07/03/2014 09:53 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2014

What Job Candidates Can Learn From Interview Questions

As a career counselor, I have had extensive conversations not only with job candidates on how to succeed in and interview, but also with the interviewers seeking to hire them. It is fair to say that I have a few interesting insights on what job interview questions can tell you about the person asking the questions.

Here are three things that interview questions can reveal:

1. The decision-making authority of the interviewer. Are the questions perfunctory, such as "Tell me about yourself"? If so, this could be a sign that the candidate is merely being screened before being passed on to the hiring manager, or true decision-maker. Interviewers from HR departments are typically gate-keepers. They have the authority to turn a candidate away, but they often don't have the authority to say, 'You're hired.'

2. The current state of the job. For example, if the employer asks, 'How soon can you start?' it could indicate a great opportunity-or simply a crisis. Smart candidates will listen for clues as to why the job is currently unfilled. If this cause is known up front, the candidate should listen for whether the interview questions convey opportunity or crisis management.

3. Sophistication of the organization.
While it goes without saying that interview questions should not violate federal and state laws, sometimes they still do. Often these questions are innocent, and not necessarily cause for alarm. The best response is to look for the question behind the question. For example, interviewers will sometimes ask new college graduates, "How old are you?" I encourage young candidates to simply smile and say with confidence, 'Old enough to handle this job like a pro. What else would you like to know?'

In today's competitive job market, candidates who can quickly identify clues during the interview and respond accordingly will have a leg up on the completion.