How NOT TO Answer 10 of the Most Common Interview Questions

By Brittany Lyte on 2 September 2014 4 comments

A smart, thoughtful answer to an interview question can help you clinch the job. Likewise, an epic blunder can knock you out of the top three. So it's as important to study what NOT to say as it is to practice and polish your real answers. (See also: How to Answer 23 of the Most Common Interview Questions)

Read on for our round-up of common job interview answers to steer clear of. You can thank us when you're in your brand new corner office.

1. "So, Tell Me About Yourself…"

Don't give the interviewer a walk-through of your resume. That's a different question. The question you're being asked is intended to test your ability to answer an open-ended question with eloquence and ease. Don't use "um" and "ah" fillers. And don't blather.

Experts say the best answer is short, to-the-point, and highlights your career and educational background while also shedding light on why you want this particular job.

2. "Why Do You Want to Work Here?"

Ditch the boilerplate answer. And don't give an answer that simply addresses why you want to work in that field. You also want to avoid an answer that makes you seem desperate, such as, "I need experience," "I need more money," "I got laid off."

Instead, tell the interviewer specifically how you can benefit the company and how the job will help you achieve your own career goals. After all, a good fit is a mutually beneficial one. For example: "It seems like I could really benefit the company with my X and Y skills while also furthering my own career goals to do Z." The key is to convey why you are the best fit for this job — not just for your own benefit, but also for theirs.

3. "What Do You Know About Our Company So Far?"

Stay away from negativity — the interviewer doesn't want to hear what you know about the company's most recent round of layoffs or the latest stock market tumble. You also want to avoid giving the interviewer the impression that you haven't researched the company, which will lead them to believe that you're more interested in landing a job, period, rather than a job with this specific company.

Experts say it's best to focus on things like the company's role in its industry, its history, and any accolades, awards, or distinctions it has won. Show that you've taken initiative and done your research.

4. "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?"

Never cast blame. Don't bad-mouth your last employer or your former managers. Don't go into the gory details. But don't leave them hanging. If the interviewer gets the feeling that you're trying to cover up something related to your departure, he or she will most likely assume there's skeleton in your closet.

Be honest and succinct in explaining why you left. Experts recommend sharpening your focus on how your past job has prepared you for the future.

5. "What Are Your Strengths?"

This is your chance to shine. Don't screw it up by highlighting non-work related attributes or coming off as a braggart. Do away with examples of times when you shined at someone else's expense.

Instead, bill yourself as a team player who consistently goes above and beyond job expectations — and have a few specific examples to back up your claims.

6. "What Are Your Weaknesses?"

Don't say, "Nothing." Don't rattle off a list of negative attributes about yourself without explaining how you've overcome them in the past. And don't answer, "I work too hard" — that's not a weakness.

Experts say the best answers to this question prove that you are self-aware and resilient.

7. "Where Do You See Yourself Five, Ten Years Down the Road?"

Don't intimate that you have no idea what you'd like your future to be like. And don't say that you want a job with this company as a stepping stone to getting another job with a different company.

Interviewers want to hear about your career goals and how a job with their company could help you fulfill them. They want to hear that you have a plan, even if it's fluid. They want to know that you're thoughtful and not haphazard in your career decisions.

8. "What Kind of Salary Are You Looking For?"

Steer clear of the following responses: "I haven't thought about that yet," "I'll take any salary," "I'm sure whatever you offer is fine," "My last salary was X. I'd like a little more than that." And don't just pick an arbitrary number.

Know your worth. And arm yourself with the research and data to back it up. If you want a salary in the $100,000 range, it better be because other people in similar jobs at similar companies are making that amount. It's also smart to consider factors like geography and cost of living expenses. Website likes salary.com, payscale.com, and glassdoor.com can help with this task.

9. "Why Should I Hire You?"

These are all major no-no's: "Because I really need the money." "Because I think this job could help me learn this skills I need to do X." "Because I think a job at your company would look great on my resume." "Because I'm fun and easy to work with."

Better answers are honest, highlight your confidence in yourself and your skill set, and exemplify why you're a great fit for the job. For example: "Because I really, really want this job and I know I'm the best fit for X, Y, and Z reasons."

10. "Do You Have Any Questions for Me?"

Do not say, "No" — it implies that you're disinterested or worse, unintelligent. You also should not ask the interviewer what he or she thinks are your chances of landing the job.

The right answer is always, "Yes." You might have questions about the company culture or how on-the-job success is measured. Maybe you want to know what qualities the company most values in new hires or what a typical day on the job would like. Whatever the questions, just make sure you ask them. It'll show that you're interested, inquisitive, and not willing to settle for just any old job.

Any questions we've missed? Ask in comments!

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Guest's picture
Jim

#2 Well, I'm not sure I want to yet. That's why I requested an interview. I responded based on the match of the job description with my skills, but I'm here to learn about your company culture and ask questions to learn what drives productivity, how is success measured, and what the leadership and management philosophies are.

Guest's picture
Guest

what sort of questions should i ask them?

Guest's picture
Terri E.

Let's be honest here. People judge you on the way you look. They also judge you on your age, even though they're not supposed to. I'm 60 yrs. old and need a job desperately. In every interview I've had, I've always answered the questions the way I'm supposed to -- and I NEVER get the job. A 20-something is always hired, doesn't know how to answer a phone and they sure don't know about customer service. They talk a mile a minute and you can't understand them. I hope I'm around in 20 or 30 years to see all of these H. R. people out of work and trying to get hired. The 20-somethings will be in their 40's or 50's. Only then will they know what it's like to try to get a job when they're older.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am 60 and have trouble finding work. I know how to mess up interviews. Some how sell yourself. Got only a temp job.