be expected from you. For example: “What do you enjoy most about working here?” or “How do you define success in this position?” And finally, show the interviewer that you’re interesting. Those bottom two bullet points on your resume matter. So does conversation as we walk to the interview room. Are you friendly? Do you ask me a question or do you wait for me to begin the inquisition? Interviews are boring. Don’t let yours be. If you can demonstrate that you will mesh well and add value starting on day one, you’re already miles ahead of the competition.

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