When you’re interviewing for a new job, it’s only natural that you want to put your best foot forward. You try to do all the necessary legwork—from researching the company to rehearsing the “perfect” responses—so you can walk into the interview room brimming with confidence.
However, your “perfect” interview answers may unwittingly set you up for failure. As a career coach and hiring manager with more than 15 years of experience in the career services industry, I can assure you that interviewers can usually tell when a candidate is telling them what they think they want to hear, rather than telling them something that’s truthful and genuine.
In fact, that’s often why some employers ask bizarre interview questions. They purposely want to force a candidate “off-script” in order to get a better read on whom they’re speaking with and to determine whether or not they’ll be a good fit for the role.
The last thing a hiring manager wants to be fed during an interview is a line. If you’re preparing for an interview, avoid using any of the answers below that are filled with nothing but hot air.
“I’m a perfectionist” (and other nonanswers)
When a recruiter asks you about your greatest weakness, they don’t want to hear about how you’re a “perfectionist” or that you’re “too dedicated to your work.” Interviewers will see right through a response like that. And, telling them you don’t have any weaknesses implies that you lack self-awareness.
Instead of throwing out a faux weakness when asked this common interview question, use this opportunity to describe the steps you’ve taken to overcome a shortcoming or improve a skill that didn’t come naturally to you. Pick an example that wouldn’t be considered essential for performing the job you want.
When you focus on explaining what you’ve done to overcome a perceived weakness, you’re demonstrating both self-awareness and a dedication to professional development—two qualities that will impress hiring managers.
“I get along with everyone”
Employers will often ask behavioral questions that require a candidate to describe how they have or would resolve a conflict with a colleague, handle a confrontation with a disgruntled customer or client, or manage competing priorities. The idea is to have you, the candidate, draw from past experiences to demonstrate you have the necessary skills—such as conflict management—to do the job well.
If you’re put on the spot and asked to explain how you’ve dealt with confrontation in the past, don’t try to finagle your way out of the conversation by claiming you simply get along with everyone. Hiring managers won’t buy it, or worse, they may believe you intentionally avoid confrontation—neither of which will help you advance to the next interview round.
Instead, use the STAR Method (situation, task, actions, results) to explain a time where you found yourself at odds with a colleague or customer (depending on the type of role for which you’re interviewing). Then describe the actions you took to resolve the issue and the overall outcome.
As part of your interview preparation, take another look at the job description and create a list of potential behavioral questions you might be asked. Then, brainstorm short stories you could tell to demonstrate your abilities.
“I’ve always dreamed of landing a job like this”
When an interviewer asks you why you’re interested in this position, they don’t want to hear that it’s because it was the only interview you could land. However, you won’t fool anyone by feigning some unbridled passion for that entry-level call center job, when it’s clear from your résumé that your heart is set on working in sports advertising.
If the job you’re interviewing for isn’t your dream job, don’t make up some cockamamie story about how you’ve always wanted this role. Instead, focus on finding some aspect of the opportunity that genuinely appeals to you, whether it’s the opportunity to learn a new skill, gain experience in an industry that interests you, or work for a company whose culture you find appealing.
“It was all me”
There are two qualities that employers just hate. In fact, according to a TopInterview survey, the two worst traits a candidate can possess are arrogance and dishonesty. While it can be tempting to embellish your achievements or take full credit for a team project during an interview, this strategy usually backfires.
You may be able to put on a good show at first; however, you won’t be able to keep up the act once you’re asked to offer details about the process. The moment your interviewer starts probing a little deeper into your story, they’ll see it for what it really is: a lie.
Instead of committing the worst interview offense, talk about the role you actually played in achieving the group goal. Explaining how you contributed to the end result and what you learned along the way will work out much better than getting caught up in a lie during an interview.
Whether you’re attempting to provide the response you think an interviewer wants to hear or to merely dodge a tricky interview question, offering up a BS response rarely works. Give it a few follow-up questions, and the truth usually comes out. Instead, focus on answering each question with a thoughtful and authentic response, and employers will see you for the valuable candidate that you are.
Amanda Augustine (@JobSearchAmanda) is the resident career expert for Talent Inc.’s suite of brands: TopResume, TopInterview, and TopCV. With more than 15 years of experience in the recruiting and career advice industry, she is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and résumé writer (CPRW), helping professionals improve their careers and find the right job sooner.