What These Code Words Really Mean

John Krautzel
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To perform well in a job interview, you have to be good at figuring out what a recruiter really wants to know. When you're flustered, it's easy to misinterpret a tough question or ramble on and reveal too much information. Learn the meanings behind common coded phrases to stay clear-headed and come up with impressive answers in job interviews.

Biggest Accomplishment

Interviewers aren't interested in pointless bragging. They want to hear how your abilities served past employers. Tell a story describing the initial challenge, the actions you took and the impact your actions had on the company. Keep in mind, your choice of example should relate to the priorities of your prospective employer. Landing a huge client may sound more impressive in a competitive culture, while reinvigorating a failing department is more important in a team-oriented culture.


When the word "overqualified" pops up during a job interview, it can be difficult to overcome the negative connotations. The interviewer has no doubt you can do the job but may be concerned about meeting your salary requirements. Many employers expect an overqualified candidate to get bored and leave or simply take the job until something better comes along. If this isn't the case, explain why a lower-level job fits your goals, regardless of your advanced skills.

Cultural Fit

Employers don't want to hire someone who's likely to feel out of place or interrupt the team's chemistry, so it's wise to ask questions and make sure the job suits your personality. Pay attention to how interviewers describe the job duties, work environment and team structure, and mirror their language to prove you're a cultural fit. For example, if you're interviewing with a customer-focused company, share stories about delivering top-notch service or providing tailored solutions to help a customer.

Conflict or Disagreement

Few candidates are completely honest about their weaknesses, but the tone and phrases you use in a job interview can reveal negative characteristics. To find out how you manage conflict, interviewers may ask behavioral questions about a time when you disagreed with a policy or confronted a problem. Don't shy away from these questions or blame past bosses and co-workers, as both reactions make you seem selfish and unreliable. Instead, frame the story to show how you acted out of concern for the company or customers and the steps you took to resolve the issue.

Future Consideration

Nothing is more confusing than being told to reapply or keep in touch after being interviewed and rejected. Chances are, a great resume and job interview put you at the top of the candidate list, but someone else was slightly better. The company may have similar positions opening up or simply want to keep you in mind if the current hire doesn't work out. If you're still interested, wait a few months to reapply, and use that time to introduce yourself to other people in the company. If you build relationships with employees and gain in-depth insight about the target position, you have a greater chance of getting hired next time.

Employers are interested in your character and potential, not just your skills. Confidence and energy are an important part of selling yourself during a job interview, so avoid focusing on hidden meanings so much that you forget to project personality.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bunkers at Flickr.com


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