When you finally score an interview, it can feel like a huge deal. And to you, it is! It’s the first big step towards finally getting the job of your dreams. To recruiters, however, it’s all just a part of the daily grind. After all, professional recruiters often conduct hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews per year.
Now, that’s not to discourage you or suggest that recruiters don’t care about you. The point is, though, that they go through the interview process a lot more often than you do — so when you give what you think seems like a well thought-out, unique and interesting response, they may have already heard it a few times that week alone. If you truly want to stand out in their eyes, you need to avoid these cliché answers and dig deeper into what kind of information they’re really looking for.
But which interview responses are the worst offenders, and what should you say instead? We reached out to a number of recruiters, HR professionals, career coaches and other experts to hear their thoughts. These are the seven answers they advised job seekers avoid at all costs.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: Details of your family life, medical history or professional flaws.
Why it's bad: “Avoid ANYTHING personal that will be held against you in the interview or if you are hired. There are topics such as health and family that the employer should not bring up (because it’s illegal.) You should avoid these things too. Also, don’t bring up your shortcomings. If you are invited to interview, the interviewers believe you can do the job. Be confident and believe in yourself,” says Devay Campbell, career coach at Career 2 Cents.
What to say instead: A narrative that outlines your work experience thus far, why it’s relevant to the current position, where you want it to take you and, if you have time left, a couple short details that shed light on who you are as a person, such as interests and hobbies.
Q: Tell me what you know about the company.
A: Very obvious details, like their industry, or avoiding a straight answer completely.
Why it's bad: Failing to research the company that you’re applying to suggests to the interviewer that you either don’t truly take it seriously, are lazy or just don’t have common sense. “If [candidates] are unprepared to answer this question, the likelihood of them securing a position with a company shrinks dramatically,” says Dave Lopes, Director of Recruiting at Badger Maps. “Even fifteen minutes of browsing their website will prepare the candidate to answer this question adequately," he says.
What to say instead: Describe things like the product/service the company provides, their target market and their business model, among other publicly available, business-critical information.
Q: What’s your greatest strength?
A: “I’m a team player.”
Why it's bad: “[The] answer is too broad — no specifics about your unique qualities,” says Laura MacLeod, HR expert and consultant at From The Inside Out Project®. “Everyone should be a ‘team player’ — so what makes you special? Feels forced and inauthentic, [like you’re just] spouting a phrase you think HR wants to hear.”
What to say instead:“Be specific about how you collaborate with co-workers and connect with other departments to produce the best product [and] why you think it’s crucial to develop these connections and develop relationships. Give examples from previous work experience,” MacLeod advises.
Q: What’s your greatest weakness?
A: “I work too hard/I’m a perfectionist.”
Why it's bad: “This answer comes from candidates who are trying to share something they perceive as a strength, cloaked as a weakness. Who wouldn’t want an employee whose biggest flaw is being too driven or striving for perfection?” says Mikaela Kiner of UniquelyHR. “The problem is that the candidates who provide this answer are unwilling to admit to their real areas of development. We all have them — I want to talk to people who know what theirs are, and are actively working to improve.”
What to say instead:“Candidates should be honest. By the time we’ve had a few jobs, I think each of us knows what we need to work on,” Kiner says. “Be ready to honestly share something you need to develop, how you know/who’s given you feedback and what you’re doing to get better. The ideal answer demonstrates a willingness to be self-aware, and also that you’re a continuous learner.”
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: “Doing this job still.”
Why it's bad: “A lot of interviewees say this because they believe it shows a great deal of loyalty and commitment to the company, making them the perfect hire. However, what this actually does is suggest a lack of ambition. Employers don’t want to know that you will want to be in the same position five years later, they want to know what you will do to develop yourself and the company,” says Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Ben Sherman. “[This] is your opportunity to showcase your ambition and drive. Five years is a long time, and to suggest to a potential boss that you don’t see yourself progressing at all in that time shows a distinct absence of zeal.”
What to say instead:“Candidates who truly want the job will know a natural progression … can occur in that role, but a bit of extra research couldn’t hurt,” Pritchard says. “Research the various departments within the company and see where there may be opportunity to branch out. Explain to the interviewer your goals; how would you like to grow within the department? More to the point, ultimately, how would you like to help grow the department and indeed the business? What skills do you possess that help you to achieve this? Naturally, you want your employer to believe you will be a loyal worker who won’t jump ship in the next couple of years. At the same time, though, you should be giving them an explanation as to why you are worth keeping for five years in the first place.”
Q: Why do you want to work here?
A: “Because I need a job.”
Why it's bad: You might think this candid answer could come off as funny or refreshingly honest, but make no mistake: If you don’t give a real reason why a company should hire you, they won’t. There are almost always plenty of other candidates for them to choose from.
What to say instead:“To answer this correctly, you must [do] research on the company and have [an] answer about the things they believe in, new products or [initiatives] or where they are going,” Campbell says. A few better answers? “You are a leader in the _____ industry and I want to be aligned with an organization [that’s] on the cutting edge and leading the pack,” “[your] mission of ______ is aligned with my personal values,” or “I am excited that you… just introduced (or will be introducing) ______ to [the] market. You are doing great things and I am certain I can learn and grow here,” advises Campbell.
Q: Why should I hire you for this position?
A: "Because I'm passionate about it."
Why it's bad: “Being passionate does not help you stand out from other candidates,” says Natasha Bowman, Chief Consultant at Performance ReNEW and author of the book "You Can’t Do That At Work! 100 Common Mistakes That Managers Make."
“A more unique, appropriate response would be to specifically align your background with that of the organization," said Bowman.
What to say instead:“Demonstrate your passion by discussing quantifiable results you’ve obtained for other organizations,” Bowman says. “How active [are you] in industry trade organizations? What measures do you take to develop yourself outside of the workplace?”