Interview Jargon: Secrets Interviewers Don’t Want You To Know

In interviews, aside from paying attention to your every word and action, you can also observe the responses of the interviewers. This can give you a rough idea of your interview outcome and provide valuable information hidden in their words. This is particularly important for overseas students returning to their home country for job interviews, as there may be some insider language or coded messages. Today, let's take a look at these interview "hidden messages."

Estimating the Probability of Passing the Interview from the Interviewer's Subtext

Women using her finger to indicate keep silent

We all hope to assess whether we'll pass the interview in advance from the interviewer's reactions, rather than waiting anxiously at home. Although it's not 100% accurate, the following "signs" can provide some insights into the situation:

1. You can go home and wait for our response. If you haven't received any notification within a week, you can consider other job opportunities.

Interview Subtext: Sorry, you didn't pass the interview.

Typically, when an interviewer says this after a business interview, in 90% of cases, it means you didn't meet the interviewer's expectations. Interviewers are human too, and they may not want to dampen your spirits by giving negative feedback in person. Don't just sit around waiting; use your time wisely to explore other job opportunities, unless you're extremely confident about your performance in the interview.

Similarly, "We have a few more candidates this week, and we'll get back to you after we've interviewed them" often leads to similar outcomes. It could also mean you're on their backup list, and they'll come back to you if they can't find suitable candidates.

When bosses encounter candidates they are truly satisfied with, they fear that other companies might snatch them away. Therefore, they will quickly communicate with their HR department to arrange follow-up interviews. They usually agree to a time closer in the future, such as conducting follow-up interviews on the same day or notifying you within 1-3 days.

2. Let me tell you about our current situation…

Interview Subtext: We are doing well, and we welcome you to join us.

Towards the end of the interview, when interviewers proactively provide you with a detailed introduction to the company, department, and its current situation, they aim to attract you with competitive job responsibilities, a harmonious department atmosphere, the company's strengths, or even appealing benefits. 

By providing you with this information, they also hope that satisfied candidates can gain a clear understanding of their future work, preventing discrepancies in expectations that might lead to disappointment after joining, which could result in leaving the job quickly, wasting both parties' time.

3. Spending a lot of time answering your questions, and the interview goes over time.

Interview Subtext: I'm highly interested in you.

Typically, at the end of an interview, interviewers allow you to ask questions. If the interviewer is quite satisfied with you, they are willing to spend time providing detailed answers to your questions and may even confirm whether you agree with their answers or discuss the issue further with you.

Conversely, if the interviewer is not satisfied with your performance earlier in the interview, even if they give you a chance to ask questions, they may respond briefly and move on, as no one wants to waste time on something that has no outcome.

4. Do you have any other interview arrangements after this?

Interview Subtext: I want to know if other companies are interested in you or whether I can offer a lower salary.

When an interviewer is particularly interested in you, they often worry that another employer might snatch you away. Hence, they inquire about your future interview plans and schedule.

If you have interview invitations from other companies in a related industry, it's perfectly fine to mention it. It can enhance your competitiveness and make the interviewer consider you a valuable candidate, increasing their willingness to arrange subsequent interviews or extend job offers. 

However, don't mention that you have multiple interviews in completely different industries; it may make you appear indecisive and lacking a clear career goal, which could result in not getting hired or facing salary negotiations.

If you don't have other interview arrangements or have already received an offer, don't feel insecure. You can say something like, "Your company is my top priority for job seeking, and I really like your company's products/corporate culture. That's why I applied for a position at your company first, and I haven't applied to other companies yet." 

This demonstrates your commitment and attitude, which can be a significant plus during the interview. However, it's important to note that some interviewers may be concerned that you have no "fallback" options and could potentially use this as leverage when discussing salary.

How to identify "Inferior Companies" from the Subtext of Interviewers

Salary and benefits are the primary considerations for most job seekers when evaluating a job, and they are the core competitive factors that companies use to attract talent. When job seekers ask, "What benefits does the company offer?" many recruiters employ clever tactics in their responses.

(Cases below are adapted; any resemblance to real employers is coincidental.)

1. We offer salary, social insurance, and benefits, paid vacation, and opportunities for promotion.

Interview Subtext: We don't offer any extra benefits.

Mentioning these "benefits" is something that most compliant companies provide. It goes without saying that salary and promotion opportunities are standard. Social insurance and paid leave are legally required, so presenting these as benefits is misleading.

2. We provide free meals.

Interview Subtext: You'll be expected to work late in the evening.

While free meals might sound tempting, many companies that offer this perk require overtime work. If you think about it, working a standard 9 to 5 or 10 to 6 job doesn't necessarily require free meals (excluding some well-off and state-owned enterprises), so whether it counts as a "benefit" depends on the specific circumstances.

3. We offer housing and transportation subsidies.

Interview Subtext: You won't receive them until you've been with the company for several years, or you have to work late into the night to qualify.

Companies with housing subsidies have various rules, such as requiring you to work there for 1/2/3... years before they provide it. Transportation subsidies often come with conditions like your rental location being within 1km/2km of the company (convenient for overtime, of course).

Many companies require working until late in the evening or even past 9, 10, or 11 p.m. to qualify for transportation subsidies or free rides home, so it's best to clarify these conditions in advance.

4. We offer flexible working hours.

Interview Subtext: No overtime pay, and you can only leave once your work is done.

Having a flexible work schedule sounds like a dream for many employees, allowing them to sleep in. But does it mean you can truly come and go as you please, working from 9 to 5 or 10 to 6?

Not necessarily. Many employees find that the so-called flexible working hours mean longer working hours and more overtime. You might not be able to leave on time, even if your work isn't finished yet.

5. We have a flat organizational structure.

Interview Subtext: The company is small, and the organizational structure is chaotic, with a narrow path for career advancement.

A flat organizational structure typically means reducing managerial levels to make information flow and internal interactions more efficient. However, this also has its drawbacks. The lack of hierarchical levels can mean a narrower career advancement path. Without someone taking responsibility and making decisions...

In recent years, "flat organizational structure" has been overused by some companies, becoming a buzzword in recruitment. It's used as a selling point to attract new employees who value freedom and equality in the workplace. While it might sound fancy, it can also indicate poor management and an incomplete organizational structure. There is no evidence that a flat organizational structure is superior to other systems, as top-tier companies like Alibaba and Tencent still employ well-defined hierarchical structures, and opinions vary.

6. We offer stock options or equity incentives.

Interview Subtext: Your salary might be lower.

When assessing the value of stock options, you need to consider whether the company has continued growth potential, whether it can reach an IPO or acquisition, whether you genuinely feel attached to the job (as these options aren't immediately liquid), and, most importantly, the core terms of the stock option agreement in your job offer, which aren't easy to explain briefly.

Offering stock options is a good thing, as there are many examples of people who got in on the ground floor of a startup, received stock options or equity, and became successful in life. However, companies sometimes use this to lure you into accepting lower salaries, so be cautious. If a company promises you stock options, ensure it's documented in the employment contract, as verbal agreements are not binding.

7. “Young people, xxx is more important than money.”

Interview Subtext: The salary is insufficient, so we're banking on your idealism.

When interviewers say this, they often intend to reduce your salary by appealing to your sense of purpose. While this sentiment is sometimes valid, job seekers should also be "realistic." There are plenty of jobs in the market that offer both money and a sense of purpose, so why should you settle for being "exploited"?

8. The following interview subtext only applies to a minority of companies:

- “We offer a double salary at the end of the year." — It sounds more advanced than a 13th-month salary, but it's essentially the same.

- “We offer a 13th-month salary.” — Don't think too much; it's just a 13th-month salary.

- “We provide year-end bonuses.” — Smaller than a 13th-month salary.

- “What are your thoughts on overtime?” — We only hire people willing to work overtime.

- “We don't mandate overtime.” — You'll still have to work overtime.

- “We are a startup.” — Brace yourself; overtime is inevitable.