How To Avoid Bad Answers To The Questions Every Interviewer Asks

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As a longtime job recruiter, I know that there is a lot of advice available to help people prepare to interview or be interviewed. This is always my Number One Rule: Don’t go in clueless. If you’re preparing to be interviewed for a job (or you’re getting ready to interview potential employees), you should have some knowledge of common interview questions.

Why? Interviews are a place for an easy win. Interviews are an inescapable part of the hiring process, and most people are just not very good at them. Learning more about interview questions from both the interviewer and applicant’s perspective can be your secret weapon to being part of a better team, whether you’re hiring or being hired.

Below, I’ve collected the 10 most common job interview questions. You’ll see the “red flag answers” to watch out for; if you’re preparing to go on a job interview, these red flag answers will give you a good idea of how to avoid making serious mistakes while answering these common questions. The “good answers” will show you how to answer in ways that will make a recruiter or hiring manager smile. Hopefully, this article will give you an idea of what comprehensive, thoughtful answers look like in an interview.

1. What are your strengths?

This is the most common of job interview questions — everybody should be expecting it. If the interviewee doesn’t seem prepared, or gives a fairly stock answer, it’s probably a bad sign.

Red Flag Answer: The candidate is unprepared for the question, or only gives generic answers.

Good Answer: Go for quality, not quantity, here. Candidates should give a short list of strengths and back each one up with examples that illustrate the strength. They should also explain how these strengths will be directly applicable to the job they’re applying for. Use this question to say something interesting about yourself!

2. What are your weaknesses?

Red Flag Answer: This question is the peanut butter to the previous question’s jelly. Again, everyone should expect it, so it’s a bad sign if someone seems totally unprepared or gives a stock answer, as in: “I’m a perfectionist.” And of course, candidates crazy enough to blurt out some horrible personality trait should also go in the red-flag pile.

Good Answer: Candidates should talk about a real weakness they’ve been working on improving. For instance, you’re not good at public speaking, but you’ve been taking a course to improve your presentation skills. Or, maybe you feel that you’re easily distracted when working online, but you have installed software that helps you stay on task. Answers like these show self awareness, discipline, and a genuine desire for improvement.

3.  Why are you interested in working for [insert company name here]?

Red Flag Answer: They don’t have a good reason, or provide a generic answer, as in: “I think it represents a great opportunity.”

Good Answer: One that shows they’ve done research on the company and are truly excited about specific things they can do with their job. This not only shows enthusiasm for the work; it shows basic preparation and research skills and gives the hirer clues about whether the interviewee will be a good fit for the office culture.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? 

Red Flag Answer: A generic or uninspired answer. Also, answers that reveal that this career path or company job is just a temporary stop for them.

Good Answer: One that shows the candidate has thought about this question, has concrete career plans, and that those plans align with the job path that is possible within the company. You want to be sure that hiring this candidate will be a good, long-term investment.

5. Why do you want to leave your current company? 

Red Flag Answer: Complaining about or blaming their former job, boss, or colleagues. Also, having “no good reason” for leaving (which could indicate that the candidate is omitting details about being fired, etc).

Good Answer: One that focuses on the positives about why the job they’re currently applying for offers them better learning or career opportunities, chances for advancement, aligns more closely to their long-term goals, or is a better fit for them.

6. What can you offer us that another candidate cannot?

Red Flag Answer: Going negative — if the candidate starts trash-talking other candidates, it’s a sure sign of a bad attitude. Also, if they can’t provide a solid answer, it may show that they lack a thorough knowledge of the skills the job requires; if they don’t understand where and how they fit into the larger structure of the company, how will they be able to work well within it?

Good Answer: The candidate can name and expand on their specific skills that apply directly to the job; they understand that other candidates are unlikely to have their specific skill set, and are eager to contribute their expertise to the team.

7. What do you know about our company?

Red Flag Answer: They don’t know much about the company. If a candidate is serious and enthusiastic, they should have done some basic research.

Good Answer: They’ve really done their homework and know what the company does on a literal and ideological level. They’re aware of any important current events that involve the company, and they can speak on their excitement about the work culture.

8. What is your desired salary?

Red Flag Answer: Candidates who are unable to answer the question, or give an answer that is far above market. This response shows that they have not done research on the market rate or have unreasonable expectations.

Good Answer: A number or range that falls within the market rate and matches their level of mastery of skills required to do the job.

9. Tell me about yourself. 

Red Flag Answer: Candidates who ramble on about themselves without regard for information that will actually help the interviewer make a professional decision; some candidates even provide information that shows they are unfit for the job.

Good Answer: An answer that gives the interviewer a glimpse of the candidate’s personality without veering away from providing information that relates to the job. Answers should be positive, not generic.

10. Why do you want this job?

Red Flag Answer: Answers that don’t align with the opportunities that the job actually offers, or uninspired answers that reveal how this position is just another of the many jobs that the interviewee is applying for.

Good Answer: The candidate has clear reasons for wanting the job that show enthusiasm for the work and the position, and knowledge about the company and job.

Image via Pexels

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  • Alexis

    As an employer, I thought this piece had some really good advice, much more specific than a lot of so-called ‘HR interview tips’ you find on the web.

  • Violaine

    That’s really helpful.

  • this was great! saved this page so fast!

  • I’m looking for ways to grow in my career and this means looking for open opportunities, so I’ve printed these to practice for when that dream job comes around.