you are turning off your interviewer without realizing it

If you’ve prepared for a job interview recently, you probably know the basics – bring extra copies of your resume, don’t badmouth your previous employers, arrive on time, and so forth. But as someone who’s interviewed hundreds of job candidates, I can tell you that there’s a lot more that goes into the kind of impression you make, and that an awful lot of candidates do things that really turn off interviewers, probably without having any idea it’s happening.

Here are five ways that you might be turning off your job interviewer without even realizing it.

1. Only looking at or addressing one of your interviewers when you’re interviewing with a panel. If you’re interviewing with more than one interviewer at a time, it’s important to make sure that you’re looking at and speak to all of them. Sometimes candidates will address their answers only to the person they believe is the most important one in the room, which comes across as remarkably rude! (Not to mention, sometimes they’re wrong about who the decision-maker is.) Make sure to make eye contact with all your interviewers as you’re speaking, so that you don’t inadvertently appear dismissive.

2. Being so formal that the interviewer can’t get a real sense of you. Sometimes people get so nervous about job interviews or so hung up on what they perceive as the formality of the occasion that they go into what I think of as “interview persona”: They become so formal and reserved that it’s impossible to get a sense of what they would actually be like to work with day-to-day. On the interviewer’s side of things, this can be a killer – because you can’t responsibly hiring someone without knowing what they’re really like to work with. Obviously you don’t want to treat an interview like a night out on the town with friends, but you should strive to be reasonably relaxed and conversational and let some personality show. A good way to think about it is the way you’d conduct yourself in a meeting with a colleague who you don’t see every day but have a warm relationship with.

3. Offering up about fake weaknesses. Interviewers are increasingly moving away from that old “tell me your strengths and weaknesses” standby, in part because so many candidates refused to answer it honestly. But savvy interviewers will try to get at your weaknesses in other ways, such as by asking what kind of developmental feedback you’ve received or what areas you’re working on improving in. An awful lot of candidates respond to these questions with answers that they think will make them look good – like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I have trouble not taking work home with me.” Leaving aside the fact that neither of these things is actually appealing to a good manager (perfectionism can waste resources, and not disconnecting from work can lead to burn-out), these sorts of answers have become so cliché that most interviewers see right through them. You’ll come across as disingenuous and either lacking in self-reflection or unwilling to have an honest conversation about your strengths and weaknesses and how they might play out in the job.

4. Turning your time for questions into a sales pitch for yourself. When your interviewer asks what questions you have for her, this is your cue to ask genuine questions that you have about the work or the company, so that you are better equipped to figure out if the job is the right fit for you. Yet some candidates use this time to ask questions that are really just set-ups to try to sell themselves for the job. For example, they’ll ask about whether the job includes much opportunity for, say, public speaking, and then follow that up with a lengthy discourse about their public speaking skills. Or when the interviewer mentions in response to a query about the workplace culture that the team is highly collaborative, the candidate will respond with a long explanation of her past successes in collaboration.

When interviewers ask what questions you have, they want to use the time to answer things you’re genuinely wondering about – not have you pass up that opportunity in order to do a hard-sell of yourself.

5. Not paying attention to your interviewer’s cues. Your interviewer will probably give off a fair number of cues if you pay attention, particularly around how she’d like to manage the conversation. Some of those cues might be explicit, like if your interviewer announces at the start of the meeting how long she’s set aside for the conversation or says that she has a large number of questions to get through. But some are more subtle, such as an interviewer who seems interested and engaged in what you’re saying (thus signaling that you’re on the right track with your answers) versus one who looks bored or impatient (and thus probably wants you to start wrapping up an answer that might be rambling). By paying attention to your interviewer’s cues, you’ll be better able to align your own approach to the conversation with hers, which will likely result in a stronger conversation and better overall impression.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Educator*

    Sometimes candidates will address their answers only to the person they believe is the most important one in the room, which comes across as remarkably rude! (Not to mention, sometimes they’re wrong about who the decision-maker is.)

    And it’s even worse if you’re sexist and assume the man interviewing you is the one in charge when the woman interviewing you actually is and is the man’s boss…

    1. SG*

      Yeeeees this happens to this one girl I know in her early 20s who is blonde and bubbly and a genius at code. People often come into interview and assume she’s in recruiting or an assistant. Jokes on them- she’s running the interview.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            “Hey buddy do you have a problem with a woman running the show?” said in Bernadette’s growly, angry voice (versus her sunshine-and-roses tone). Followed by a great sarcastic one-liner that makes them stutter. While dressed in an adorable cardigan and A-line skirt. She is probably my fave character.

    2. Trig*

      We hire interns every summer on my small team, and we do a panel interview. We introduce ourselves, with my blonde young-ish manager identifying herself as the manager/team lead. We also do a presentation at their school introducing ourselves, and they have our slidepack to review later, so there can be no confusion as to our roles.

      One remarkable (in a bad way) candidate addressed all of his answers to the one man on the team, regardless of who asked the questions. Unfortunately, our ideal candidates got snapped up, so while we got one good hire, we were hiring two, and were left with this guy or no one.

      Over the course of his internship with us, the pattern continued. He would go to my male colleague for everything from career advice to instructions on simple day-to-day tasks. Most of the things were clearly my manager’s area of expertise and knowledge, and my male colleague would repeatedly say “I don’t know, why don’t you ask Manager?” Or have to explain to him that he didn’t have connections in Department B or on the managerial level. There were also other subtle ways that he spoke to the women on our team that I found so offputting, and it didn’t help that he clearly thought the job was beneath him and wanted to move on to C-level within five years.

      ANYWAY long story short, pay attention to candidates who do this in an interview. It doesn’t bode well for their overall team fit.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Hard to believe an intern, i.e. presumably young college student, in this day and age,would still do that.

        1. Trig*

          I know! I was baffled, and glad when his term ended.
          He came from a fairly conservative background, and his dad was a C-level at a small company, so I think he learned some unfortunate lessons there.

        2. Blue Anne*

          Being a young person in this day and age doesn’t immediately mean that they has liberal or open-minded ideals. I wish people would stop assuming that, because it tends to let people think “I don’t have to do much about this issue, it’s going to change naturally as the younger generation takes over”.

          Two years ago I went to a diversity meeting/open forum at my Big 4 office. Out of an office of about 200 people, there were fewer than a dozen people there, and most of them were senior execs who were basically required to attend. The other three(!) were women, and at 25 I was definitely the youngest.

          The senior partner for the office said basically “Oh young people now are so progressive, I don’t think we really need to worry about this too much” and I said what I just wrote above.

          Then I went back to my seat and listened while my male peers made a joke about killing strippers, and wondered why an absolutely excellent at her job female manager “is even still here”, since she had a kid and a husband who was also doing really well.

          Argh. Pet peeve. There are plenty of jerks my age.

          1. Blue Anne*

            I mean, my male peers wondered that, aloud. I already knew why she was there – she was a highly competent and well paid professional who loved her work and her colleagues, even these dumbasses.

          2. Anonymous Educator*

            Yes, all this.

            Plus, just because you’re “progressive” on a lot of political issues doesn’t mean you aren’t also a sexist jerk. Plenty of “brogressives” out there…

      2. Ostara*

        One of our current interns does this and it makes me crazy. I am his supervisor but he prefers to report to a male colleague instead. I can be in the middle of answering his question and male co-worker walks by and intern will turn and ask his question to him instead. He also calls women “chicks”. We have a lot of meetings about all of this.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          This makes me sad. You’re his supervisor and “[you] have a lot of meetings about all of this,” but he still hasn’t changed his behavior? Sad.

          1. Ostara*

            Yep. All 3 of our interns are very bro-culture and it’s been impossible to change. Upper management doesn’t do a thing about it.

            1. DD*

              I fired an assistant because of this. He didn’t like reporting to a woman. He didn’t like that most of the management were women. He would always go to finance director (FD), who was NOWHERE in his line of reporting. See, FD was the only man in management in this VERY small non-profit. He also said that he should be our rep to our funder, as they would respect a man more.

              He never learned his job. I wanted to fire him before the end of the probation period. The FD told me that I was being unfair to the guy and I needed to give him more time. FD finally agreed to a PIP. Guy couldn’t complete the PIP.

              When I fired him, he said, “Is it because I am gay or because I am a man?” (I hadn’t known he was gay!) He really thought, despite daily feedback, that he was accomplishing his PIP. Nowhere near even making any progress. The FD (who was also our HR person at that point) told me that I was unfair, and judging guy unfairly because he was male. I said it was because the work was not getting done. This resulted in a lecture on how another 90 days and maybe he could have learned it. ARGGGGH! So glad to be rid of both of them.

      3. Fortitude Jones*

        Unfortunately, our ideal candidates got snapped up, so while we got one good hire, we were hiring two, and were left with this guy or no one.

        When this has happened to my former manager, who runs the corporate training program I was apart of, she just doesn’t hire anyone. Then she reposts the job ad and will start all over again with the search. Because of our program’s reputation, and her new standing as AVP, she can’t afford to make a bad hire, so she’d rather hire no one at all. Maybe your company should consider that as well, especially since these are interns. Having bad interns is worse than having none at all.

        1. Trig*

          I would have preferred that, really… But our internship program is basically just set up for the college program in town. All of our interns come from there, and we don’t take them from anywhere else, so there wouldn’t really be any other candidates.

          He did fine work and was definitely an eager beaver, but some aspects of his attitude were questionable.

      4. MashaKasha*

        I had a contractor at OldJob do this to me once. (He turned out to be a quick learner.) Contractor Dude sent me his work for code review. I found issues and sent it back with a list of things to fix. Five minutes later, he walks into my aisle, that had seven guys and myself sitting in it, walks up to the guy sitting next to me, and tries to ask him questions about my code review. Guy sitting next to me says he has no idea and to ask me. Contractor Dude then proceeds to walk up to each of the other six guys with questions about something I sent him. I keep telling him that I have his answers, but he’s ignoring me and proceeding from one guy to the next, who all (understandably) blow him off. Finally he walks into the middle of the aisle and stands there looking completely lost, saying something like “well, I’ve asked everybody and nobody knows the answer, what on earth am I to do?”

        I snapped. Looked him in the eye and said, “I have the information you need. Or are you looking for somebody MALE?” Gave him his answers, he never did it again (not to my knowledge anyway). He was a young-ish guy, probably in his early thirties; so, no, it doesn’t matter. They come in all shapes and sizes and age groups.

      5. Vicki*

        Wouldn’t only hiring one have been better?
        Or did you hope that, as he would be an intern, you could “fix” him?

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    Sometimes people get so nervous about job interviews or so hung up on what they perceive as the formality of the occasion that they go into what I think of as “interview persona”: They become so formal and reserved that it’s impossible to get a sense of what they would actually be like to work with day to day.

    This is absolutely true but doesn’t go for just job interviews. I used to interview 8th graders applying to high school, and the overpreparation some parents give their 13-year-old kids to appear “polished” actually backfires. We know the kid is 13. We know the kid is a kid. Show some vulnerability—that will make your interviewer think you’re human and interesting.

    (And before some parents plop in here to tell me “Well, I overprepared my kid, and she got into such-and-such school,” your kid got in there despite the overpreparation, not because of it.)

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Yeah, this one is so hard, especially for people who aren’t great with new people to begin with. One of the only useful bits of advice I got from my law school career counselor was to try and imagine that I’ve met the interviewer a couple of times before and had friendly, encouraging conversations about my career. I’m not sure how well that’s worked in execution, but it has helped with nerves a bit.

      Also, the idea of interviewing for high school is freaking terrifying. I was a mess when I was 13. You’d have been lucky if I showed up in clean clothing and made eye contact with anyone.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Also, the idea of interviewing for high school is freaking terrifying. I was a mess when I was 13. You’d have been lucky if I showed up in clean clothing and made eye contact with anyone.

        Well, we try to do everything we can to put these kids at ease. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do. But that’s also my point—high school admission folks aren’t looking for an articulate college graduate; they’re looking for a 13-year-old who shows promise and is interesting.

    2. A Mom...*

      I felt this way about dating! I always tried to be as much like “me” as I could be–sometimes even being OK w/ being a slightly more distilled, concentrated version of “me.” If he didn’t like me as I was, I didn’t want him to ask me out again.
      I couldn’t imagine anything more horrendous than going on second and fourth dates thinking, “I hope he doesn’t dump me once he sees what I’m really like–I have to keep pretending!”

    3. Pari*

      Interviews for high school? This is a bit over the top don’t you think. Who has to try out to get their basic education?

      1. Drae*

        It’s not like you wouldn’t be able to go to a high school if you don’t do well in an interview. You just wouldn’t get to go to whatever prestigious high school you were interviewing at (like one that focuses mainly on the arts or technology).

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          Yes, I should have been clearer. This was working in admissions for independent (more commonly known as private) high schools.

      2. super anon*

        I’ve written reference letters for toddlers for junior kindergarten. Private school is a whole other world.

        1. Emmie*

          What can you say about the kid in those letters? I have never been exposed to this world, and I am now fascinated.

            1. Emmie*

              I was thinking “crafts intricate architectural building block masterpieces with Hadid-pizazz that far surpasses high developmental expectations.” But I accidentally wrote “pizza” instead of “pizzaz.” :)

          1. Tex*

            It’s more about the parents, their backgrounds, how they are encouraging their child’s interests + a generic “the child seems bright and above average maturity for age”, etc. The recommendation functions as a social screen for the right “type” of social strata. One of my friends had his boss write one of the letters (y’know, because 50+ year old bankers understand the nuances of fingerpaint). >_<

            1. J*

              My first part-time job in college was working in an independent school admissions office. Listening in on the pre-k interviews was really eye-opening. It’s a different world out there.

          2. Ames*

            My mom was a preschool teacher for a number of years and wrote a lot of reference letters, either for private schools or when the child was on the “edge” of a grade (ie summer or early fall birthday). It was mostly about their behavior, eg listens to instructions well, can sit still and listen without interrupting, interacts well socially with other children, etc. Pre-K is more about children learning about how to behave in a school environment.

        2. Pari*

          everytime I start picturing what that letter would look like I start chuckling out loud. My kids were in a private school early on and this still sounds ridiculous.

          1. Sami*

            Sometimes it’s what’s also called Y5s (Young 5s) or even Y4s (Young 4s).
            It can be a combination of kindergarten and preschool. Perhaps a half day of each. Or just a half day if regular kindergarten is a whole day.

          2. super anon*

            Here there’s junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten. It’s basically pre-school, but it costs significantly more and the kids wear private school uniforms. It’s half a day as opposed to a whole day, and the children learn things like basic math, spelling, etc. From what I’ve been told it’s also a good way to get a leg up for your kid to get into K-12 private school after, because they already have an affiliation with the school.

          3. BSD*

            In Ontario, there are two years of kindergarten: junior kindergarten, which starts at age 4, and senior kindergarten, which starts at age 5. It’s part of the formal schooling system, and most elementary schools start in junior kindergarten (JK) and go up to grade 6 or grade 8.

      3. Retail HR Guy*

        And what kind of basic education can you really get in such an insulated environment, anyway? Sure, you may learn math and chemistry but you won’t have an inkling about the real world and the real people in it.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I went to a rich suburban public high school, which was extremely sheltered, and I can assure you most private high schools have far more (ethnic and socioeconomic) diversity and real world exposure than most rich suburban public schools do.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Very true.

            And I’m glad you’ve pointed out the socioeconomic diversity. So glad my sons’ school had it (in addition to some degree of the ethnic one). Yea it was an 8 on greatschools instead of a 10, and my kids’ graduating class had four National Merit finalists in it instead of 24, but the school made up for that in other ways that are IMO invaluable to my kids now that they are in their 20s and out in the real world (more or less).

        2. Chickaletta*

          I think you’re looking at it wrong. US public high school education is crap these days. The academic expectations we have for teenagers is incredibly low compared to other developed countries. One reason is there’s too much emphasis on extracurricular activities and sports which take away from academics. Another is that we have a one-track system, so the same twelfth grade history class has the student headed for medical school as well as the student headed for a career in auto mechanics. So the reason for private education isn’t to expose the student to the “real world”, it’s to give them a better academic foundation, period.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Another is that we have a one-track system, so the same twelfth grade history class has the student headed for medical school as well as the student headed for a career in auto mechanics.

            I’ve taught in both tracked and untracked classes. They each have their pros and cons. Tracking is not some magic solution, unfortunately.

          2. Elle*

            It probably depends on the school. I had two in our local public school system, and we’re definitely not one of the wealthier ones. There are quite a few AP classes available to the students. They can also take classes through the local community college at the high school, and a nearby state university offers some classes, also on the high school campus, that count for college credits. When my daughter graduated in 2015, she was able to transfer 46 credit hours that she earned in high school to her 4 year university. She also scored a 32 on her ACT, which is a decent score. I guess there are several factors at play, besides whether it’s a public or private school.

          3. MashaKasha*

            Our school had different variations of honors/AP tracks, and a vocational school… Plus, as Elle correctly pointed out, the post-secondary ed option.

            I believe the tax money I paid to our school district was money well spent. Our district is middle-middle class, with some lower-middle and a tiny sprinkling of upper-middle (there are three high-end prep schools in the ten-mile radius, so that’s where most of the really well-off kids end up) thrown in. The school has historically high rankings, most of the high-school teachers are really good at what they do. My kids walked out of it with AP credits, high SAT/ACT scores, close to full-ride merit scholarships at local universities, *and* some exposure to the real world. I really can’t complain.

        3. Pari*

          You can’t. When my kids were in private school they didn’t see kids that couldn’t afford lunch or clothes. They didn’t see kids with behavioral problems. They didn’t learn how to deal with bullies or learn from kids from other countries. They didn’t see kids that wore expensive labels and kids that couldn’t afford them. They were absolutely in a bubble and it was hugely shocking when we decided to take them out of the bubble and put them in public school. Not to mention they never got to ride the bus which is now their favorite difference between the two.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            How old were your kids when they were in private school? I see a lot more socioeconomic diversity in private high schools than in private middle schools or K-5 / K-8 private schools.

            Basically, you get a lot more rich parents in the K-8 environment who can afford (without financial aid) to send their kids to private K-12 and college. With 9-12, you still get those rich folks, but you get a lot more middle class and poor folks, too, who want a private school education in preparation for college.

            In terms of bullying, it’s a bit of a mixed bag on the private school front. I know a few private schools where there isn’t any bullying, and parents seek them out specifically because their children were being bullied in public school, but I also know there are plenty of private schools that had bullying in them, too.

            1. N.J.*

              To expand on your comment, I was bullied way worse in a private school environment than in public school. Bullying is everywhere, unfortunately.

          2. N.J.*

            But that’s not universally true. I went to public school through fifth grade, then to a private parochial school from sixth grade through the rest of high school. The public school system I would have gone too was a result of the school consolidation trend. I grew up in a rural state with a few population centers with one predominant ethnicity. The public high school, for example, had over 2,000 students with single digit percentages of minority students present. The private school had a mix of ethnicities and religious traditions and, though it may surprise folks, a mix of socio-economic groups. This particular school did a good job of providing scholarships for students to attend who could not otherwise afford to do so. I’m not saying that this is the case for all private schools, but the assumption that kids won’t see a diverse perspective of the world, the people in it and the different way lives are led in this world, solely because they go to a private school,is incorrect. Just as in public school, as another commenter pointed out up thread, exposure to the world, as it were, depends on the focus of the school, the student body itself, the teachers, the curriculum etc. I would argue that sometimes, private schools can have more flexibility to deliberately set up their school communities to achieve goals such as exposure to the “real world.”

              1. N.J.*

                Definitely, which is why I added a lot of qualifiers to my statements and assessments. Not all private schools are isolated environments for the rich and powerful and not all private schools are scions of diversity and creating world citizens. The same for public schools.

        4. ArtK*

          It really depends on the school and how they see their mission. The boys’ school made a conscious effort to provide some breadth in the education and experience. They did have a range of students, although there was still a lot of skewing. We were some of the “poorer” people there; the boy’s mom was a teacher in the school and I’m a software engineer. We had kids of A-list celebrities whose parents could afford my net worth as pocket change.

          Despite all the efforts, they did have some bad blind spots. We were cringing during an awards ceremony where they trotted out two kids from a very impoverished area and were tremendously condescending to them. Smart and deserving kids (ended up at a major university) but the way things were said about them were entirely tone-deaf.

          1. Pari*

            Most of the so called poorer kids I’ve seen in private schools are middle class in public schools.

            Although I know there are some private schools that cater to a lower socioeconomic areas and students.

            For me the biggest difference I saw was that private school constantly had their hand out wanting more money much moreso than public.

            Also, I know a lot of private parents who regretted not putting that tuition money in a college savings fund.

            1. ArtK*

              Amen to their wanting more money. My sons have been out for two and three years each. They’ve *both* been hit for donations as alumni. They’re in college and (mostly) unemployed. And I (and my ex) get letters asking for money as parents of alumni. She finds it tremendously ironic since she’s an employee of the school.

              But then, most public schools have their hands out these days for a lot of stuff. Some is subtle like the “bring an extra box of crayons at the start of school” to monumental fees for extra-curricular activities. Ex taught at a fine-arts magnet for several years and always had to scrounge for supplies.

              We’re definitely upper-middle-class but poor by comparison. I can’t *imagine* spending close to $10,000 for SAT tutoring or a special college entrance consultant.

            2. Anonymous Educator*

              Most of the so called poorer kids I’ve seen in private schools are middle class in public schools.

              That’s funny, because the private schools I’ve worked in have had the opposite problem—lots of aid to people who need practically a full ride, very little aid to the middle-class parents.

              Again, as mentioned above, everything will depend on the school. You can’t generalize private schools favor the middle class or favor the poor. It really depends on the school.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Today’s public schools are more segregated than they were when Brown v. board of Education was litigated, in part because we have some of the worst housing segregation since Jim Crow. I went to public school and a hippie private junior high, and they each have their limits.

    4. ArtK*

      I used to give tours to prospective families at my sons’ middle school. Right after the tour, they would head over to admissions for their interviews; first the kids and then the kids and parents. I’d always give them two pieces of advice: 1) You’re interviewing the school as much as they are interviewing you; make sure that you like us, too! 2) Be yourself; don’t worry about what you think the interviewer wants to see. They want to see the real you.

      Probably counter to what the parents had been priming their kids with, but oh well.

  3. Sue Wilson*

    I still use the “I’m a perfectionist” weakness, because it’s true and it’s professionally harmed me. I think the key is that you can’t treat it like it’s not a real flaw: detail how it’s harmed you AND what concrete steps you’ve made to mitigate the issue. I feel like people always take me seriously, because I treat it like the problem it is.

    1. NW Mossy*

      To avoid the eye-rolls, you might think about framing this in a way that avoids the use of the term “perfectionist” but still gets to the same point. I’d phrase it more like “I know that I have a tendency to overwork a piece or sink more time than is needed into a specific task because I worry it’s not good enough, so I [x] to make sure that I’m keeping things moving while maintaining high quality.” It sounds less facile and more reflective to point to the specific perfectionist behaviors and their causes.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Exactly. I think you could reframe it as “what would your manager say is your biggest weakness?” Your manager isn’t going to say, “Sue is a perfectionist.”

        They’re going to say negative results from perfectionist tendencies:
        “Sue rather spend three days researching something herself in order to not look like she doesn’t know, rather than ask a 3-minute question to the person who knows.”
        “Sue let’s everyone else answer client questions on calls, even though I know she knows the answer.”

        Say those things instead. The interviewer can easily understand why these types of things are your downfall and you avoid the eyeroll on the way to getting to your longer explanation.

        1. Important Moi*

          Let’s have some fun with examples:

          Pat the Perfectionist says: “I like to edit and re-edit a document so that I’m the last one on the team who looks at the document before it’s sent out. That way I know it’s perfect.”

          Your Boss says: “We often have to delay releasing documents because Pat spends so much time reviewing them.”

          Pat the Perfectionist says: “I like to be the only point of contact for a project to avoid confusion.”

          Your Boss: “Pat has a tendency to not let other team members participate. It causes a delay as to when other team members get needed information.”

        2. Sue Wilson*

          My managers have absolutely used the term perfectionist, so ymmv, but regardless “treating it like the problem it is” would involve discussing it’s concrete effects.

          1. Anna*

            I think it’s different if they use that term to you, but if YOU use the term with people interviewing you, it’s more likely to be the eye rolly thing.

      2. Aurion*

        Yup, this. The perfectionist label has some eyerolly baggage with it, so I’d frame it as a perspective issue. Same thing, less loaded term.

        “Sometimes I lose perspective and don’t see the forest for the trees. I’ll spend a week editing the document template to perfection even if the marketing team needed it two days ago. To mitigate this, I…”

        1. Important Moi*

          Is this really a good example though?

          The marketing team needed your contribution 2 days ago at the start of your example. How do you mitigate that?

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I think so–I’ve done this and though I didn’t miss deadlines, I pushed them. So I had to first take a step back and check the deadline, then assess what they really need from the document or whatever the thing was (it wasn’t always a document; sometimes, it was a process). Otherwise, I’d sit there all day making sure each space was uniform and blah blah blah and then totally overwork the thing.

            So my go-to is, “In the past, I would get bogged down in details and lose track of the overall scope of an assignment. This resulted in last-minute scrambling when it was due, so now I make sure that before I start, I make note of the deadline and set up reminders if necessary. Then I make sure to take steps back during its development so I can see how much I have yet to do.”

            Or something like that. And yes, I’ve been asked if I went too far the other way, and then I get to say, “Yes, that has happened, but if I make sure I’m well aware of the deadline, then it’s easier to pace the assignment so I have plenty of time to wrap it up and still hit all the requirements.”

            BOOM :)

          2. Aurion*

            I was unclear. I was trying to mitigate the tendency to lose perspective and get bogged down in details (e.g. set clear timelines, checkins, etc.), not mitigate the marketing team’s deadline! The above would be an example where not seeing the forest for the trees was an actual problem, not just an irritating habit (in the sense that if you submitted it at the last microsecond before the deadline the marketing team might be irate, but it would technically fulfill the deadline).

            1. Aurion*

              er, that should read “mitigate the tendency to lose perspective and get bogged down in details (by setting clear timelines, checkins, etc.)”. The e.g. would change the meaning significantly.

      3. Lissa*

        This is really good advice. I admit to definitely having the eye-roll reaction, but part of this is because I’ve known 2 people who described themselves as “perfectionists” and were…uh, definitely nothing of the sort. So I sort of lump it in with people who tell me they are “great at multi-tasking” or “really good at reading people.” Of course there are people who are good at these things and know it but I know so many people who think that and others would not agree…

    2. Stardust*

      It works for you! I wouldn’t stop using that as an example because like you said it truly is something you are working on and have concrete examples that show you have reflected on your areas to grow.

    3. AFB*

      To be fair if i interview someone and they say their weakness is being a perfectionist but then go on to explain than it results in them spending too much time on details that don’t really matter, and discuss how they’re trying to improve things, i’ll usually let that go.

      I interviewed someone last week where the conversation went like:
      “My weakness is i’m such a perfectionist.”
      “And how is that a weakness for you?”
      “… I really hate making mistakes, it really bothers me.”
      “What are the disadvantages to that?”
      “It just really bothers me and I beat myself up about it.”

      Minus points also for “I work TOO hard.” and “I care TOO much” as weaknesses.

    4. Clever Name*

      I can legit say I’m a perfectionist, but knowing that it’s such as cliche “weakness” that people like to claim, I’ve started saying that based on feedback I’ve gotten, sometimes I’m too detail-oriented.

  4. Pari*

    I’m not necessarily bothered by candidates that don’t scan the interviewers after every question. I think it’s perfectly okay to respond to the interviewer that asked the question, especially for jobs that don’t involve speaking to a group. After all, a panel interview is more nerve wracking by nature.

    Some turnoffs for me:

    1. Excessive verbal ticks. Um’s, whatnots, you know’s grate on me like no other. I find myself hearing those things louder than anything else they say.

    2. Someone who can’t deal with the stress of an interview. People who clam up, are stonefaced, or super serious give me some insight into how they act in stressful situations. I’m always looking to hire folks that take steps to de escalate the stresses that come with every job. Whether it’s a bit of work appropriate humor or some reminders that put things into perspective I will not hire anyone who isnt contributing to a less stressful environment.

    1. Me*

      Verbal ticks are the worst. One of my coworkers puts “y’know” into every sentence. Part of me wants to tell her it’s noticeable, but would I just be making her feel awkward about something she can’t fix?

      1. Trig*

        Personally, if my verbal ticks are called out to me, I become hyper aware of them, and work to correct them. But something else will probably sneak in. My bad one lately is finishing a sentence with “so” or “but” (as in, “I can have that to you by Monday, though I’m waiting to hear from Averny about their timeline so…”). It’s as though I’m subconsciously leaving them to draw their own conclusions. But of course, on the phone it might just sound like I’ve been cut off, so I’m working to stop doing it.

        Point is, it’s not necessarily that she can’t fix it, it’s probably more that if isn’t not “y’know” it’ll be “so” or “do you see” instead. Most people have a word-between-words that just slips out unintentionally while their brain is working on the next word.

        1. Audiophile*

          A friend pointed out that I said y’know a lot, which just made me really aware of it
          And so as I was having conversations, in my effort to avoid saying that phrase, I’d trail off or stop abruptly.

          I eventually was able to cut down on using that phrase.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          So was the word I got dinged for a lot in Toastmasters. I still can’t seem to shake it.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I had a person in my life who loooved the word “so”. I really admired this person and I never realized how much of her “so” I had picked up. It’s been years and I am still monitoring my “so’s”. At least I know where it comes from and it does make me think of her and smile….soooo……..

    2. Elle*

      I do mock interviews with high school students, and they use the word “like” waaaay to much. I write that pretty consistently on their feedback sheets.

  5. FruitRollups*

    Re: weaknesses, one of my weaknesses is that I have a tendency to work quickly, and sometimes that leads to overlooking details. I’ve developed a system to safeguard against this, and it’s worked out pretty well for me. So here’s my question – I’m a database developer, therefore I do a lot of programming. Is it the “kiss of death” for me to say in an interview that sometimes I overlook details? I’ve been applying to jobs recently, and I’m worried that if I talk about this specific weakness, then every interviewer is going to be like, “NOPE can’t have that around” despite my other qualifications, since this seems to be a pretty important thing for programmers. (I have only been programming for about 3 years.) Thanks!

    1. Mephyle*

      I’m not speaking from experience in the field, but just giving an opinion based on what you said: “I’ve developed a system to safeguard against this, and it’s worked out pretty well.” If you can ‘sell’ this and leave the solution instead of the weakness as the lasting impression in your interviewers’ minds for your answer to this question, it’s probably better than inventing something that’s either (1) too trivial, or (2) not true.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Yes, it could be a kiss of death. Because the weaknesses question is highly unlikely to be answered with anything useful, I think it’s a sign of a bad interviewer. Applicants hear it as “Tell us a reason we shouldn’t hire you.”

      A friend of mine, when answering this question, pulled out a list of things that he does that annoyed his wife (they had made the list together that morning) and said, “Well, according to my wife…..” Things like doesn’t fold socks correctly, is too loud in the morning, etc. He got the job. Definitely a ‘know your audience’ thing, though.

      1. AFB*

        I don’t think it’s asking for a reason not to hire you. It’s asking if you’re able to self-reflect and assess your own abilities.

        If I ask you complete a task I want you to tell me upfront if it’s something you can do and how long it will take you to complete it. People that have no self-awareness can’t do that. They just say yes to every request, do a bad job/finish late, and don’t understand why you’re always on at them when they’re trying their hardest.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I do think there are better ways of getting at that without bringing all the baggage of the “greatest weakness” phrasing into it. Allison mentioned “what kind of developmental feedback you’ve received or what areas you’re working on improving in” as alternate framing that I think makes the question easier for everyone.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Eh, do they realize that you want them to answer them in this manner? There are many, many jobs out there where the employee does not have the option of saying it’s not doable or it will take twice as long to complete. Matter of fact, saying that could get them fired.

          I had a situation a few months ago. I love my boss, I have a terrific boss. But she said “I need X RIGHT NOW.” I was buried at that point and I said, “I can’t”. I could hear the people around me gasp in anticipation of what would happen next. I mean, I just told my boss NO. My terrific boss said, “Thanks for letting me know where things are at for you. I will get it.” The outsiders around me were in awe.

          My point here is that many people think you should never say no to a boss nor should you tell the boss something will take longer because that is a softer way of still saying no.

      2. hbc*

        I’d hear it more as “tell us what makes you less than a superstar.” Yes, it could mean you won’t get hired, but if you’re honest, it’s actually a good thing. If you get mired in details and I need someone who can get Good Enough out the door fast, neither one of us is going to be happy if I hire you. If I need someone who will get every detail right and you overlook details, ditto. If you say you’ve got a system that covers for your natural inclinations, it might put you a smidge behind another candidate who has your exact background but doesn’t need a system, but I’d just be sure to ask your references about it if you were a good candidate otherwise.

    3. NW Mossy*

      While I’m not a programmer, I manage a team with core tasks that require a deep attention to detail. It’s not a deal-killer to me to have someone like you on my team (and I do), particularly if the employee is aware of the issue and knows both what triggers that behavior and how to mitigate those triggers.

      The other thing to be aware of is that while something might appear to be a weakness on the surface, they can have a corresponding positive that is very beneficial. I’ve found that people who work quickly and are prone to overlooking details tend to have a gift for seeing the bigger picture. The latter can be a helpful counterbalance on a team that skews detail-oriented and in-the-weeds.

      1. I used to be Murphy*

        I was going to add (in a similar vein as this) that it depends on the team you’ll be coming into. For example, I too work fast but tend to overlook details, so I hire at least a few people who are the opposite to me on that so we have a check and balance. If the interviewer already has a team of fast, but not detail oriented-type people then they may not want another one, but if they’re looking for big picture thinking and can have someone else do quality control, then it may not be a big deal at all.

    4. Koko*

      I think the key thing is to frame your weakness as, “Under X conditions that I’ve learned to mitigate, I struggle with Y.” So you can say that you overlook details when you don’t use your system, and that’s why you developed this system to compensate for your natural shortcoming in this area.

    5. points*

      I always wonder about these questions, because if you have a weakness and you’ve developed a system to safeguard against it, is it still a weakness? I always consider weaknesses to be things that you just fail at, and I have a hard time coming up with something that isn’t going to immediately take me out of the running. Or is this question just more of a, “What do you really have to work at and pay attention to to be good at?” kind of thing?

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I don’t think that anyone’s expecting a literal answer to this question. I’ve always used a “what I leaned from my first critical performance review” answer and I’ve never an an interviewer seem irritated or ask for my “new” greatest weakness. That said, I rarely actually get that precise question but still often work that story in anyhow as it’s one that’s generally useful for a few different behavioral answers.

      2. SS*

        The idea is that even if it’s something you fail at, that you are working to improve it instead of just passively letting it stay a problem. For example, you say you get shy or timid about meeting new people. Then you elaborate on how you’re dealing with it by attending local events to put yourself out there and get more comfortable with it.

        You get to pick and choose a good example. Don’t tell them a fatal flaw you have, tell them something that affects your work but that you are trying to improve. Show them how you want to be a better person/worker, not a defeatist “ya, I suck at this, and I always will”.

    6. BRR*

      I don’t know if this would be different for the jobs you’re applying for but for me this is too much of a weakness. I would be skeptical of your system if I was just meeting you in an interview. If I knew your work and thought it was good, I wouldn’t be as worried about it.

    7. Mimmy*

      I have the opposite problem – I tend to get so mired in details that I miss the bigger picture. It also sometimes slows down my progress. That might be a good “weakness” for me ;)

    8. the gold digger*

      I am not at all a detail person and don’t want a job where that is important, but if I do have to deal with details (surprise! I was put in charge of the financial reporting at my previous job when my boss quit right after hiring me), I have developed redundancy systems to make sure I don’t miss things.

      If being very detail oriented is part of the job, then do not hire me! I am a big-picture person who is not afraid to try new things and loves ambiguity and chaos.

    1. hayling*

      Very true. But some people act aggressively formal and you can’t get any sense of their real personality.

  6. Trout 'Waver*

    I think a lot of these things go both ways. I think being overly formal, offering up false weaknesses, and not reading the interviewee are all common mistakes made by the interviewer as well.

    1. hayling*

      Yes! I interviewed for a marketing position at a consulting firm once. The woman was *so* formal. Maybe that was her actual personality, who knows. But it did *not* make me want to work there.

    2. What Not*

      I totally agree. In my spare time I interview students for college admission, and while it’s not quite the same as professional interviews and every industry is different, I consider it my job to help the students relax and show as much of their real selves as possible. I still get plenty of canned answers as they’ve given the same “what I’m passionate about” spiels before, but I almost never end up with an overly formal or otherwise “off”-feeling interview.

    3. Sas*

      Thank you for saying this. It is soo true. If you think about it in these terms, there are some things that someone interviewing could do differently, but interviewee and interviewer play off of each other. It is their house, so to speak, how that person sets the stage for an interviewee is important! It’s almost the most important aspect of the situation.

  7. hayling*

    My trick for getting people to relax and show a bit of their personality is to ask what their interests are outside of work. It’s amazing how quickly someone’s demeanor will change.

    Although it’s not just a trick–I do actually like to learn about a candidate’s personal life, because I want to work with people who are interesting and are not workaholics. My company really values work/life balance, and people often share their hobbies with the team. My boss taught us to knit, and is going to teach us how to bake pie! Another team member is getting certified as a yoga teacher and holds weekly yoga classes.

    1. Koko*

      Yes, I always start interviews with one or two softballs (“How did you hear about this role?” “What aspect of the job description attracted you the most?”) and then make good eye contact, nod along, and smile where appropriate to draw them out of their shell before I get to the behavioral questions.

    2. CMart*

      Has anyone ever given you a great response to the “what do you do with your free time?” (or whatever the question is) when they don’t actually do anything particularly interesting? I’ve been searching with great futility for a way to express “I don’t do anything specifically interesting, but I am still an interesting person with a life outside of work”.

      These questions always throw me because when I’m not doing work stuff I’m just… relaxing. I watch dumb TV shows, I read advice blogs and online thinkpieces about the Topic du Jour, I go for walks and listen to podcasts, my husband and I catch up on The Daily Show and play Trivial Pursuit.

      But none of those are hobbies, you know?

      1. points*

        “I take recharging very seriously. I like to take walks and listen to interesting podcasts, read about current events and my husband and I are locked in an everlasting battle of Trivial Pursuit.”

        I think this is as interesting as “I do a lot of knitting.”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Right! My job is about as dedicated to one thing as I want to get. I dabble in things, but I’m not going to tell my interviewer about the power lifting I’ve been doing 2x/week for the past 3 months or the marathon that culminated 15 yrs of on-and-off hobby running with a knee injury. Or my progressively increased commitment to following youth baseball. I’m busy. I do things, but I do different things and hobbies always take a backseat to my work and family commitments.

        1. Aurion*

          Exactly! I’m not sure what my hobbies would tell you, anyway. I follow e-sports, I write fanfiction, I watch video game walkthroughs, I read books, I watch more “serious” shows and kids’ cartoons on Netflix, I weightlift. Other than having varied interests, I have no idea what my hobbies say about me. And that’s not even touching if an interviewer would find my hobbies weird (they probably would).

        2. J*

          Wait… why not talk about the power lifting? Or your involvement in youth baseball?

          I think the goal here is to get you talking about something you have an active interest in, and to see what happens. I’m confused why you would choose not to talk about those things you have an active interest in? Who knows: you and the interviewer may have something in common.

      3. Koko*

        I’m a lot like you in that I don’t really have anything I’d call a hobby. I don’t have much downtime and I spend most of it watching TV or browsing the internet.

        Part of the reason I don’t have much downtime and don’t do much during it, though, is because of all the things I prioritize doing that eat up my time and energy: keeping a clean house, cooking my meals ahead of time on the weekends so that I can eat healthy during the week, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep every night, and trying to do my 30-40 minutes of hard time on the elliptical every day.

        If that happens to be your situation as well, here’s a little revelation for you: those are your hobbies, boring as they are. Those are the things you’ve intentionally carved time out of your week for because they matter a lot to you. Your friends who have more exciting/interesting hobbies? Probably don’t get enough sleep, or they eat a lot of junk or expensive take-out, or they don’t find time for the gym, or they rarely have a clean house. That’s because they are carving out time for what matters most to them, which is maybe a sport or an artistic passion.

        So if that’s you, own the fact that those are your priorities and they’re part of who you are and what you value. A sample answer using the above items could be: “I’m a bit of a health nut, so I try to sweat every day and get a good night’s sleep every night. I also love finding new healthy recipes to try out on the weekends and freeze for later. I also seem to spend a lot of time cleaning, but I actually weirdly enjoy it! I’ll usually put some TV on while I’m tidying things up.”

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      Ohh, see, that would make me get really guarded. I’ve always thought the “interests outside of work” was unnecessary in a job interview because my personal life is no one’s business. Not to mention, if I answer with a hobby or interest the interviewer thinks is weird/lonely/strange/not what they like, then well, I don’t want the interviewer’s perception of me to be based on my hobbies.

      1. Jesmlet*

        If you feel that strongly about maintaining a distance between your personal life and work life, then a company that asks this question is probably not the best fit. It’s good for you to know that they care about this so then you can factor it into the decision. We ask because we do care and someone who puts that kind of wall up wouldn’t necessarily be the best fit in our office.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          My issue is I’m wary of sharing personal things with someone I don’t know. I have no problem talking about hobbies with coworkers I know and see on a daily/weekly basis, but a stranger I’ve just met? I’d be really uncomfortable doing that. (Of course, I know this a regional habit and personality trait, so that could be it too)

          1. Jesmlet*

            I guess I understand that, but it’s such an innocuous question, it’s like one of those stereotypical things you ask people you just met that you’re trying to get to know better, that I think if I sensed discomfort on the other end, my mind would invent much worse reasons for why you won’t answer.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Yeah, same here. I’m as private as it gets at work, but I loved that “What do you do in your spare time?” question when I got it in an interview nearly three years ago. I told them I wrote books, and it immediately shifted the conversation – the energy in the room had been pretty formal (I was nervous and tense), and then I started excitedly talking about writing and publishing. The panel suddenly seemed interested in me then, and I was able to relax for the second part of the interview (I ended up getting the job, too).

      2. Jesmlet*

        Also I think hobbies tell you a lot about a person- are you someone who likes activities that involve other people or are you comfortable engaging in something along, are your hobbies creative in nature or analytical, etc. You just need the right person to ask and interpret them.

      3. hayling*

        I don’t really care *what* you do, I just want to know that you have a personality. I also work at a company where unusual hobbies are celebrated–one candidate (who we hired) told me in the interview that he mods Nerf guns.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          I don’t know, hobbies don’t always show personality and I think there are better questions to draw out someone’s personality that are work related and not related to my personal life.

          1. Sas*

            Agree with this. This is really part of the problem. It doesn’t show much of who you are. It’s another question to really just weed out whether or not the person likes you.

    4. Pari*

      That’s a land mine. Just wait until someone says something like church, bible study, hunt, gamble, drink, advocate for anti vax, collect guns, etc

      1. MashaKasha*

        Seriously. I’m heading out of town for a Mensa event tomorrow. You’d have to torture me to get that data out of me at an interview, because I know damn well that a interviewer might take this as personal offense.

        One of my favorite social groups that I enjoy spending time with is an atheist/FFRF-based meetup group. Same principle applies. For the same reason.

        Honestly, if asked about hobbies, I’ll probably sputter for a few minutes before saying something harmless like “reading” or “gardening” or “cat-sitting”; which in turn will lead my employer to believe that I don’t have a personality (can you believe I typed this before I read hayling’s comment above? Yay ESP), or any interests outside of work. This almost sounds like a question you’ve got to prepare for before coming in to interview, otherwise it really may turn into a land mine.

        1. MashaKasha*

          “an interviewer”

          That was an unfortunate typo placement, given the rest of that paragraph!

    5. Rob Lowe can't read*

      I was asked about my hobbies once, in what I am assuming was a “let me put you at ease” softball question (although the rest of the interview was completely bizarre). I said that I liked reading and listening to podcasts. The interviewer then asked me to name some podcasts I like, selected one from those that I mentioned, and asked me to tell what the most recent episode I’d listened to was about. Not exactly a piece of information that was at the front of my brain at that moment; it felt more like being quizzed to see if I really listened to Planet Money or if I was a phony than an attempt to get to know me. (The rest of the interview was all Google-type personality questions. It was awful.)

      1. MashaKasha*

        Oof! I’ve only had this happen once, on a first date (same thing as an interview essentially….)

        He: So what do you like to do on your free time?
        I: I like to read (honest answer, I taught myself to read when I was three and wasn’t seen without a book since)
        He: What did you read last weekend?

        The date pretty much ended after that.

  8. Mimmy*

    When your interviewer asks what questions you have, this is your cue to ask genuine questions that you have about the work or the company, so that you are better equipped to figure out if the job is the right fit for you. Yet some candidates use this time to ask questions that are really just set-ups to try to sell themselves for the job.

    This always confused me. So…how do you respond when an interviewer answers your question(s) without coming across sales-y or–on the opposite end–you realize that the job might not be a good fit?

    1. Koko*

      I usually keep a poker face in the interview and just nod thoughtfully and maybe take a brief note about their answer so I can remember it later. Whether it was a positive or a negative for me, I just say something like, “Thanks, that’s really helpful to know.” I suppose if I thought it might be a problem but wasn’t sure I would follow up with additional questions to try to suss it out. If something was a dealbreaker I would sleep on it and then email to withdraw from the process the next day if I still felt that way.

    2. Chickaletta*

      Yeah, this has always bothered me too. Sometimes we get to the end of the interview and they ask me what questions I have, but the interview was good enough that I already got all my questions answered. My tactic is to be honest and say, “Well, I wanted to know more about X, Y, and Z, but we already covered those so I’m good to go!”.

    3. Karo*

      This came up here recently, and I had teh same question. Of course, I can’t find the post or the actual responses, but I think the general consensus was that if the question is “what type of environment would you say you have?” and the answer is something along the lines of collaborative or team-work, you can say “oh that’s great to know” or “I thrive in those types of environments,” but not “I worked on a really collaborative project last year and I’m super good at it here’s how you know I’m super good at it.” I’ll keep looking for the link, though.

  9. Not Today Satan*

    #1 (Only looking at or addressing one of your interviewers) is so annoying! I once joined an interview in the middle of it and the man didn’t even glance at me as I opened the door, walked to the table, and sat down. Like really?? And the pattern continued throughout the rest of the interview.

    This trait annoys me in all meetings. Someone will decide I don’t matter and pretend I’m not there lol.

  10. Former Invoice Girl*

    This relates both to admitting to real/genuine weaknesses and showing vulnerability – I’m wondering how personal can those weaknesses be without sounding overly personal?

    One weakness I have is that I’m not assertive at all, which sometimes leads to issues with performance and situations getting awkward between me and coworkers (at least I think so. I’ve never got negative feedback because of it, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel like I just haven’t been found out yet). This is something I could actually talk about in an interview, but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to bring up or not. Leaning more towards “not”, but I’m not sure (not to mention that it’s probably something I should’ve already got over ages ago). What do you all think?

    1. BRR*

      I don’t think it’s too personal as long as you put it in a business context and speak about it in a way that doesn’t sound like you want to dominate all discussions. I wouldn’t say that it’s lead to some awkward situations. I would say how you would like to be more assertive in certain situations, maybe say a time when you wish you had been more assertive, and the steps you’re taking to fix it.

    2. AFB*

      I think unless you’re applying for a position where you’re going to be a position of authority (giving direct instructions, sometimes giving negative feedback), it’s probably not going to be an issue.

      If your lack of assertiveness means you find it hard to say no when Sue asks to swap shifts, that’s not going to scare employer’s aware as it’s something a good manager can help you change with coaching and support.

      1. NW Mossy*

        That last bit (coaching) is key! I’d say that my entire team struggles with assertiveness (not uncommon in a technical role that’s not customer-facing), and it’s something I’m working with them on all the time. I don’t know that any of them will ever feel totally natural with it, but they’re getting better. I use a lot of Alison’s script-giving technique to help them get comfortable with what “assertive but nice” looks like.

  11. Anonymous Educator*

    I wonder if the question about “weakness” is not the best phrasing if you want to get a useful answer from most candidates? Some may be able to answer it well, but it’s just so explicitly negative. I’d prefer to ask about specific anecdotal mistakes candidates have made in past jobs, and what they did to correct those mistakes or what they learned from those mistakes. Or ask about what skills they’re looking to improve in the future or are currently working on right now.

  12. AFB*

    Don’t insult your current/previous employer. It always reflects badly on you. You can always word things in a way that doesn’t look like you’re just trying to place blame on the employer. Such as explaining why you’re leaving your current role after a short about of time: “I’m leaving my current role as the plan was for the role to be X, however I spend most of my time doing Y. Despite mine and the managements best efforts, the role won’t progress to be doing X for a really long time due to a change in business needs, so it’s no longer aligned with my career goals.” Sounds better than “The company hired me to do a really specific job, and was really misleading in the interview. After i started I found out the job wasn’t what was described and the opportunities mentioned in the interview were at least 2 or 3 years away.”

    I interviewed a candidate who was upset because his employer ‘lied’ to him about his co-workers salary and it was ‘unfair’. It did not go down well.

    1. BRR*

      This is a really going point and example. I think sometimes there can even be a *wink wink* moment with this but if the candidate phrases it professionally and politely it’s not an issue. I would be concerned if someone was insulting an employer that they would think the same of us.

      1. AFB*

        Exactly just phrase things in a neutral way and let the interviewer read between the lines. “I’m sorry my notice period is really firm and my experience of other people leaving my department tells me that there would very little, if any, room for negotiation.” You don’t need to say your boss is an ass who is going to make you work every day of your notice no matter what. They’ll get it.

  13. H.C.*

    As a frequent interviewer of entry-level & intern positions, I’d also add ‘needlessly filling airtime’ when given the opportunity to consider an answer. I’d much rather a candidate take a moment of silence and think through the topic and responding thoughtfully rather than immediately launching a rambling word salad that doesn’t say much at all (and if anything, may say how poorly the candidate handles pressure.)

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Out of curiosity, how do you feel about the “repeat the question back to them” method of taking a little time to consider an answer? I’ve used that one occasionally (and absolutely no more than once in an interview) and sometimes it’ll lead to them rephrasing the question or adding some information that helps me get my answer pulled together.

      1. H.C.*

        I wouldn’t think much of it if it occurs occasionally in the interview; but if it’s for every question (or multiple repeats for a few question), it’d make me wonder about the candidate’s hearing or comprehension.

        Asking for a glass of water at beginning of interview and taking a long sip is another good method to buy some time to think out an answer (again, when done occasionally).

    2. myswtghst*

      As someone who has done some interviewing, I would definitely agree with this. I always reassured candidates that I take a lot of notes, so they don’t have to start / keep talking just because I’m writing – in fact, I’d prefer if they don’t or I’d be taking notes forever!

      I’d also add that if I barely finish the question and you’re already launching into an answer, I tend to feel like you weren’t really listening to the question to ensure you understand what I’m looking for, you were waiting for your turn to respond. When I was interviewing, it was for roles where modeling active listening was super important, so even if you were prepared for the question it was beneficial to at least take a beat before you started answering.

  14. bon bons for all*

    >>When your interviewer asks what questions you have, this is your cue to ask genuine questions that you have about the work or the company, so that you are better equipped to figure out if the job is the right fit for you. Yet some candidates use this time to ask questions that are really just set-ups to try to sell themselves for the job.<<

    Oh, yes. We recently interviewed someone who asked questions, but didn't really listen to the answer and would often interrupt the answer. For example, she'd ask, "How do you handle x" and our boss would start to reply, candidate would start leaning forward, and as soon as boss paused even briefly, candidate would say, "Because at my current job, we do y." Sometimes y was something she didn't approve of, sometimes y was an example of her strengths, but all around, it seemed like she had very little interest in learning what we did and mostly wanted to hear herself talk. It was so bizarre!

  15. she was a fast machine*

    So, I hate the strengths/weaknesses questions, because I never really know what to say. I’m still relatively new to the workforce and so I don’t really have a full grasp on what my work-related strengths and weaknesses are, and I’m not about to tell an interviewer that I sometimes sleep through alarms because of severe depression, or that I can have crippling anxiety that freezes me sometimes(rare events, but still, they could be considered weaknesses by some). So much of my core work-related personality aspects could be seen as both a weakness and a strength(perfectionism, curiosity, honesty, etc.) that I never know what to say or how to say it without sounding like I’m trying to make myself sound good, which I really am not, I want to be honest.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I absolutely dreaded this question for similar reasons until I realized that (1) this question actually doesn’t come up very often, (2) no one is looking for a literal answer, and (3) only a-holes I don’t want to work for treat this question as a trap. I was “lucky” enough to have a fairly memorably critical performance review early in my career that gave me a good answer for this one. If you haven’t had anything like that, maybe try and imagine what it would look like. I think it’s totally fair to translate “weakness” into “area to improve”.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Well, I don’t really know what to say. I am still relatively new to the workforce so I really don’t have a full grasp of what my work related strengths and weakness are.”

      Then give an example something like this: “I like doing X, and I noticed I zip right through that when others struggle. On the other hand, when I learned to do Y, it was my turn to struggle. So I [asked for help, found a solution on google, borrowed a manual, whatever] to help myself through the process. The boss thought I took a little long at it and he found a couple small mistakes. I thanked him for showing me and I made the corrections.”

  16. Stranger than fiction*

    I might add, in addition to not being too stiff and formal, don’t let your guard down too much to the point you’re too casual. My sister flubbed an interview where I work big time once due to this. She had a great phone interview with the hiring manager and felt so comfortable and confident after that, that when she came for the face to face, she really let her guard down too much and they thought she came across as unprofessional.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      A guy interviewing for a position at one of my old employers got so comfortable that he took off his tie, used abundant and colorful profanity, and put. his. feet. on. the. table among other things.

  17. AnotherAnon*

    I had an interview last week and they were all laughing about the acronyms on my resume. When I explained what it meant, “Teapot Editor”, the director was all like, “Well, this isn’t an interview for an editor.” Then at the end, he was all like, “Well, we might be able to use your skills as editor.”
    I received the rejection letter today and tossed it in the garbage. Good riddance. What was I to do in this situation? If they are so focused on the skills/something you don’t have, how do you convince them otherwise? I was doomed from the start. It makes me wonder why I was even called in to interview with them!

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Ug, that sounds like it stank. It really does sound like they shouldn’t have called you in the first place.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I would have told them that I really don’t have what they are looking for then I would have asked “Does it make sense for us to continue talking?”

      Once I just ended the interview, I apologized up and down and said, “I can’t do this work.”
      She did not want me to leave, but I wrapped it up. We shook hands and wished each other the best in the other’s endeavors.

  18. Nerdy Canuck*

    So, as far as “Only looking at or addressing one of your interviewers” goes, is there a specific right way to do this? Intuitively, I feel like the person asking the specific question is the one that cares about it the most (or sometimes based on someone’s role you might have an idea of that), so it would make sense to mostly, but not exclusively, address the answer to them. But is there a better way to do this?

    1. just another librarian*

      I think it’s more a matter of looking and addressing all of the interviewers relatively equally. For example, in a panel interview, a lot of times the interviewers will each have a prepared question and go down the line taking turns asking them. It would make sense for you to look at Person A when she answers her question but not make sense for you to look at Person A exclusively when it was Person B’s question.

  19. Joe Blow*

    bring extra copies of your resume

    Yep, but since you asked for it 19 times when applying for the job, and you presumably read it before scheduling the interview, you should probably already have a copy..

    don’t bad-mouth your previous employers

    Stop asking a bunch of questions trying to get you to bad-mouth your previous employers, then..

    Only looking at or addressing one of your interviewers.

    Gang interviews are extremely awkward for candidates — you’re already in a weird situation, then you’re sitting there with 3-8 people taking notes on everything you’re saying. Trying to make eye contact with everyone throughout every answer is dumb to begin with.

    Being so formal that the interviewer can’t get a real sense of you.

    Yeah, right. As soon as you let a tiny bit of your non “interview persona” out, it’s an instant “NO” to HR people. Who have no idea what kind of qualities a successful person in the role would need to have anyway..

    Offering up fake weaknesses.

    Interviewer: Tell me why you suck.
    Applicant: I actually have a ton to offer, why do you want me to harp on negatives about me?
    Interviewer: Because this company has no faults, I have no faults, “I can see right through” your answer to this supremely awful question. I will say it 17 different ways, thinking I’m smart, and you will have to have 35 different answers before we’re all said and done..

    Turning your time for questions into a sales pitch for yourself.

    That is *exactly* what interviewers seem to want. They’re beyond stumped when you ask them a real question about workplace environment, day to day responsibilities, workflow, hours etc.

    “Or when the interviewer mentions in response to a query about the workplace culture that the team is highly collaborative, the candidate will respond with a long explanation of their past successes in collaboration.”

    That seems like the appropriate response! What are the supposed to do, deflect the question and talk about something completely different like the interviewer is going to do repeatedly?

    Not paying attention to your interviewer’s cues.

    Which ones? The:
    1) I’m an HR person, I’m only asking questions to get people that I personally like, regardless of anything else
    2) I’m an HR person, I have absolutely no idea what it takes to be successful in the job you’re applying for, don’t bother to ask me any questions
    3) I’m an HR person, I’m going to tell you how awesome the company really isn’t, but every question that makes me start to think about something is a negative for you. Don’t ask questions. But, feel free to ask questions.
    4) I’m the department manager. I’ve never actually done your job, I have no idea what you will be doing at all, but I’m tasked with hiring you. You know how to work and stuff? Whoops, you used a professional term I am not familiar with, goodbye. Go meet with the other person we scheduled you with.
    5) I’m a different department manager. I was the only one who didn’t have a meeting scheduled for now, even though I have no idea who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. Let’s waste everybody’s time for an hour!
    6) Secretary says: Nice to meet you! Good luck!

    A couple weeks later, you never hear back and go on with your life. And that’s if you even get a stupid interview to begin with..

    1. a*

      This seems unnecessarily hostile. Yes, your complaints can be legitimate at times, but that doesn’t mean that Alison’s advice is useless or that every interviewer has those attitudes. And the ones who do are probably not ones that you want to work for.

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