6 Terrible Interview Answers & the Cheat Sheet You Need to Ace Your Responses

6 Terrible Interview Answers & the Cheat Sheet You Need to Ace Your ResponsesYou’re taking a peek at your dream company’s website or LinkedIn career page and, lo and behold, they’ve just posted a new position. This isn’t just some haphazard, insignificant job posting. This is the one you’ve been waiting for, and it’s leaping off your screen like a kid on Christmas morning. What a treat.

When you are invited to interview, you are beyond ecstatic. Don’t forget, however, that recruiters and hiring managers are sifting through hundreds, even thousands, of resumes a week, scheduling round-the-clock interviews, and speaking with a multitude of viable candidates to find the right match.

So, how do you set yourself apart from the competition? The key is to avoid cliché responses during your interview because, believe me, recruiters are served the same responses over and over again as if they’ve been sentenced to a lifetime of only eating oatmeal. It’s bland. Repetitive.

To ensure you’re not force-feeding the recruiter or hiring manager another plate of oatmeal, here’s how to transform your responses to the most common interview question from blah to impressive.

Question #1: “Can you tell me how familiar you are with our company?”

The Oatmeal Response: Providing vague or obvious details, such as, “You’re an advertising agency.” Or, circumventing the question entirely because you don’t really know what they do.

How to Slay This Question

If you’re unprepared to answer this question, it means you've failed to do your homework. Researching the company prior to your interview is a MUST. Perusing the company’s website and social media profiles will provide you with a wealth of information surrounding their core values, services and products, cultural offerings, and news or announcements, like an upcoming acquisition or new product launch.

Failure to perform your due diligence and conduct a bit of research will communicate to the recruiter that you aren’t truly invested in the role you’re interviewing for. If you’re unprepared to deliver a thoughtful, intelligent response, the probability that you’ll be extended an offer will be greatly reduced.

To craft an answer that’ll impress, you should discuss the employer’s target market, business strategy, products and services, and other specific details that demonstrate your understanding of the company.

Question #2: “When you picture your career 5 years from now, where do you see yourself?”

The Oatmeal Response: “Working at your company.”

How to Slay This Question

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Isn’t this the perfect response? By saying I picture myself in this role five years from now, I’m demonstrating loyalty; expressing to the employer that I plan to stay at the company for the long haul.” Don’t worry; you’re not alone by thinking this. However, what this response communicates to the hiring manager is that you lack long-term vision and ambition. What an employer wants to hear is that you’re eager to develop as a professional.

This is the perfect opportunity to showcase a forward-thinking mentality and discuss your career goals. Whether you want to grow into a management position within your department, expand their business into a new market, or help develop a new product, your interviewer wants to hear how you can contribute to the success of the business while progressing as a professional.

Question #3: “Tell me about yourself

The Oatmeal Response: Discussing your living situation, family, issues you've had with a previous employer, or any health-related details.

How to Slay This Question

Refrain from dishing out personal information or a long-winded answer that delves into your entire life story. You don’t want to highlight shortcomings or back yourself into a corner early in the interview process. Instead, they employer is looking for you to deliver a confident narrative about your work experience as it relates to the needs of the position you’re interviewing for and how you envision yourself progressing in your career.

Quantify your achievements by providing 1 or 2 examples that showcase how your work has had a direct measurable impact on your current or previous employer's procedures, revenue, productivity, or services/products. Your response should always make a clear connection between the demands and challenges of the role you're interviewing for and your past successes. To really nail it home, you’ll want to explain how your skills will not only be an asset for the company now, but in the future as well.

Question #4: “Why do you want to work for our company?”

The Oatmeal Response: Saying anything along the lines of: “I need a paycheck,” or “I desperately need a new job.”

How to Slay This Question

Maybe you think divulging your need for a paycheck is a cheeky way to get the hiring manager to laugh. It’s okay to inject a bit of humor into the conversation throughout your interview, but only when the time is appropriate. This question is incredibly important to an employer; and make no mistake, they are looking for a real response here.

Again, giving an impressive answer will require you to do research beforehand. When you have a firm understanding of the employer’s culture, values, products/services, upcoming initiatives, or even challenges they’re facing, you’ll be able to tailor your answer in a way that speaks specifically to one or more of these areas. You can say things like, “I read about the company’s acquisition of _____ and I’m excited by the prospect of expanding into a new marketplace and penetrating new business opportunities in that area.” Or, “The company’s mission to ______ aligns perfectly with my personal values and professional goal of _________.”

Question #5: “What would you say is your greatest strength?”

The Oatmeal Response: “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m a team player.”

How to Slay This Question

I practically fell asleep just typing those answers. Can you imagine how snooze-worthy they would sound to your interviewer? These are plain Jane answers – there’s nothing unique about them. First of all, in an employer’s eyes, they expect every individual they hire to be a team player and a hard worker. What they want to hear instead is something specific about your particular strengths and skills.

If you want to talk about being a team player, you should choose a particular instance that demonstrates how you collaborated with colleagues or another department to create a new product, win a proposal, or execute a project. From there, you should also discuss why working with co-workers and building those relationships was crucial to producing a successful outcome.

Question #6: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

The Oatmeal Response: “I’m too passionate/a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic” or “I don’t have any weaknesses”

How to Slay This Question

Nice try, but these answers show an inability to self-reflect and own up to your shortcomings. You don’t want to be that candidate trying to disguise a strength as a weakness. Or worse, deny that you have any weaknesses at all, because all this communicates is your unwillingness to admit to the areas you need to improve upon. Employers want to speak with candidates who have a firm grasp on who they are and are actively seeking to develop as a professional.

Being honest and transparent is the best way to approach this question. For example, you can say something along the lines of: “When I was a junior graphic designer at XYZ company, my art director asked me to create visual elements with a fun, unique twist for a new campaign for a client. Because I became so consumed with using the perfect font, I completely missed the project deadline.”

From here, and this is EXTREMELY important, you want to describe the steps you are taking to improve upon your weakness. Your answer should sound something like this: “Since then, I have been organizing each new project into smaller tasks, giving each their own completion deadline. If I find myself fixated on one element too long, I will place that task to the side and start working on the next. This way, when I come back to the piece I feel is imperfect, I am approaching it with a fresh perspective and I’m able to be more objective when discerning whether or not it requires changes or additional work.”


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