Dispelling Bad Job Interview Advice, Part 1

Dispelling Bad Job Interview Advice, Part 1I recently saw an infographic about common interview questions and short suggestions on how to answer them. Some of it was good basic information. For example, when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” the infographic recommended keeping your answer to things related to work. That’s smart because what the person in front of you wants is the Cliff’s Notes version of your skills and career framed to show how you will be able to do the job.

But some of it was not helpful, especially so since there was bits of good advice interspersed with the bad. I worry that unsuspecting job hunters would follow it blindly, and that makes me sad.

To help you answer questions on your next interview, I’ve gone through some of the errors and offered alternatives that will be more useful to you.

Question: What is your weakness?

Advice given: “Don’t start listing out all your personality disorders straightaway. (Note: That part is actually good.) Stay composed and quote silly weaknesses that are strengths in disguise.”

Problem with that advice: If you “quote silly weaknesses that are strengths in disguise,” the interviewer is going to see right through that tactic. Claiming that you are a perfectionist or you have workaholic tendencies makes you look like you don’t honestly assess yourself, nor strive to improve.

What you should say: Being honest about an area that was a weakness in the past and then following up with a strategy you devised to overcome the problem is the best approach. Alternatively, you could bring up a scenario when you made a small mistake and the steps you took to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. In both cases, it is important to convey that 1) this is something that happened in the past, and 2) it won’t hinder your performance because you learned from it and developed new methods for dealing with it.

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Question: What are your strengths?

Advice given: “Try to list out all your strengths. Be prepared with instances that reflect your strengths.”

Problem with that advice: Unless you have no ego at all, going to an interview and rattling off every one of your strengths will make you look like a narcissistic diva. Not to mention the fact that telling anecdotes that illustrate all of your strengths will make this a really loooooong answer. Plus, you run the risk of getting into strengths that have nothing to do with the job, which the interviewer doesn’t care about. You do this, and you are killing your chances with that company.

What you should say: Sometimes this question is open-ended, and other times interviewers ask for a specific number of strengths. If it is open-ended, list three strengths that strongly correlate to the position or to the values held by the company. If you are asked to give a specific number of strengths, then do that. The most strengths asked for (in my experience) is five, so have five ready in case you need them.

As far as using stories to support how you embody those strengths, it depends on what specifically is asked. If you are asked for your greatest strength, you then have time to briefly expand upon this one strength with an anecdote. When multiple strengths are asked for, just list the strengths, but be able to tell stories elsewhere in the interview that will back up your answer here.

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Question: Why should we hire you?

Advice given: “Try to speak in a balanced tone that sends them a message that you need the job as much as the company needs you. Never compare yourself with other interviewers.” (Note: The second sentence is spot on. Trying to elevate yourself by puffing out your chest always backfires in an interview.)

Problem with that advice: Desperation isn’t pretty. Even if you are one of the top candidates, “send[ing] them a message that you need the job” is a red flag. It causes the interviewers to question why you are in that situation and to rethink how good of a candidate you may be. Plus, at this point, they don’t care about your needs. They just want to know how you can help them.

What you should say: Speak to the skills and experiences you have had that will allow you to perform well in the job, and include ways you can add value to the company right away.

There are more questions to address! To make it manageable for both you, my dear reader, and me, I’m breaking this up into multiple blog posts. Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3!

Image courtesy of A. Thompson

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