By J.T. O’Donnell
Each and every little thing you say (yes, even just one sentence) during a job interview shapes whether or not a hiring manager thinks you are a strong fit for the job.
And sometimes, it may be tempting to give an answer that felt right at the time, but in hindsight was extremely poor and made you seem weak or average. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself in advance of what to resist saying.
Here are six responses to avoid if you want to boost your chances of landing an offer, along with tips and examples of what to say instead:
1. ‘I’m a motivated self-starter.’
I’ve heard so many candidates say this in response to questions about their professional strengths or notable characteristics.
It’s a wildly overused answer, and if you find yourself saying it, the best case scenario is that your interviewer will ask you to elaborate. Worst case (and likely) scenario? They’ll be unimpressed because they’ve heard it so many times, and move on.
A more appropriate response might be: “I’m not afraid to take the lead on projects, and I can do so with little guidance,” followed by an example of a time when you successfully did this.
2. ‘In five years, I hope to be in your position.’
Don’t think that your potential boss will be flattered by this answer; they’ll just find it lazy and thoughtless.
And even if they are at an impressive level in their career, they might assume that you envision being where they are — just at a different company. This indicates a lack of commitment.
Instead, outline potential ways you see yourself growing at the organization. Start with the position you’re interviewing for and highlight some key skills required for the job, and how you can build upon those skills.
This shows that not only do you care about your career advancement, but that you’ll also be dedicated to helping the company grow in the long-term.
3. ‘I didn’t like my previous boss.’
Never speak badly about a former boss, no matter how bad of an experience you may have had.
When asked about why you left a job, it’s okay to admit that it wasn’t a right fit. Honestly is a valuable trait, but be careful with how you phrase things.
Instead, you could say that you realized your passion and want to switch career paths. Or maybe you’re looking for something more challenging. It’s also good to mention at least one thing you learned from your previous job that can help you succeed in the role you’re applying for.
If you were fired, explain the situation without taking or assigning blame. Talk about what you could have done differently to change the outcome. This displays self-awareness and an ability to grow from negative experiences.
4. ‘My biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist.’
Nobody is perfect, so this answer is essentially another way of saying, “I’m too weak to admit any weaknesses.”
This is a behavioral question that managers take seriously, so have an in-depth response prepared. I always recommend turning to former bosses and co-workers that you trust for feedback.
Send them a list of the top skills required for the position and ask them to rank it based on what they think is your strongest to least strongest.
Ultimately, it comes down to being honest about what you need to work on, giving some examples, and then discussing how you plan to work on those weaknesses.
5. ‘Can you tell me more about the company?’
Believe it or not, I’ve seen even the most qualified candidates ask this question in various ways (e.g., “What are your company’s main goals?” or “What does your company do?”).
The hiring manager took the time to read your resume and learn more about your background, so you’re expected to do the same and make time to research them.
It’s okay to ask them to elaborate on a very specific questions (e.g., “What are your team’s monthly goals?”), but going into the interview with little information about the company is insulting and will lead to a poor first impression.
6. ‘What do your perks and benefits look like?’
Yes, it’s unwise to take any job without knowing what your employee benefits will be. But you should never bring it up early in the interview process, because it will only make the employer question your true intentions.
Remember, the first few interviews are meant to determine whether you should continue to be in the running for the position. So topics involving perks and benefits are irrelevant if you don’t even make it past those early rounds.