Interviewing can be rough. That’s why people often suggest you have a few tried-and-true lines to pull out of your back pocket. And while I have a feeling that some of those suggestions were terrible, there were surely others that made you think that you had come across the silver bullet answer that would get you every job you wanted.
But when I became a recruiter, I realized just how common some of these so-called magical phrases were. To some degree, it was fun to keep a running tally of how many times I heard certain line during interviews. To another degree, it got stale pretty fast.
Because I’m rooting for you to actually land your next job, I think it’s time we talk about some of the most common answers that make recruiters roll their eyes.
1. “Stressed? Not Me! It Takes a Lot to Get Me Rattled at Work”
Companies only want employees who stay cool under pressure even if the ceiling is literally collapsing onto them, right? I can’t speak for all recruiters, but in my experience, I knew someone was trying to get one over on me when they said that it would take a literal hurricane for them to feel frazzled by anything at work. In my experience, even the coolest customers come across something in their career that stresses them out. And the good news is that it’s perfectly normal.
Many recruiters I know are more interested in learning about how you deal with stressful situations at work, and less concerned with finding people who have never experienced an ounce of anxiety in their lives.
So rather than trying to convince recruiters that you’re completely unfazed by everything, walk them through a scenario in which you were dealt a tough hand at work, how you dealt with it, and what lessons you’d apply next time.
It sounds like this:
“In a previous job, I was assigned an unexpected task—on top of a few other projects that were beyond my skill set. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how to get it all done, and get it done well. But I worked with my boss to re-prioritize my to-do list to make sure I was working on the right things in the right order. ”
2. “I Singlehandedly Saved My Last Company From Bankruptcy and Made Everyone Rich!”
You should be proud of the things you achieved in previous gigs. But you make hiring managers roll their eyes when you try to oversell their impact during an interview. Of course it’s important not to undersell the things you accomplished. However, if you try to convince a recruiter that a report you created made your company one trillion dollars, expect to get some skepticism in return.
Instead be honest about the scale and the impact. A good answer sounds like this:
“I’m really proud of a report I created that added insights into new business opportunities. With help from my two colleagues, I discovered that there was untapped potential in a vertical we hadn’t even considered before. As a result, we increased our revenue by 25% last quarter.”
3. “It Actually Wasn’t My Fault That My Last Job Didn’t Work Out”
OK, fine. You might not be this blunt in real life when you talk about why you left your last job. But no matter how you put it, recruiters can tell when you’re trying to dance around the fact that you were let go by your previous company.
And while it might seem like a good idea not to admit that you were fired, the reality is that recruiters are more interested in candidates who are willing to be at least somewhat transparent about the fact.
Trust me, I’ve been there and know how uncomfortable it is to talk about what happened. But as Muse writer Jenny Foss suggests, you can impress the recruiter by opening up about what led to your dismissal, what you learned, and making it your default to avoid bad-mouthing your previous company.
“Unfortunately I was let go from that position after one of my biggest clients decided not to renew, which I understand I played a significant role in. However, since then I’ve learned that high-profile clients require much more attention, not to mention detailed reporting, and I think the organizational skills I’ve acquired since leaving that job will serve me well in my next one.”
Interviewing for a job will never be the most fun part of the process. And while there will be plenty of things you can’t predict, you can anticipate some of most common interview questions. Because of that fact, you can come up with honest answers before you walk into that room. But with that said, don’t panic if you say something that doesn’t sound as polished as you would’ve hoped. Chances are that your responses that sound less “buttoned up” are actually closer to what the recruiter is looking for, anyway.
Photo of job interview courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy or follow his blog.More from this Author