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These Are The Worst Answers To The Most Common Job Interview Questions

We asked recruiters and hiring managers what answers make them cringe. Take note.

These Are The Worst Answers To The Most Common Job Interview Questions
[Source illustration: Kluva/iStock]

There’s no way around it–job interviews are nerve-racking. Hiring managers know this, and are generally forgiving of a fumble or two. But sometimes, they get answers that go beyond a mere slip of the tongue. Whether it’s repeating clichés, or being too honest and giving off the impression that they have a me, me, and me! mentality, there are some answers that candidates should never ever utter when they’re in a job interview.

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Fast Company reached out to recruiters and hiring managers for the worst answers they’ve ever gotten to common interview questions. Next time you interview for a role, do yourself a favor and make sure you don’t repeat any of these answers.

How Not To Answer: “Tell Me About Yourself”

This is a classic question that most interviews kick off with, and for the most part, is a signal for the candidate to give their elevator pitch. What it’s not, however, is permission to narrate your life story.

Chandler Bolt, founder and CEO of online training company Self-Publishing School, told Fast Company that the worst offenders tend to let this question “take up the entire interview.” Michelle Mavi, director of content development, internal recruiting, and training for the hiring agency Atrium Staffing agreed. In a previous article for Fast Company, she said, “As it’s a very broad and open question, candidates are prone to ramble, talking about their professional selves in very generic and general terms, and basically rehashing their resume.”

Of course, broad questions come with broad answers. Kathleen Steffey, CEO of Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search once had a candidate tell her, “I am trying to find out what I really want to do and your position caught my attention.” Ed Mitzen, Founder of Fingerpaint Marketing, witnessed a candidate point out a red flag straight away. Their answer? “‘I’m not a very punctual person, so if you are looking for someone who will be here exactly at 8:30 a.m. every day, I’m probably not the right person.”

How Not To Answer: “Why Do You Want This Position?”

Cringe-worthy answers to this question include candidates admitting that they’ve been unable to get a job so far and they were desperate, to saying that they didn’t know much about what the job description involved. Annie Boneta, head of talent at AutoGravity, interviewed a candidate who answered, “After I graduated, I decided to backpack around Europe for a couple of months. I was into month five when my parents called me up and told me I needed to get a job, so that is why I decided to call you.”


Related: Three Pieces Of Job Interview Advice You Should Ignore 

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How Not To Answer: “Why Do You Want To Work For This Company?”

Many candidates bombed this question by admitting that they didn’t know much about the company. Candidates trying to “flip the question” by saying something along the lines of “I don’t know, you tell me why I should work for this company” were also common offenders, according to Sung Hae Kim, VP of people operations at Wizeline. Several hiring managers also told Fast Company that they often see candidates mentioning money, perks, and media prestige as their main motivation, and not much else. One candidate told RETS Associates principal Kent Elliott that their main reason for wanting to work at the company was because it had a ping-pong table.

Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of staffing firm LaSalle Network, said that a candidate once said: “I’m not sure I’m interested because I can’t bring my dog to work.” 

How Not To Answer: “Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?”

Hiring managers differed in opinions on what constitutes a terrible answer. Tawanda Johnson, president and CEO of HR consulting firm RKL Resources told Fast Company that the worst answer she’d ever heard was, “I haven’t really thought that far.”

Katie Sanders, head of content and communications at Jopwell said that a candidate once answered they’d hope to “run this company or one like it,” an answer that Mitzen and Gimbel have also heard from interviewees. Gimbel stressed that he doesn’t think there’s really a bad answer to this question, but he does admit that when a candidate says their ultimate goal is to run their own company, it raises eyebrows. “It makes me think, are they going to leave after four years, two years?”

How Not To Answer: “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?”

Johnson and Boneta both experienced candidates telling them that they’d had anger and temper issues, a clear red flag to many employers. But the answers that truly irritated hiring managers were candidates cloaking their weaknesses as strengths, such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.”

A candidate Boneta interviewed once answered, “my biggest weakness is that I have too many strengths.” Bolt, whose company conducts interviews over Skype, said that a hiring manager at his company once had an applicant stare blankly at the screen for 30 seconds, only to say “you know, I don’t actually have any weaknesses.”

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Related: How Being Super Prepared For Your Interview Can Still Cost You The Job 


How Not To Answer: “Do You Have Any Questions For Me?”

The answer to this question was unanimous–hiring managers and recruiters believe that one of the biggest job interview sins is not having any questions at the end of the interview.

Johnson said “every person should have at least two to three questions for the person they’re interviewing with.” The consensus among hiring managers is that lack of questions translates to a lack of interest, which can translate to lack of commitment in the role that they’re applying for.

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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