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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

What Recruiters Are Really Thinking When They Hear These Cliche Interview Answers

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It feels like everyone has job search advice for you when you’re looking. And many of those people mean well. But too many times, their “interview tips” are outdated, stale, or flat-out wrong. For example, my Dad used to tell me not to turn down any job that pays me enough to make rent.

I know this is true because when I was a recruiter, I used to hear the same responses over and over again. And that means there are a lot of well-meaning people out there giving really cringe-worthy tips.

And in my experience, candidates who parrot these lines leave recruiters with no choice but to say, “Thanks, but I have no idea what this guy’s about.”

Here are a few of the biggest offenders:

1. “My Greatest Weakness Is That I Work Too Hard”

You Think You’re Saying: “I Work Really Hard”

When I was starting my career, this sounded like one of the perfect interview answers to show a recruiter I had zero weaknesses.

“OK, if I have one area for improvement, it’s that I work myself to the bone,” I’d say. And I’d leave a lot of interviews feeling really good about myself. Why wouldn’t companies want to hire someone who worked so hard that you had to kick him out of the office late at night?

The Recruiter’s Hearing: “I Won’t Own Up to Any Shortcomings—Meaning I’ll Never Improve”

Here’s the truth about this answer—if someone’s insistent on the fact that they’re perfect in every way, many recruiters will assume that you’re not self-aware. And no one wants to work with a person who thinks they’re flawless.

In fact, some of the best interviews I conducted were with candidates who were willing to share their weaknesses and how they’ve worked to improve. And that’s what the recruiter wants to hear from you when he’s asking this question. He knows you’re not perfect and he knows you’ll make mistakes on the job, what he doesn’t currently know is how you’ll handle those inevitable setbacks—and that matters a lot!

2. “I Honestly Can’t Think of a Previous Conflict Because I Work Well With Everyone”

You Think You’re Saying: “I’m the Ultimate Team Player”

Here’s another one I assumed that I could simply drop in an interview to impress the recruiter. “This person works well on teams? Well we must offer him one billion dollars to convince him to choose us over the competition!” And sure, most companies want to hire people who know how to work in teams. After all, people who don’t have this skill are typically referred to as “jerks.”

The Recruiter’s Hearing: “I’m Pretty Sure This Is What I’m Supposed to Say”

The mistake here isn’t saying, “I can work well with anyone.” It’s saying that—and then not adding anything else.

Without an example to back it up, it comes off as something you read in an article and decided was a good thing to say. And again, while it’s a good quality to have, hiring managers tend to want to hear a story about how you worked through a tough situation as part of a team.

Because like the above response about weaknesses, this isn’t about you being perfect—it’s about understanding how you work when things don’t go as planned.

3. “I Can’t Imagine Working Anywhere Else”

You Think You’re Saying: “I Really Want This Job”

At some point, someone is going to tell you for the 1,000th time that you need to convince the company that it’s the only one for you. And when you come across a job that you actually want, this piece of advice makes perfect sense. After all, nobody wants to work with people who don’t want to be there. So because you know you’d love to join the team, you let your enthusiasm show. Big time.

And the best way to drive this point home? Lay on the flattery so thick that the recruiter can’t help but see that you belong there.

The Recruiter’s Hearing: “I Didn’t Do My Research”

Even though interviewers want to know that they’re not just hiring someone who’s looking for any job, you do eventually have to get into the details. If you don’t mention a specific initiative that the company is working on—or even something that you found about its history on its website—your entire answer sounds like it’s based on an article you read about the company’s free lunches.

Interviews will never be the most enjoyable thing you do. And if someone tells you that a few quick one-liners can make them a little easier to navigate, you can take their tips with a few (or several) grains of salt. Because while you should focus on answering the questions as thoroughly as possible, don’t worry about saying the right thing at every step. Ultimately, your personality and your skill set will win over more recruiters than the pre-packaged answers will.