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How Not to Answer the Most Common Job Interview Questions

Prepare for success in your next interview and do not answer these common interview questions like this... [TWEET]

If you were fired from your last job or you’re rusty in the job market because you’ve been raising kids for the last five years, you might be feeling a sense of dread in anticipation of answering questions in your next interview. And that stress could show even while you’re doing your best to keep your cool. Keep in mind that your fantastic experience on your new resume got you into that interview; that means the company considers you a serious candidate and the recruiter wants to meet you!

Stop sweating the inevitable, common job interview questions to prepare for, and stop worrying about all the things that could go wrong in the interview. The following advice comes from former recruiter Barbara Saunders, now a small business teacher and coach. Ponder these job interview disaster answers to make sure you don’t use them.

Common job interview question: “Tell me about yourself.”

How not to answer: Anything too personal.

Don’t bring up anything that is not related to the job or company. The interviewer doesn't care if your commute is good, if you like formal dress codes, or if chocolate is your favorite flavor. However, you can mention those things in the context of company culture. If you walk through an office to get to the interview, you can observe the office environment. Are there rows and rows of desks and everyone is quiet? Do you see people in jeans playing Ping Pong? Feel free to bring up something you noticed about the general atmosphere and discuss it with the interviewer as a point of interest. Don’t tell the interviewer what you want or what would make the office better—he/she doesn’t want your opinion.

The 'tell me about yourself' job interview question can be very broad. When asked about your past, only offer information related to the position being discussed. What job experiences brought you here? What aspects of your past positions did you particularly enjoy? The tell me about yourself question presents a great moment to talk about your accomplishments; in fact, it’s the opportune moment. The recruiter is asking you directly why you are the perfect fit for this job, above all other candidates.

Common job interview question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?”

How not to answer: “I have no idea. How can I predict the future?”

These job interview questions to prepare for are more about where you are in your career and your goals for the future. Be prepared to discuss how your background and experience make you the right person for this job right now and how you can grow with the company into the future.

Barbara disagrees with the standard advice not to say "in your job!" when asked to predict your professional future; the interviewer might be looking for his/her successor. In the right situation, “in your job!” comes across as bold and goal-oriented. But, as always, pre-interview research is key. Is the norm in this company to move "up the ladder" on a predictable path? Is there a tradition of people making lateral moves? Does the company expect people to do a few rotations, pay their dues, and then move up? Are there minorities and women in leadership positions at the company? Also, look at where your position would be in the context of the company; it’s inappropriate to talk about the future of a position if you’re interviewing for a terminal role such as a legal secretary or paralegal and you will be expected to go to law school in two years. However, if the question does come up regarding a more long-term position such as executive secretary, it’s a good idea to talk about loyalty and any past positions that demonstrate longevity.

Common job interview question: “Why are you looking for a job?”

How not to answer: “I’m looking for a job because my boss … It was a horrible place to work because … Did you hear about the CEO?”

Don't say negative things about your current or past boss or company, even if your colleagues concur or you have proof of impropriety. Unless, of course, the negative news is already public, like you worked at Enron! In that case, face it head on and speak to the general truth of your involvement—or lack thereof. If the interviewer brings up news about your company or someone at your company, acknowledge the source and talk about the subject in as general a way as you can, referring only to material in the media source. Don’t add any information that you might know personally from inside sources.

When responding to this common job interview question, don't reveal confidential information such as the (private) employer is losing money and layoffs might be coming. If you will be in a public position such as public relations, publicity, marketing, or sales, the interviewer might be testing you to see if you’re a gossip or if you know how to hold your tongue.

Also, some things that you might perceive as negatives aren't really negative - just get your language right. Are you bored at your current place because you want a faster pace, a greater scope of responsibility, or to use advanced skills you've acquired? Say that! Do you feel you’ve paid your dues and earned your diploma(s) with hard work, you’re done with assistant and intern jobs and you’re ready to lead and take on more responsibility? Say that!


In general:

Research the company and job so that the truthful job interview answers are also the "right" ones. Watch your language and phrasing; the same facts can hurt or help you depending on how you present them. Some professional coaches suggest specific language changes such as using “challenge” or “issue” when referring to the hiring company’s situation vs. “problem.” Use the term “staff,” “team member” or “support staff” in lieu of “employee” or “worker” if you find the interviewer is using those terms.

For the best answers to these common job interview questions, use your resume as your conversational foundation. Whenever possible, to address a question or concern, point to a specific experience listed on your resume where you answered or fixed something similar. (For example: “See the Company X management position? There I attended to something similar when I …”). You can also use something from your personal life if you actually solved a problem that is similar. Just avoid using an example from more than 10 years ago because any number of factors could have changed since then and the solution could be antiquated. Also, if you’re a working parent, avoid using a situation with your child as an example.

All of these flubs prove why accomplishments are so important on a resume. Accomplishments tell the interviewer that you’ve solved a problem or achieved something in the past that the company is facing or might face in the future. And the solution you provided could apply now to the company. You’re sitting in that interview seat answering these questions because someone from the company liked what he/she saw on your resume compared to the many others he/she discarded. Use your resume to your advantage!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!