interview lines that make hiring managers cringe

When you’re interviewing for a job, the last thing you want to do is inadvertently say something that makes your interviewer cringe or roll her eyes – and yet some of the most common lines used in interviews do exactly that.  Here are five of them.

“I’m the perfect candidate for this job.” Maybe someone somewhere once said this and was correct, but every time I’ve heard a candidate say this, it’s been someone who was actually pretty far from what I was looking for. Strong candidates tend to know that they can’t possibly tell from the outside if they’re “perfect” for the job or not because what makes someone a good fit is nearly always more nuanced than what can be captured in a job description. Plus, as a candidate, you don’t know what strengths the other candidates for the job might bring. So this kind of statement marks you as naïve at best, and can feel pretty awkward for an interviewer who knows that you’re not quite as well-matched as you just announced you are.

“How do I get your job?” Candidates who ask this generally think they’re showing initiative and ambition, but it comes across as off-key. Interviewers want you to be enthusiastic about the job they’re interviewing you for, not one several steps up. It can also make interviewers feel really awkward, if the answer to the question is “wait for me to leave or retire.”

“I’m a perfectionist.” If you read any advice on interviewing, you’ve probably read that you should claim that your biggest weaknesses is that you’re a perfectionist or you work too hard or have trouble leaving your work at the office at night. In other words, the advice goes, offer up something that the interviewer will think is a good thing and not much a weakness at all. But this strategy has become so cliché that most interviewers recognize it easily and roll their eyes at it, and you’ll look disingenuous or lacking in self-awareness. What’s more, most of these answers don’t actually reflect well on you anyway. For example, if say you’re a perfectionist, you may be conveying that you spend energy on the wrong things, miss deadlines, and struggle with productivity.

“I don’t really have any questions.” You should have questions! Asking questions is how you determine if this job, this manager, and this employer are right for you, and good interviewers want to see that you’re thinking critically about those things. Hearing a candidate say that she doesn’t have any questions about the job she’s contemplating spending 40+ hours a week at for the next several years is alarming for a hiring manager. It says that the candidate either isn’t very interested in the job or isn’t thinking deeply enough about it.

I sometimes hear candidates say that all the questions they had were already answered during the earlier part of the interview. While that may be true of all of your prepared questions, now that you’ve learned more you probably have different, more nuanced questions. Build on the conversation you’ve already had, and ask new questions. Don’t squander the opportunity to better inform yourself about a job that you’re seriously considering accepting. (Of course, if you’ve decided during the interview that the job isn’t right for you, it’s fine not to ask additional questions. In that case, it makes sense to just let things wrap up.)

“So how did I do?” Other versions of this question include “Is there any reason you don’t think I’m a great fit for the job?” and even “did I get the job?” These types of questions put your interviewer on the spot in an uncomfortable way. If the answer is “you did great,” she may have no problem sharing that – but often the answer is something more like “eh, you did okay but not great” or even “not so good.” And sometimes your interviewer may just want some time to process her thoughts or get input from others before reaching any conclusions. This kind of question comes across like you’re trying to pin the interviewer down before she’s ready to give you an assessment. And making your interviewer feel awkward isn’t the final impression you want to leave her with.

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

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon Anon*

    This is so timely for me. I’m recruiting for a position, the first time in several years, and it feels each time I hire someone the quality of the potential applicants goes down. The whole perfectionist answer drives me batty. Especially, as most people who use that type of answer aren’t perfectionists. I once had someone tell me that their weakness was being detail oriented, which could have been fine had they not had half a dozen typos in their cover letter (although I give them credit for sending in a cover letter, which seems all too rare these days). I hate the whole turn the negative into a positive thing. I want to know what is a real weakness and what you’ve done to mitigate and/or address that weakness. I learn far more about a candidate that way.

    1. whistle*

      “I want to know what is a real weakness and what you’ve done to mitigate and/or address that weakness.”

      Yes, of course you want to know that, but how likely is it that a candidate is going to give you that information in an interview? I think asking candidates what their weaknesses are is just a doomed interview strategy from the start.

      1. Jaydee*

        I’m not going to give a weakness that I haven’t improved on, but I would definitely give a legit weakness that I have successfully overcome or am making significant progress on. For example, intend to spread myself too thin. I’ve been working really hard to learn to prioritize and to stop myself from impulsively taking on new work without figuring out when and how I will complete it. I would feel very comfortable talking about that in an interview both because I have made a lot of progress in that area and am proud of that but also because I would want a potential employer to know that about me so they can watch for signs of “relapse.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In my experience, strong candidates are actually perfectly comfortable having this conversation honestly — because they don’t want to end up a job they’re a bad fit for or will be unhappy in.

        1. Naruto*

          Does the type of weakness make a difference in those conversations? E.g., an experience deficit is fixable, but a personality or work process weakness like “perfectionist” may not be?

          1. dragonzflame*

            Most weaknesses are fixable if the person wants to fix them and they get support to do so. For instance, I procrastinate, usually because the to-do list in my head freaks me out (and sometimes I then just forget about tasks). But I found that writing stuff down makes the list look more manageable and I do quite well on the satisfaction of crossing stuff off it. I hadn’t realised it was a problem until it came up in a performance review, so my manager at the time ordered me a nice notebook and got me to start writing daily lists.

            It works well in my real life too.

        2. Candi*

          One weakness I have is I have trouble remembering verbal instructions. (Drives my dad nuts.)

          To compensate, I take notes. Lots of notes. I jot down stuff I have to do. I use my smartphone as an extenstion of that part of my brain, with the notepad, calendar, and reminder apps, plus it helps to check my email. I used to use hard copy calendar and paper notepad and pen before I got my phone.

          I’ve often thought this would be a good one to use in an interview because it can be a genuine weakness, and handling it constructively and without fuss can be a good way of showing how to handle such. As long as it’s presented professionally. :P

      3. Hayden*

        “I think asking candidates what their weaknesses are is just a doomed interview strategy from the start.”

        I disagree. I have used the “biggest weakness” question as a way to help myself weed out potential employers who won’t be a good fit for me.

        My biggest weakness is that I am not good at telling people “No,” which means that I don’t work well with managers who make me tell them No frequently to stop them from assigning me more work than I can reasonably handle. (And I live in a small town full of small/family businesses where this type of manager is common).

        After I told an interviewer (who would also be my manager) this, he reflected that this may have been the same reason the person who had just left the position had quit. I declined to move forward in the process when he asked for my references.

        The biggest weakness question can actually work both ways with regards to assessing a good fit.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        It’s not the best question, but I’m honest if I have to answer it:

        I’m not a very comfortable public speaker. I can do it if I have to, but it’s not something I particularly excel at, and despite lots of training and practice I’m still happiest in roles where I can shine in smaller engagements rather than briefing a large room.

      5. Anon Anon*

        I care less about the weakness and more about how the candidate addressed the issue. No one is perfect. We all have weaknesses. The ability to identify weaknesses, how they impact the candidates and their co-workers work, and then the development of strategies to mitigate that weakness shows a level of self-awareness that I think is critical. Especially, as I work in an organization where employees have to work independently most of the time.

      6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        If the candidate has enough emotional maturity to recognize that they do have weaknesses and that those weaknesses mean they won’t be a great fit for every single job under the sun, they will recognize the value of the question and answer it honestly.

        For my part — my weakness is that I’m very bad with deadlines and just flat-out forgetting things that need to be done. I manage this with keeping a detailed to-do list and checking my calendar frequently. I also tend to look for jobs that have a solid, easily-accessible knowledge base that I can use to prompt myself when I forget things. This is good information to give an interviewer, both because it shows what I’m doing to manage myself, and can suggest if the role is not a good one for me.

    2. Collarbone High*

      Also, to me, when a candidate who says (or implies via the “invent a fake weakness that they think is really a positive” approach) that they don’t have any weaknesses, they’re showing me that a) they’re lacking in self-awareness and b) they’re likely to be uncoachable. (Experience has proven this to be true.)

    3. Fishcakes*

      What should someone say if they *are* a perfectionist? I am, and I work hard to combat it. If I don’t stay on top of it, I get too caught up in small details and then have to rush to finish projects. In the past I’ve told interviewers that I make detailed task lists with time limits to keep myself on track (which is true). I do not mention that I have a habit of internally chanting “perfect is the enemy of good! perfect is the enemy of good!”

      1. Liz2*

        I would just change the wording “I can lose perspective and get lost in the weeds, so I’ve learned to make lists with time limits to prioritize and stay on track.”

      2. Anon16*

        I, too, struggle with perfectionism. I tend to become obsessive on certain projects to the point that I let others fall to the way side, or I often can overwork something (in the case with writing) to the point that it initially sounded good before I started obsessively working on it. I think focusing on those types of things and what you’ve done to mitigate them might be a better way to handle the question. I have other weaknesses too, but wouldn’t focus on them for an interview.

      3. JamieS*

        Agreed with Liz2 and Anon12. I have the same issue and along with focusing on the negative impact of being a perfectionist I also make it a point to avoid using the word “perfectionist” or any variation thereof. My reasoning (which may be completely wrong) is that the word has become so cliche that it instantly sets off a hiring manager’s BS alarm.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I think your reasoning is sound. Most people who call themselves perfectionists are bragging, not confessing.

    4. Greg*

      Question: Why are you asking that in the first place?

      Not trying to be trollish, just curious what information you’re looking to get by asking it.

      In my experience, that question has been so thoroughly chewed over that it’s exhausted its value to interviewers. Applicants have been coached to come up with an answer, to the point where you’re mostly hearing what their parent/friend/career counselor told them to say, rather than a legitimate response that gives you insight into their qualifications.

      If you can come up with an interesting spin on it, great, but all too often what I hear from hiring managers is, essentially, “I hate that candidates are giving cliched responses to my cliched question!”

  2. The Photographer's Husband*

    Question on Phrase #5 – “How did I do?”
    I ask a somewhat similar question at the end of my interviews that’s along the lines of, “Do you have any concerns or questions about my experience or qualifications for this role that I can answer?”

    Generally, I feel like I can glean an answer to the ‘How did I do?’ question from their response to this while giving me a chance to speak to and allay any concerns they might have about my experience. Is it too close, though and what do you think hiring managers think of a question like that?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As long as you’re including the “that I can answer” piece at the end, that’s fine. (If you just asked “Do you have any concerns or questions about my experience or qualifications for this role?” you’re putting people on the spot. If you modify it with something like “that I can address for you?” it’s easier for them to say no if they don’t want to get into it.)

      That said, some people will tell you that they don’t even like that formulation of it.

      1. Jaguar*

        I also ask something along the lines of “is there anything about my qualifications you’re still unsure about / any lingering concerns you have about my fit for the role?” in interviews (where I’m still interested in the job, at least). My intent is to fully and honestly speak to what I’m capable of as it relates to what they’re looking for and asking this tends to sweep up anything that didn’t get covered yet. I’ve never had the interviewer visibly thrown off guard by the question, they’ve always proceed to talk a bit more about something they’d like to cover, and I’m kind of baffled by the idea that putting the interviewer “on the spot” is even something to avoid. Aren’t they expected to answer questions? Isn’t the nature of a question someone didn’t know ahead of time putting someone on the spot?

        1. Interviewing Hiring Manager*

          It is a rather redundant question. As someone who high volume hired and conducted around 200 interviews a year, I found these types of questions rather annoying. I’m the interviewer, I’m seasoned at this job, if I had a question, I would have asked it. And in fact, always ended my interviews with an open ended, “is there anything else you think we should know” question so that candidates have one last shot to speak on their own behalf.

          And as an interviewer, I’m expected to answer questions about the position you are applying for or about the culture of the company, I’m not expected to create more questions for you when I already took the time to prepare those before the interview started. Now you want me to, in the moment, think of another question about your experience or qualifications that I’ve already covered in the interview and definitely took the time to get to the bottom of if I was interested in you as a candidate. And if I do have concerns I didn’t follow up on, that’s because I’ve already disqualified you as a candidate. I wouldn’t say that this wouldn’t get you the job, just that it might be irritating.

          1. animaniactoo*

            With respect though, there are many interviewers who do not have your level of experience or do the volume that you did. The candidate in front of you probably doesn’t have any way of knowing that you’re the kind of interviewer who is willing to go dig when you have doubts rather than shuffling their resume off to the side in favor of people who happened to be clearer in their answers or framed them in ways the interviewer was more comfortable with.

            1. Jaguar*

              Yeah, this seems like the sort of thing where someone gets upset because another pedestrian pressed the crosswalk button when you’re already waiting for the light. It’s not a comment on you – I don’t know you. It’s a comment on the worst interviewers I’ve interviewed with so far.

            2. NJ Anon*

              This. I revently went on an interview and asked whether the position was exempt or nonexempt. They said they didn’t know what that meant. I had to explain it to yhem. So, yeah, not all interviewets are good at interviewing.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No one is pushing you to create a new question. But it’s an opening that many interviewers will use to think, “You know, I actually don’t have a good enough sense of this person’s amount of X experience, so I’m going to ask a more targeted question about that” or “well, it’s certainly on my mind that her commute would be really long, so I might as well mention that.”

            1. Greg*

              Exactly. I’ve used a variation on that question in interviews before (I believe Five O’Clock Club recommends it), and I would say that most of the time, I get a blank stare and they say, “No.” But occasionally, they will bring up an issue that a) I can address or b) gives me a heads up that the interview didn’t go as well as I had previously thought.

              But Interview Hiring Manager does raise an important caveat. You have to read the room. If your interviewer seems very experienced and/or no-nonsense, you might want to be a bit more careful about seeming like you’re putting the burden on them to come up with additional questions.

          3. Ramona Flowers*

            Huh. I asked this in my last interview, they asked something extra and I was able to clear up a misunderstanding. And I got the job.

        2. hbc*

          I don’t think asking someone a surprise question is “putting them on the spot.” Asking a question that has a high chance of being difficult or awkward to answer is. “Is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me?” puts the person on the spot, for example. “Do you have any lingering concerns…?” borders on that–it can force the interviewer to lie and say they have no concerns or to be honest and get drawn into listening to you try to make your case again.

          And it *is* kind of strange to invite permission of the person interviewing you to…continue to interview you. Maybe if it’s come after a long spate of them answering your questions, it might feel more natural.

          1. Jaguar*

            I’m still really baffled by this.

            a) It’s an interview and the question speaks to your candidacy. You should be prepared to answer those questions. It’s like asking your doctor if there’s anything else you might be concerned about.
            b) It assumes that putting people on the spot is something to avoid anyway. What’s the harm in this? The person has to stop and think?

      2. Fluffer Nutter*

        Huh- I appreciate this perspective. I was just coming here to ask the exact same thing! I have had similar experiences to Photographer’s Husband , it allowed some lingering concern to come out and I’m pretty sure that got me my current job. Plus, I’ve gotten positive response for the creative question. I guess it’s like dating, something that one person likes turns another off.

      3. CoffeeLover*

        I was a bit confused by the original post at first after recently reading your free interview guide. In there you advocate asking a version of the “concerns that I can address” question at the end of an interview.

        I have never used this question in an interview, because it feels so awkward to me personally. If I were on the receiving end, I imagine I wouldn’t care for it much.

    2. Sled dog mama*

      I always ask this one too with the “that I can address” addition. My experience in certain areas is unusual for someone of my time in the field (serious lack in one area, more than expected in another) and this is usually how it’s addressed.

    3. KTZee*

      I was asked this by a candidate once, and I thought it was a very astute question! It also gave me the opening to ask about something that did concern me about his application, but that I wouldn’t have brought up directly, partly because I was an inexperienced interviewer and confrontation-averse.

    4. always in email jail*

      I just did a round of interviews and someone asked “Is there anything in my application you have concerns about in terms of my eligibility for this position?” or something along those lines. Without the “that I can address”, it was very VERY awkward. Also, I brought you in for an interview, I clearly felt your application demonstrated the minimum qualifications.

    5. Security SemiPro*

      I like this formulation. Usually, I’ve already asked about what qualifications align with the work and what I should be seeing from the candidate’s background, but a moment to check that, and the indication of willingness to have that conversation, is fine.

      I tend to answer questions I’m asked honestly as an interviewer, believing that candidates who ask deserve the answer. Which means that I have had a candidate ask “So, how am I doing?” with a cocky grin and I replied with what skills they were weak on for the position and what strengths they had. That… was not the answer they were looking for?

      I usually try to not be a brutal interviewer, any more than I try to be a brutal manager, but I do expect professional adults to only ask questions they want to hear answers to and “Critique my performance” is going to get you a critique.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Someone was once very pushy with me on this. After trying several very polite but firm deflections, I finally just told them that they’d been in the middle of the pack but that applying “hard sell” tactics at the end of the interview made me much less enthusiastic about their candidacy. And then I thanked them and showed them out. Not one of my finer moments.

    7. DaBlonde*

      Asking this type of question can be helpful when the interviewers are required to ask the same set of questions to each interviewee.
      By posing the “Do you have any concerns?” question you give them the opportunity to ask for more detail without going off of the required script.

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    So what’s a legit answer to the weakness question? I remember trying and failing to find any actual examples last time I had an interview – I know what not to do but don’t have any concrete examples of acceptable answers. Luckily they didn’t ask!

    (The one time I was asked this, I said: not knowing how to answer this question in interviews. Do NOT do this. I got away with it because I knew the interviewer.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on what’s true for you! But an actual weakness. Ideally one that you’re working on, so you can explain what you’ve done to get it under control. But it could also be one that you know will always be a weakness, if you want to make sure it won’t be fatal for the position you’re interviewing for. The idea is truly to have an honest conversation about whether you’re the right fit.

        1. A Teacher*

          Mine can be that I don’t instantly buy into new ideas. Not always the case, but as an athletic trainer, while I want my team to win-I always needs to be prepared for a major injury occurring or someone needing CPR. So I’ll hope for the best but prepare for the worst. That mentality can be off putting to some managers and I try to keep it in check, but is a weakness I’ve worked on.

    2. Kyrielle*

      That’s going to vary from person to person. For me, it’s the fact that I can be too wordy. That’s a serious problem, unchecked – but I can state my awareness of it and also cover what steps I take to keep it out of the workplace. (I try, of course, to cover that _briefly_….)

    3. JanetM*

      I like Anon Anon’s suggestion, “I want to know what is a real weakness and what you’ve done to mitigate and/or address that weakness.”

      So for me, that might be, “I’m quite shy. However, I’m great at making group presentations, and I make a point of meeting and getting to know new people so I don’t feel as awkward around them.” Granted, I’ve never actually tried that (I’ve been at the same organization for 23 years), so I don’t know how well it would go over.

    4. the gold digger*

      My big weakness is I am not good with details. The main way I mitigate that is by not seeking jobs that are really detail oriented, but in my last job, the guy who hired me quit two weeks later, leaving me with all the financial reporting. (See: I Am Not Good with Details, also, I Quit My Job In Corporate Finance After Exactly One Year and One Day.)

      I was stuck with it so I built systems to alert me to mistakes – in spreadsheets and in tables, I added numbers both up and down and across. I printed copies of reports and did the math by hand and compared the data I keyed in with the printed copies of my source data. I let a day pass in between doing the work and editing, etc, etc, etc.

      PS My real weakness is that having to argue with my (former) boss that Slovenia and Slovakia are not the same country or having to argue with him that no, we cannot drop that $90,000 a customer sent us for training in the next fiscal year into this year’s numbers so we can make this year’s budget makes me really, really upset and I want to scream. (But I don’t. I just get a new job.)

      1. Details!*

        Trivia (that you probably already know): Staff of Slovak and Slovenian embassies meet once a month to exchange wrongly-addressed mail.

          1. Natasha*

            Oh haha, please disregard above, I just realized your comment was on *postal* mail. I’m much more used to doing everything in email!

            1. nnn*

              I actually read it as “email” the first time too, and I was thinking “It seems like they should be able to just forward it, but maybe there are diplomatic protocols…”

      2. TooLate*

        I haven’t had to answer this one recently, but I’ve determined that my weakness is getting anxious that projects are going to be late. I tend to jump into worst-first thinking, and I start imagining all the ways something can go wrong. I face this problem in my own life by scheduling things pretty far in advance or planning for alternatives so I can deal with issues, but the nature of my work currently is that sometimes things happen last-minute, or pieces of the work are being done by someone else before I can get to them. And that’s when I start thinking, “Well, if so-and-so is out sick tomorrow, then this won’t get done and then I can’t do this, and then it’s going to be late” or “If there are technical problems, I won’t know until two hours before this due and that’s not enough time to fix it and get it out on time.” How have I learned to handle this? By shutting up and not voicing my concerns because apparently my anxiety makes everyone else anxious (so I’ve been told during reviews). But that isn’t a good answer during an interview, so what’s the best way to say that I’m handling this?

        1. KellyK*

          I’d mention the planning in advance and leaving room for issues, because I’m sure you do that at work where you can. If it’s part of your role (or would be reasonable to bring up to someone whose job it is), you can also include looking at the process for potential issues. If Jyn only has a one-day turn-around for her part of the project, is she aware of that? Can she prioritize it appropriately with all the other stuff she has to do? If her being out sick is a major concern, can Rey or Finn be trained as her back-up?

          Part of that is also differentiating between reasonable concerns and looking for trouble. If Jyn hasn’t been sick in the last year, there’s no particular reason to worry that she’ll be out the day you need her. But if it’s cold and flu season, and you know she tends to catch everything that’s going around, and her office-mate Threepio is out sick right now, then looking at backups is more warranted.

          Avoiding spilling your worry all over everyone else is important, and I think that’s a reasonable thing to mention. I wouldn’t phrase it as “shutting up about your concerns” but more as doing some initial evaluation of the likelihood of potential concerns before you bring them up. That’s a useful risk management skill to have.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        See, that obviously worked for you but seems risky to me. Especially if the posting specifically said detail-oriented was something they’re looking for. Your ways around it seem good, but some interviewers aren’t going to hear that part and may tune out once they hear “not detail oriented “. That would be my worry.

        1. Zombii*

          >> but some interviewers aren’t going to hear that part and may tune out once they hear “not detail oriented.”

          If someone tunes out halfway through the answer or is looking for traits that don’t apply to the position they’re interviewing for, I would consider that a pretty serious culture-fit mismatch and a bullet dodged.

          Storytime. I was at an interview where I said my biggest weakness was a fear of public speaking, nothing over the top/I’m fine in meetings, and I’m great at customer service, but I can’t handle presentations to large crowds (I learned this in high school). The interviewer said that was a huge problem. I asked if public speaking was part of the job, because it hadn’t been listed in the posting. The interviewer said No, but it was still a huge problem, since being good at public speaking is an important trait to have in life. This was for a cashier position. I can only assume the interviewer read a list of “good traits for employees to have” and then failed to consider whether those traits applied to the job they were hiring for.

          1. Brogrammer*

            Your story illustrates my biggest fear about this question, and I suspect the reason why so many people try to give a non-answer.

    5. Fluffer Nutter*

      “New technology isn’t intuitive to me, and I don’t so much enjoy the computer as see it as a tool to get my work done. I sometimes have to find the co-worker who is the ‘early adopter’ to help me out, and I’m also taking some quick tech modules online to keep up to date.” True for me, and I’m in human services type field where many people can relate, so it’s not fatal.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        That would also be a red flag for me. Because I’m currently in a position where many of my coworkers need regular help with Excel, for example, and I’m completely self-taught. If I don’t have the time, I’ve found myself a little snippy with them more than once, and saying things like “did you look at all those options up there in the ribbon or try right clicking?” Or for other programs the FAQ or heck ” did you try googling it?” If it’s a brand new person and they’re brand new to our specific database or programs, then I’m a bit more patient. But if you’ve asked me the same thing repeatedly…oh boy do I want to scream.

        1. Zombii*

          Valid criticisms, but place the blame where it belongs.

          It sounds like you need to talk to management at your company and find out whether they’re actually hiring for the necessary skills, or whether they expect those skills to be learned after hiring. If they’re not willing to hire for the necessary skills, decide whether training your coworkers on things you think they should understand walking in the door is something you’re willing to do. (I used to work at a call center where they would hire people who had never used a computer before and expect all the workers to train each other in MS Office and internet basics. This wasn’t my coworkers’ fault, it was the shitty hiring practices of the shitty, shitty company.)

    6. FlibertyG*

      I think this question is also partly trying to suss out if you are self-aware. Which is why phony non-answers ring especially flat. Identifying an actual weakness you are working on demonstrates thoughtfulness. (On the other hand, there’s still a little bit of game-playing because I’m not going to list any weaknesses that hurt my case: I plead the fifth!)

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yeah, if I told an interviewer all my work-related weaknesses…I wouldn’t get the job. I work pretty hard to keep those weaknesses in check, but things still happen sometimes.

      2. Security SemiPro*

        I’ve started asking “What parts of the work do you think you would be especially good at?” and “What parts of this position do you think would challenge you?”

        It gives me a read on self awareness and understanding of the job and some analysis on how those fit together. It lets me catch if the person thinks the job role is something completely different, or is really interested in a small part of the job but not the rest of it, and gives me a little understanding of how they see this role working for them. And lets me start building a draft of a training plan for solid candidates. (Every one I hire needs some sort of training plan, its often a matter of how deep and which areas. Do I have people who can train those areas? Would I need to move projects to get this person onboarded?)

        But I work in an area where life long learning is an accepted standard – so most candidates are pretty comfortable and capable of identifying where they would need to learn more.

    7. DecorativeCacti*

      My answer is that I tend to get excited about special projects to the detriment of the day-to-day. So I make a concerted effort to finish the day-to-day BEFORE I start on the fun project. I use to do lists and calendar reminders. Then, when I get done with the boring filing and whatnot I can put my full focus on everything else without that nagging, “I should really be doing X” feeling.

    8. k*

      I like to make sure that my answer is true and that I can say something that demonstrates that I’m working on it. My go to now is something like this. “I pay a lot of attention to details but have a tendency to get too focused on the little things. I have to remind myself to take step back periodically and make sure I’m not spending too much time getting bogged down with things that shouldn’t be a priority.” While that has similar notes to the “I’m a perfectionist” answer, I think it shows that I know it’s not a good thing, but that I’m aware of and trying to do something about it.

    9. Kathleen Adams*

      I just have to put in a plug for a *fabulous* BBC Radio sitcom called Cabin Pressure, starring John Finnemore, Roger Allam, Stephanie Cole and Benedict Cumberbatch (a role he started in well before he became famous) as the crew of a itty-bitty charter airline. Cumberbatch plays a nervous, angsty little guy who has dreamed almost his whole life of being a pilot (before that, he dreamed of being an “aeroplane”) and who is indeed the airline’s pilot, mostly because he’s cheap. But he’s so nervous and second-guesses himself so much that he’s not a very good one, at least in the beginning. Near the end of the series’ run, he’s interviewing with a major airline for a job as a co-pilot, and although he had been told not to use the “I’m a perfectionist” line…well, he actually is a perfectionist who follows every rule, dots every “i,” and crosses every “t.” So in the end, it just bursts out from him – and it works because it’s absolutely true, because the owner of the airline wants pilots to follow every rule, dot every “i” and cross every “t,” and because he’s able to say “This is how it’s a weakness, and this is how I’m working to mitigate this weakness.”

      So my plug is actually pertinent to the thread, plus the show is truly *hilarious.* I’m not sure if it’s available online now (it finished its run in 2014), but it’s available on CD, I think.

      1. fposte*

        Series 2 is currently available for free listening (even for Yanks) on the BBC website.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Yay! The interview episode is, if I’m remembering correctly, in S4. But they’re all good, so good.

    10. animaniactoo*

      “I tend to talk too much. It’s a curse of my father and my goal in life is to talk only 60% as much as he does. I think I mostly manage that, but I’m also really good with being told to shut up and stop talking now because I know I’m not the best person to evaluate what’s “too much” for someone else.”

    11. KR*

      I say that sometimes I don’t know where to start with large projects because I get overwhelmed but I’m working on improving by taking a deep breath, making lists, and asking for help when I need it.

    12. BF50*

      I have two I tend to use, because the first one is really a litmus test to see if the job will be a good fit, and the second one is more in depth.

      1. At a previous job, I had a manager who was extremely bothered by my tendency to have an inconsistent start time. I am not a morning person, and between my general slowness and traffic, I did occasionally arrive 5-10 minutes late. I am never late to meetings, but mornings are a struggle. I worked very hard to get it under control, and at my current job, I changed my start time to 15 earlier, with my manager, but 30 minutes earlier with my own self, so when I was 10 minutes late, I was early. When I do arrive, I am ready to hit the ground running and I have no issues staying late or finishing my work in a timely manner. It is something I know I will always struggle with it, so if this is a position where it matters that I be at my desk at 8 instead of 8:05, then it probably isn’t a good fit.

      2. I am not naturally organized. It’s something I have spent a lot of time personally and professionally to improve. I’ve taken classes and read books and I do think I’ve basically gotten the problem fixed by keeping my inbox as close to empty as possible, , making meticulous to do list, and actively managing my time. I’ve even now been praised for it in reviews, but it’s not something which comes naturally. I put a lot of work into it, still. I occasionally slip a bit and end up with miscellaneous piles of paper on my desk, but it’s easier to get back on track now that I have good systems in place.

      1. Fabulous*

        OMG I identify so hard with your #1. I am habitually 5+ minutes late, except for the few days where I can actually get out of the house on time and traffic cooperates. I love your fix for it. Maybe I’ll switch my “internal start time” from 8:30 to 8:15!

        1. BF50*

          My real fix was to get a job where my boss doesn’t care. As long as I get my work done on time and am basically here for 8 hours a day, and he has a good idea of when I will be in, he just doesn’t care. Generally I get here around 7:45. Sometimes that is 7:40, sometimes it’s 7:50, sometimes it’s even 7:25 or 8. I get my work done and that is what matters. It’s nice being treated as an adult. The previous job, from a work perspective it didn’t matter, but my manager hated it and would be on my case if i was 2 minutes late.

          Which is why office culture is so much more important than people realize. I’m not anxious if my children throw a tantrum and I’m delayed leaving or if I get stuck behind a train.

          1. Kronos Hater*

            Thank you for posting this! My biggest weakness is that I’m also 10-15 minutes late most mornings due to a very long commute (60-75 minutes) and having two young children to get out the door in the morning. I’ve never been late to a work meeting or appointment, though. My current job requires us to use a time clock and work exactly 8 hours, and I wish I had known how inflexible supervisors are about time. I’ve been here 5+ years, so my strengths greatly overshadow this weakness, but it still bothers me a lot. When I interview in the future, I will be truthful about this to try to find a more flexible, less butts-in-the-seat job.

    13. Dan*

      The older I get, the more I believe it’s inappropriate to ask the “weakness” question to people fresh out of college. My weaknesses? I’m a terrible note taker (as in, I don’t take notes), not a morning person, and don’t have much experience writing software in a team environment. Oh, do my power point slides being walls of text count for this one?

      Some of those answers are going to be more or less relevant depending on the position I’m interviewing for.

      As a very practical matter, if I interview software engineers fresh out of college, a very accurate answer from them for the weakness question is that they don’t have much, if any professional experience writing code in a team environment. That *is* their biggest weakness. But since I already know that, why would I even ask the question?

    14. Elemeno P.*

      I have a goldfish brain and always have. I make up for it by writing everything (EVERYTHING) down, setting reminders, and using calendars. I keep all of my files in organized folders and set items in my to-do list directly in front of me so that I can’t lose track of them. I ask that people send long instructions to me by email instead of over the phone.

      Nobody has asked about it in an interview yet, but I am very upfront about it with new bosses and it hasn’t been a problem. That’s probably what I would mention in an interview.

    15. Cookie*

      I’m pretty risk-averse (which is a huge weakness and means I’ve ended up taking jobs I’m overqualified for and bored with very quickly). But I generally apply and interview for jobs where risk-aversion is seen as a strength.

    16. Dzhymm, BfD*

      “My biggest weakness is that I have an irresistable urge to walk out of interviews that use cliche’d questions like that. May I see myself out or do I need an escort?”

      1. Zombii*

        “Oh my, this sounds like it would be a bad fit on our end too. You can see yourself out. Good luck on your job search.” :)

    17. OtterB*

      I would say that a weakness is that I tend to think the best of people. On the positive side, it makes it easy for me to collaborate with people. On the negative side, it can make me lean toward gullible, which means I have to pay attention for signals that someone is not playing straight with me.

    18. Renee*

      Mine is that I tend to spend more attention on the tasks I enjoy, which can delay the tasks I don’t want to do. I’ve had a good response to this because I think most people can relate (I want to do the things I like to do and not the things I don’t). It’s easy to address because just knowing this tendency helps. But concrete approaches are (a) create a priority scheme that is independent of the nature of the task (for my current job that might be shipping first, then invoicing, then processing new orders, because that’s the order of importance that my employer would give those things) and (b) if priorities are equal, start with the task I don’t like because once I’m done, it feels like less work to complete the task I do like.

    19. Fabulous*

      My reply going forward is actually something I learned about myself in my last job. When I’m not challenged in a position, I can get complacent and bored easily.

    20. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      My big weakness is that I have difficulty delivering a targeted assignment if I don’t understand it’s broader context or the big picture strategy. I don’t need to have the strategy justified to me, but if I don’t understand it, I have a hard time producing a high-quality, useful deliverable. Basically, I can’t give you a tree if I can’t see the forest.

      1. Big Hair No Heart*

        Wow, this is exactly me! Can I borrow your phrasing? I’ve never been able to explain it as eloquently as you just did.

    21. Lora*

      I do not yell. I am not a drill sergeant or a kindergarten teacher. You’d think this is not a weakness really, but some people have very specific notions about what constitutes “management,” and I do not fit those ideas at all in any way whatsoever. There’s a couple of guys I work with who think that if people can’t do a complicated, persnickety job just-so, it’s because you haven’t yelled loud enough or often enough. The concept of root cause analysis and training pedagogy and validation of raw materials requirements projections and documentation reviews and Agile project management, all the business processes that exist to address “how do we get this thing to run like clockwork even though it has many moving parts” are all just a bunch of tomfoolery to them – all you really needed to do was yell louder at people.

      I frame it more like, “this is what my personality is like, this is how I manage things day to day, this is how I operate and approach the type of work / problems you’re describing – so if that doesn’t fit with what you had envisioned, then this ain’t gonna work”. I tell them flat out, I have HUGE problems with the notion of “right first time” that is popular in my field: we are scientists doing development work and doing things that have never been done before. Of COURSE it won’t be right the first time, science in this field is about 95% failure. If you want someone who yells and you want to achieve Right First Time, then this is not the job for me. If you want someone who gets rock-solid design processes and highly repeatable science and some useful and profitable innovation, that I can deliver.

    22. Jaybeetee*

      My understanding if you pick a relatively middle-of-the-road weakness that you are indeed working on. You don’t want to pull a “Homer Simpson” and rattle off some serious deal-breaking weaknesses, but you don’t want to do the disingenuous “I’m a perfectionist!” thing either. An example for me might be that I can be inclined to rush my work, and that I have learned to slow things down and approach my tasks methodically in order to maintain quality and reduce errors.

    23. sometimeswhy*

      I use this: “I’m not really a people person and am more of a head down, get it done sort. I am personable and friendly with colleagues and vendors but if you’re looking for someone to represent [place] and conferences or to the public or to do a lot of inter[system] networking as a large portion of this position, neither one of us would be very happy.”

      It’s a thing that works alright in my industry and it also keeps them from assuming that (based on interview performance) that I’d be good at and excited to do that thing I hate more than anything. It’s a trap I fell into a lot early in my career since I fall into a demographic that has not been widely represented in my field. I got a lot of “it’d look so good for the [employer]!” *cringe*

    24. Katie the Fed*

      I put this above too:

      I’m not a very comfortable public speaker. I can do it if I have to, but it’s not something I particularly excel at, and despite lots of training and practice I’m still happiest in roles where I can shine in smaller engagements rather than briefing a large room.

      What I would never say: I’m really impatient with people I think are incompetent. I’ve gotten a lot better about it over the years, but I still struggle with it.

    25. Nieve*

      I actually saw a pretty helpful answer to how to answer the weakness question on an advice website, while prepping for my assessment centre.
      It said to identify a weakness that is unrelated to the requirements of the job. This really helped me, because before seeing this all I could think of as response to the question were the weaknesses that were related to the requirements of the job (wasn’t thinking outside the square, because I was so focused on the job itself while prepping) which I didnt want to bring up, in case it hurt my chances.
      I came up with a pretty good answer I think which was ‘I am not very good at delegating as I have a high standard, and find it difficult to trust others to do the work that would meet my standard. So I end up doing the work myself, which is not good for time management etc’, and gave real examples from when I was in a university club (social/sports related) and as an Officer, was managing a sub-committee. It shows that I am focused on results and want to produce high quality work. I followed it up with an explanation of how I improved over the years: ‘I spoke to the sub-committee members to identify their key skills, and delegated the type of work that suited their abilities (with examples), as well as checking in on the progress periodically, and giving them a deadline that was a little earlier than the hard deadline so that we could discuss the changes if they were needed’.
      The role I was applying for was an entry role not management, so the ability to delegate was irrelevant, but I think that it showed the ability to make good decisions, time management, self-improvement, focus on results and also putting in the effort to work well with others :)

    26. SongBird*

      I say that I’m a triple-checker, especially as a new employee. I like to have lists of Steps for a task and make sure I have them with me when I do that task for the first few times.

      It makes me look dumb and it makes me slower, but it does mean that I tend to produce correct work pretty early in my training. Just, it means I need to have the steps to follow, which can be a problem.

      In my current job there haven’t been any pre-written task lists, although there are extremely detailed (over written, honestly) procedure manuals. I’ve gone carefully through these manuals to pull out specific sets of steps for common tasks, and I’ve taken detailed notes as I’ve shadowed other workers. In the end, I’m going to produce a set of official steps for each task and save them for future trainees.

      Mostly, this works out okay as an answer. It’s true, for one thing, and I address the ways in which it’s not always the best thing for me to do. Also, since I work in science labs, it’s not the worst thing.

  4. Amy*

    For the weakness question: I have used the ‘perfectionist’ one, but with a lot of emphasis on how I’ve worked to manage that tendency in myself, focus on the most important things, and not let perfect get in the way of good. Is it so overdone at this point that I should stop doing that even though it legitimately is a major weakness of mine (and one where I have the most examples of improvement/growth)? Or does framing it as an actual weakness vs. a ‘tee-hee I’m so great that even my weaknesses are good!’ make a difference here?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I honestly wouldn’t use it because it’s so overdone that it comes across as disingenuous even if it’s not, unless you can truly talk in detail about the negatives it causes.

      1. KellyK*

        Does it help if you don’t use the word “perfectionist”? Like saying that you can be so focused on getting the little details right that you have to consciously remind yourself to focus on the big picture?

    2. Anon Anon*

      I think framing is important, as well as providing specific examples of when it’s been a real issue, especially if your weakness is something that gets suggested by a lot of interview guides.

      I know one person who I’d classify as a perfectionist. And it’s a major struggle for her to let go of work, to meet deadlines, and to keep up with the appropriate workload. It’s a real issue for her. However, I believe she’s the exception to the rule, and she could provide multiple examples that were very specific of instances where it had caused her to come close to really screwing up at work.

      To me that is very different than someone who is using it as “I’m so great even my weaknesses are good”. Those people typically can’t provide specific concrete examples, and they often can’t explain how they mitigate that weakness. Additionally, I often find that those people are the opposite of a perfectionist and/or they have not had enough experience or are mature enough to truly reflect on what they struggle with in the workplace.

      1. Dan*

        If someone ever says to me they’re a perfectionist in an interview, we’re probably going to be spending the rest of the interview sussing out whether or not they’re the person you describe in this paragraph. Too often, the “perfectionists” focus on the wrong the thing and spend way to much time working on things that really aren’t all that important to the final product.

        Also, all of the so-called perfectionists I know tend to want to work in a vacuum, and minimize their involvement with the rest of the team. In the real world, you get points for leveraging your team’s experience and turning around products faster… not doing it all by yourself and turning stuff in a week late.

  5. JC Denton*

    “How do I get your job?” Classic. Reminds me of my friend that interviewed for an engineer role. One of his interviews was with the team manager and he pulled this question. They humored him and offered him an engineering manager interview. For this particular team, the managers are led by a Director and so a Director-level manager interviewed him. I told him don’t ask that, it’s a terrible question, and it comes off as remarkably cocky and arrogant. He did it anyway and they shut him down pretty hard. The sad thing is he had a great shot at either position.

    Another spin on this I’ve heard is, “your job seems so easy.” There’s often no malice or ill-intent behind the comment and the candidate never seems to think before they utter it. Yet for some reason, it just drives me bonkers. They’re often applying for a totally different role, have no knowledge of my duties and responsibilities, and say something off-key like that. I suspect they’re just trying to lighten the mood, but it has the opposite effect on me.

    1. Revolver Rani*

      Another spin on this I’ve heard is, “your job seems so easy.”

      I’ve never heard this, and I can’t even imagine what I would say if I have. One related anecdote I do have: I asked a candidate what she thought would be challenging about the position. She said, “I don’t think it will be challenging at all.” I didn’t recommend to hire. Actually I was shocked by the answer. I guess she just didn’t understand the job very well, or else didn’t think admitting that something might challenge her was a good thing. I don’t know.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I’ve heard it from co-workers & management and my answer is “yeah, ’cause I’m really, really, really good at it.”

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Maybe she parsed it as “do you think the job will be too hard for you?” But badly phrased, regardless.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I saw one person use a variation of it once. Our manager was in the interview and asked the guy about his future plans, “where do you see yourself in five years” type of thing. The guy proceeded to immediately take himself out of the running by getting a dreamy look on his face, and replying “Well I would REALLY like to be (our manager’s job title)”.

      1. mamabear*

        I personally hate the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. It’s virtually impossible to answer that in a way that isn’t going to raise someone’s hackles. Want to advance? You’re seen as presumptuous. Want to stay in the same type of role? You’re not ambitious enough. Want to move to a different area? You’re not passionate enough.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I hate that too–especially since five years is a long time, and anything can happen in that time, especially in lower level jobs. I’ve worked out an answer to use generally, for most of the dead-end jobs I’m qualified for:

          “Since my previous job changed so drastically and suddenly, I can’t really answer that because I know that anything can happen. I could find myself learning new skills and contributing to a company’s success in an entirely different way than when I started. Regardless, if you hire me, I’d be happy to do the best work I can.”

          If that ain’t good enough for an admin position, then too bad. I’m quite sure they don’t want to hear the REAL answer, which is more like “Probably not here.” :P

          1. Gen*

            I once interviewed with an org that made a huge to do about the role only being for six months and the fact that there was absolutely no chance of promotion or renewal, who still expected the ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ question to be answered with a varient of ‘working for the org’. It was baffling

        2. MashaKasha*

          I know the direction that I want to grow in, and give them that answer. Seems to work.

          At one OldJob, an upper manager (small company) asked me that at a happy hour. Walked over, drink in hand, introduced himself, “so where do you see yourself in five years?” What kind of small talk is that?!

          I said “paying for my kids’ college”. I was not wrong.

        3. nnn*

          An idea that I haven’t had the chance to try yet is to start with “Well, that depends on where you see me in five years”

          Because the dog-honest answer is I want to get a job and be at that job five years from now, because I hate looking for work. But with some employers it’s a problem if you’re still in the same position in five years. And the truth of the matter is I have no problem advancing internally if it meets my employer’s needs, but I’m not a super ambitious climber.

          So basically in five years I want to be with the same employer, in whatever role they need me in, and where that actually is depends on the outcome if this interview.

          I have no idea if that would be a good answer or not, and I’m hoping not to have to find out.

  6. Elle*

    4. “I don’t really have any questions.”

    I had to say this in an interview once. It was an all day multi-interview set up but they had been so thorough in their explanations they had already answered all the questions I had brought with me. I did joke about it a bit, showing my notebook with the questions written down and reading a few of them aloud really quick so they’d know I had prepared those questions in advance. Unfortunately I ended up coming in second for that job opening and there was no prize for second place.

    1. CodeWench*

      I frequently ask questions during the interview so I often end up without any additional questions. I generally just ask what the next steps in the hiring process are. I’ve gotten an offer for a high percentage of interviews I’ve gone on so I guess I’m doing OK without making up some random question at the end so it will seem like I have questions.

      1. FlibertyG*

        Yeah the times its hard is when you’ve been asking questions the whole time and then at the end they make a big point of asking. Sometimes I’ve done 50% of the talking and … I’ve gotten my questions answered. But I still always try to come up with *something.*

      2. De Minimis*

        We had a really strong candidate who asked questions throughout the interview. He handled this by saying, “I didn’t save my questions till the end, so I think we addressed everything over the past hour.”

        He got the job, though he was semi-internal since he was working for us as a student employee. His work was so good though that we decided to hire him a couple of months after he started.

        1. DDJ*

          This is basically what I was going to recommend. Because you want them to remember you’ve asked questions, which can sometimes be difficult when an interview has flowed fairly organically.

      3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        I’m the same way. I usually prepare some questions to ask at the end, but I usually end up asking questions throughout the interview, as part of the natural flow of conversation.

        One question I do like to ask at the end is “What drew you to this company?” That gives me a little more information about the interviewer – sometimes I can reference that when following up. Plus I love hearing everyone’s story! (What can I say, I was a journalism major!)

        I have had a couple interviews where the interviewer starts with “Do you have any questions for me?” That’s always awkward!

        1. DDJ*

          It’s honestly a really great question. I had a candidate ask me what had made me stay at the company for so long, when most people my age tend to move around a lot more (I’ve been at the same company for half of my working life). It really caught me off guard, because I’d never been asked a question like that by a candidate before. But it showed that they really wanted to find out if the company was going to be a good fit for them, which I appreciated.

      4. TheTallestOneEver*

        Same here. My most recent interviews have felt more like conversations than interviews so there was no need to hold all of my questions until the end.

    2. TootsNYC*

      This happens to me as an interviewer.

      I know what the most important questions are, and I address them in my part of the interview. And then people say, “Well, you covered most of the ones I would have, actually.”

      And yes, I get people who ask questions as we go along, so they don’t have any answers.

      However, I also know that I’ve made a conscious effort to address people’s concerns, and I know what we covered, so I don’t hold the lack of questions against them.

      1. Interviewing Hiring Manager*

        I agree. At my old company, we had a very thorough interview process and often people would say that they didn’t have any questions at the moment and ask if I was the person they should follow up with for questions if they think of them later. I would rather that than a canned question they felt they had to asked so that it looked like they came with questions.

    3. KR*

      I’ve done something like this – my current manager was, like your interviewers, very thorough in telling me about the role and I told him what my questions had been both before the interview and when he brought a certain thing up earlier in the conversation and thanked him for answering them very well. I think this is the best way to answer if you truly don’t have questions.

    4. CMart*

      I always just saved whatever applicable version of the Magic Question until the very end. “Thinking back to others in this role, what made someone stand out as being great instead of good?”

      Even if they’d already outlined what an ideal candidate would be like, and what skills were necessary to be amazing in a role, I’d usually still get a glowing anecdote about a former employee or perhaps told that well actually, the role was pretty new.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree. A good interview is more like a conversation than a rigid question-and-answer session, and questions come up organically. The fact that I asked every question as it occurred to me doesn’t mean I had no questions for you.

  7. animaniactoo*

    This is some interesting timing because I came across this gem* today and put it aside to post to the Friday open thread. Mostly for the other slides which had some seriously screwed up gimmicky stuff on both sides of the table (and I’ll repost there so as not to derail today). But I thought this was a great question to be able to ask.

    There’s another angle that the submitter didn’t pick up on – which is that talking about their doubts (if they do) gives you an insight into how well they’re evaluating you and processing what you’ve said/done during the interview, and that can be reflective of company culture, etc.

    *If you can’t click the link, the relevant part is this: “Post most of the interview, when we’ve turned to “Do you have any questions for us?”, the guy said, really matter-of-fact and not at all obsequiously, “Well, I’d like to know if there’s anything that we’ve talked about that has left you with doubts about me, so I can be sure you’ve got the information you need when you’re considering my fit.” “

  8. Hooptie*

    My pet peeve? “I just want to get my foot in the door”. This makes me cringe every time and I seriously question the wisdom of any candidate that says it.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Me, too. The term ‘foot in the door’ is kind of adversarial. It brings to mind the pushy door-to-door salesperson wedging his/her foot between the door and frame so the door can’t be closed…and they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Nope, not a term I like to hear, either.

      In an interview, it would sound incredibly self-serving: ‘I just want to get in here and then plan my next move.’ And yes, I’ve seen it happen!

      1. MashaKasha*

        Yeah, isn’t it essentially like saying “your group is a stepping stone, I don’t really want to be here, but the only way for me to get where I want is through you guys”? No shame in thinking it. But why say it to people’s faces when they’re deciding whether to hire you?

        1. De Minimis*

          I see it as not being interested in the job long term and basically announcing that they plan to leave as soon as they are able to get a better position.

          1. DDJ*

            Agreed. I’ve interviewed more than one person who either said that they were just excited at the prospect of working at the company (not necessarily a bad thing), but everything else they said also pointed to “And I’m excited at the prospect of getting into a more senior role at this company as soon as possible.” Although that’s just the reality of interviews during a downturn.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, this. I don’t expect you to stay in my department forever, but I also don’t want to hire someone who’s going to be looking for the job they *really* wanted the entire time they’re here.

  9. Green Tea Pot*

    “Who do I have to kiss up to to get the job?”

    Needless to say, the candidate was not hired.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Geez! Did anybody give this candidate an answer? I’m curious, what do you say to this?

  10. Antilles*

    1. “I’m the perfect candidate for this job.”
    Does it make me too cynical that my immediate thought is that there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate? While some candidates can get close, it just seems absurd to expect a ‘perfect candidate’. No flaws, no gaps in their resume, no areas of their knowledge I wish were a little stronger, not even any irritating habits? Oh, and they’re also available at the exact time when I have an open position.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I actually said this on the interview for my current position. We’d covered a lot of detail, and I also followed it up by talking about how my mix of process management and language proficiency and my own internal fascination with management (I always say I’m trying to get a non-accredited MBA in teapot management) meant I had some attitude and expertise to bring.

    2. KR*

      Yeah I agree. At the end of the interview for my current job I said, “To me, it seems like I have a good skill set for this job because of my experience with A and my knowledge of B. Obviously, I’m not the decision maker in this case and I hope you agree with me.” Or something to that effect.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      No, Antilles, it doesn’t make you cynical – because there is no perfect or ‘best’ candidate. I’ve tried saying this to my job-seeking family and friends when they vent their anger for not getting chosen for an interview: ‘Obviously, those employers don’t want to find the best candidate!’

      I tell them the ‘best candidate’ usually means ‘best for the situation and time frame’, but they don’t believe me. So I change the subject.

  11. Nea*

    *reads list* *cringes* I’m semi-guilty of two of those, in that I like to end interviews by saying (in a very joking manner) “Is there anything else you’d like me to tell you about why I’d be good in this job?”

    In practice twice this has gotten me laughs and once a serious question about my commute. (I wonder if I was up against an equally good candidate with a longer commute, as I got an offer for that one.)

  12. Elizabeth West*

    Sometimes I don’t have any questions because I’ve already decided I don’t want the job. If they don’t call me back, I’m not gonna cry in my cornflakes. Other times, I gleaned enough information from their answers and a few questions they inspired to feel I would like it, and then I usually express my interest and try to follow up with something that indicates I’d be good at it. I don’t always have something, however, especially if it’s the same job I’ve done 502562 million times already.

    If I want to withdraw myself from consideration, I have no hangups about saying so right there in the interview. I once ended an interview when the hiring manager said they didn’t offer insurance (I didn’t ask). That was a deal breaker for me. I told her that I was looking for a company that offered it, and I would have to regrettably remove myself from consideration. She was very understanding about it. Seriously, that is such a common benefit that it made me wonder about the place, but they were very nice. Just underfunded, I guess.

  13. Jimbo*

    I have an interview next week for a job I *really* want. I hope I do well and I eventually get hired. Hopefully I won’t commit any of the flubs mentioned in this article.

    Question for y’all. For those who have had a good interviews and wound up not getting the job — have you tried asking feedback from the interviewer on what you could have done better? Are prospective usually responsive to losing candidates seeking post-interview feedback? I’d like to try this sometime but am wondering how best to ask for feedback without feeling awkward about it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I did this once; I asked the HR person who set up the interview. I had clicked really well with the hiring manager and felt like I had it in the bag. I was stunned when I got rejected. So I emailed her and thanked her for her time and effort, and I asked if there was any feedback she had for me that would help me in my job search.

      She responded that she couldn’t think of any; that she had heard I did really well in the interview but they went with somebody’s relative!

      So, sometimes it won’t make any difference. But you’re still better off giving the best interview you can, regardless.

      1. KellyK*

        It’s still nice to know that there’s nothing you specifically need to do differently. It sucks to lose out to nepotism, but I’d rather know than worry about what I should’ve said or done.

    2. Security SemiPro*

      I have been asked and I have given feedback a few times.

      I always feel a little on the fence, because I am not setting myself up for an argument (as in, I will not respond again if someone wants to argue) and sometimes the feedback I have to give is tiny/incredibly picky or could be roughly personality related. I usually end up with a solid set of candidates, so what tips the scales one way or another ends up being small things, not always in the candidate’s control.

      An example being training and management – if candidate A and candidate B need roughly the same amount of training in different topics, and I have one person who can train on A’s gaps who is overloaded for the next 3 months, but 4 people who can train on B’s gaps… well, I send the offer to B. I rarely expect someone to come in with everything they will need to do the role I’m putting them in (I hire for large, complex roles) but I will make choices that, all other things equal, make life for my team easier. A isn’t wrong for the position or the team, didn’t interview poorly, just… B was a slightly easier package for me to use right now.

    3. OtterB*

      My husband once emailed a hiring manager to ask about this because he thought the interview had gone so well and the job was such a good fit, and radio silence afterward was really discouraging.

      The hiring manager had sent a followup email that my husband hadn’t received, and took his lack of response as lack of interest. Fortunately, the position was still open. He worked there quite happily for several years until the company (a small startup) went belly-up in the recession.

      That’s awfully rare, of course. I did once get a post-interview call as the hiring manager. I told the person that the job really had two aspects, and she was stronger in one and our other candidate was stronger in the other, and we decided on reflection to prioritize the other aspect. So it wasn’t anything she’d done “wrong” in the interview. Just one of those things, and in fact one we didn’t really know ourselves until we had interviewed both candidates.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a bit off-topic from this post but if you search for “rejection feedback” in the search box (no quotes), you’ll find a bunch of posts on it!

    5. Liz2*

      Definitely feel free to ask.

      I also like being able to share the time that my recruiter was flabbergasted- I was everything the job description said it wanted and a very enviable position with new hires and really making your mark. But basically the new guy said he didn’t want someone who would take any initiative so I was out.

      And another time where I was said I fit everything great and no constructive feedback at all- it was only that they had another internal candidate who fit great also.

      Sometimes you can be “perfect” and still not fit!

    6. Katie the Fed*

      I’m receptive as long as you’ve indicated you accept the decision. So if you say “Thank you so much for letting me know! I really enjoyed the opportunity to interview with you. If you have a second, would you be willing to tell me what might make me a stronger candidate in the future?” I’m likely to help you.

      If you respond “What?? I know I’m stronger than the other candidates and I want to know why you didn’t select me” then you’re hearing nothing from me.

  14. Erin*

    I’d love to hear opinions on my weakness (not that I’m interviewing right now but just curious): I always say my weakness is that sometimes I don’t ask for help when I should because I like to try to figure things out on my own first.

    My logic is that A) It’s true, B) It turns negative into a positive because hopefully it’s a good thing that I take initiative to work through problems on my own first, and C) It’s also truly a negative/an authentic answer, because there have been times when I’ve spent hours trying to figure something out when if I had asked for help, I could have gotten it worked out within minutes.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      I would be really careful about trying to frame that as a positive. Give very specific examples of how it has worked for you and don’t let the interviewer infer a positive aspect. Because my experience with people who don’t ask questions is they either 1) wait until something is irrevocably screwed up to ask a question or 2) don’t do anything at all.

      1. DDJ*

        I absolutely agree with this. Concrete examples here are what you want to go with. You might go with a negative example that made you realize it was a weakness, and then a positive example that shows you’ve put work into improvement.

        My impression without context would be the same as DecorativeCacti: I would assume negatives. I’ve worked with people who weren’t sure and didn’t ask and something that wouldn’t been no big deal ended up being a Very Big Deal. You don’t want your interviewer’s past history to inform the point you’re trying to make.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        There does need to be a balance.The coworker who turns up in your office constantly and whose answer to “what have you tried so far?” is “nothing” is just as annoying as your examples.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t really think you should be trying to turn the negative into a positive. You want to make sure this job is right for you, and if that’s how you work then it might not be the right fit for every job. You can talk about how you mitigate it, but I wouldn’t try to spin it into a positive.

  15. KTZee*

    “I don’t really have any questions.” This is my pet peeve! Candidates at my job usually have 4 or 5 half-hour interviews with various staff on the team and somehow I *always* seem to be scheduled as the last interview. So I hear “I had some questions but I’ve already asked them” all the time. PLEASE, just ask them again. I reserved 10 minutes of this interview for your questions!

    1. Squeeble*

      This is a good point I hadn’t really considered before. I guess if you’re interviewing several people in succession, it can’t hurt to get multiple perspectives on things like the work culture or what the CEO’s expectations are like.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Fact-based questions are bad questions to ask in an interview — if they are your only questions. So you can totally ask each person the same things, like Squeeble says, about culture, expectations, whatever. Everyone has their own take.

        1. Anon Anon*

          Exactly. And besides, when I’m interviewing, the type of question I may have for people who would be my co-workers could and probably should be different than those I’d ask of the hiring manager and/or the people who would be my direct reports.

    2. De Minimis*

      I haven’t had that type of interview process for a long time, but I always just acted as if each interview was the only interview. If that meant I had to repeat things, that was fine. I figured at least it would show I was consistent in my answers.

    3. fposte*

      I started getting a lot more questions when I changed how I asked for them. Not just “Do you have any questions for us?” but “We’ve spent a long time talking and have asked you a lot of things–what questions have we raised for you about the job?”

    4. Kronos Hater*

      Is anyone going to get upset, though, if I ask my REAL questions – like what’s your health insurance package like? How much vacation leave do new employees get? Etc. I am never sure when to ask this info, because I don’t want to seem presumptuous, but in order to know if a company is a good fit for me, I need clear answers.

      1. Julianne*

        One of my big questions is one I worry is questionable: is there guaranteed free parking? Because of where I live relative to where I work (and where I will be job hunting when I decide to move on from my current role), taking public transit isn’t a great option and could increase my commute length many times over. (Ex. my current commute would go from 25-30 minutes to 90 minutes, minimum, if I switched, including 4 miles of walking.) Not being guaranteed to have free, legal parking would be a dealbreaker, but I wouldn’t want to come off as focused on aspects of the job that might be considered marginal issues.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Perhaps you could phrase it as “My only unanswered question is about ‘quality of life’ issues at work. Things like parking, since public transit isn’t an option for me, or …”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Ha, can’t use pointy brackets. Insert other issues after that, so it doesn’t look like you’re focused on parking. How well do people get along, how does the employer support the community, blah blah blah.

  16. Wendy Darling*

    I came in with my cringe ready assuming I would be embarrassed to have done all of these, especially because I read the embarrassed-intern thread first, but I came out unscathed! Woo!

    (My weakness is that as an ex-academic I have a bad habit of silo-ing myself and only emerging when I think my project is complete or I’ve hit a road block I can’t get around on my own, which it turns out in the work universe makes people TOTALLY FREAK OUT because they don’t know if you’re doing anything, and I am working on communicating progress better.)

  17. Paper Librarian*

    I clicked the link almost expecting to see this quote about addressing the lack of experience: “I am a blank canvas, sir, upon which you can paint your masterpiece?”

  18. Not Today Satan*

    Re: #2. I’m hiring for a customer service position and almost all the candidates seem to think ambition is something they should play up in their interviews. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t want to be in customer service forever, but I don’t want someone who thinks they’re too good for the role or will be looking in 9 months. It irritates me so much lol.

    1. nnn*

      And from the other side of the table, I’m an unambitious person, but all the advice I received when I was younger was that I should play up ambition even when applying for, like, minimum wage student jobs.

      And unfortunately this turned out to be a self-reinforcing strategy, because the people who interviewed and hired me were particularly interested in my long-term career plans – one had a sister who worked in the same somewhat-obscure field, and the other had studied in that field herself before falling into work in an unrelated field.

      In retrospect, it’s probably that they weren’t put off by my long-term career plans, but from where I was sitting it looked exactly like presenting myself as ambitious is what gets me hired.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah, “ambitious” to me reads more like “will do anything to get ahead, even go around you, and I’m going to be a real pain in the butt to work with.”

    3. Zombii*

      Not to be too blunt, but does the company pay a living wage and give full time hours/benefits? A lot of people really can’t live on customer service wages, especially part time customer service wages, and see that customer service position as a path to a sustainable career. If that’s not realistic for the position you’re trying to fill, it would be a kindness to tell them. Maybe explain how long on average people work in that role before being promoted, what it takes to advance in the company, etc. The ones who can’t wait that long/do the work will self-select out instead of taking the job and then bailing once they’ve found a job they actually want/need.

      Alternately, some people truly would be happy working an entry level position forever but have been coached not to say that because interviewers “won’t hire someone who has no ambition” and/or will assume we’re so desperate for any job that we’re just lying and will leave once we find something better. (Also, there are no books or articles about job searching in fast food/retail/other unglamorous “starter” jobs, so all the interview prep strategies are aimed at the white collar world and some of the translations are awkward.)

      1. Not Today Satan*

        I relate to your instinct the defend the worker, but this job pays $40K in a small city, and I am clear that there aren’t many advancement opportunities. I could have been clearer in my original comment, but this really is a role for career customer service people, not some $11/hour part time nonsense.

  19. Lala*

    “I’m a millennial, so…” & “Well as a millennial…” I had someone repeatedly refer to themselves this way as their reasoning for why they had a certain outlook/approach to situations, etc. It really rubbed me the wrong way because *I* am also a millennial, and did not have the same outlook/approach at all…because we’re individuals, not automatons.
    It wouldn’t have mattered which generational label they used, honestly–banking on a stereotype to explain why you do this vs. that doesn’t help me understand your reasoning or your abilities in the workplace better, it just makes me roll my eyes, and worry that you’ll stereotype your coworkers too.

    1. De Minimis*

      I blame this on too many articles focusing on “millennials in the workplace.”

      And I say this over and over, but they said all the same things about GenX when I was entering the workplace.

  20. Xay*

    This is timely, as I just sat through one of the worst interviews I can remember.

    Pro tip: Don’t ask what the job title is four questions into the interview after (1) the HR rep started the interview by stating the job title and (2) someone provided a copy of the job description upon your request during the 1st question of the interview and that sheet of paper has the job title at the top of the page in bold print.

  21. Jan Levinson*

    Reading this article reminds me of Michael Scott when he interviews at corporate. LOL.

    David: So, let me ask you a question right off the bat. What do you think are your greatest strengths as a manager?
    Michael: Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.
    David: …okay. And your strengths?
    Michael: Well, my weaknesses are actually… strengths.
    David: Oh. Yes. Very good.
    Michael: Thank you.
    David: Very good.

  22. Katie the Fed*

    Along with “I’m the perfect candidate for this job” – I’m really put off by anything I find too salesy/smarmy. I’m trying to fill a position, not buy a carpet in Istanbul. People are really bad about this stuff in cover letters too – “Look no further, you’ve found your future Teapot Painter!” or “I’ll call you in a week so we can follow up with an interview” or other stuff like that. It’s actually MY job to pick the candidates, thanks. I know better than you what I’m looking for.

  23. Pommette*

    I’m a perfectionist. It’s a painful tendency and one that I have to struggle against all the time. It has definitely not been an asset in my professional life.

    At the best of times, it means that I do great work while being much more stressed out than a non-perfectionist version of me would be. The work I produce isn’t any more perfect than the work done by colleagues who aren’t perfectionists; after all, it’s only going to be as good as what I can do with the time I have. I just have a hard time accepting that reality, and a harder time determining what, exactly, is good enough.

    At the worst of times, my perfectionism (or at any rate, my failure to suppress it) has kept me from finishing work that needed to get done. This led to real problems for my colleagues and employer.

    I can see how it may be necessary for someone to mention their perfectionism in an interview (“Yes, I was fired from that position. Please let me explain by telling you about the problem, the factors that led to it, and the steps I am taking to ensure that none of those things happen again” ). I can’t see why anyone who brag about being a perfectionist.

  24. RidiculousData*

    I like to ask candidates about their favorite / least favorite parts of their last jobs and why. It’s often really helpful for understanding their work style and a whole bunch of other things. Unfortunately some people just flat our say they like everything, even if I expand things out to earlier experiences. I fear they may have gotten advice that they never should be negative.

  25. Anxa*

    I’m a perfectionist, too, and I just don’t understand how anyone would think mentioning perfectionism makes them seem like they don’t have weaknesses? Maybe I’m just daft about this but it does not compute. Thank goodness I came across this being a cliche, but I’m afraid I may have mentioned it in past interviews when I was still naive that this was one thing you shouldn’t be honest about!

    Which stinks, because if I AM feeling confident that I’m qualified for the job, I would really like the opportunity to speak candidly about my real weaknesses and assessing whether or not the job would be a good fit. Avoiding the P word doesn’t help all that much because you’re still divulging a significant weakness instead of a gentler one. Then again, therapy had been really helpful in managing it, and it just doesn’t seem wise to share work weaknesses that are so closely tied to mental and behavioral health issues.

  26. nhb*

    Towards the end of an interview, I usually ask something along the lines of “Did I answer all your questions fully? Was there anything else that you’d like me expand on, or explain in more detail?” I work in state government, so these are typically panel interviews, and there is prescribed set of questions that all candidates must answer. Generally speaking, interviewers are allowed to encourage candidates to explain in more detail, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily will, and often in these types of interviews, they want as much information as you can possibly provide them. It seems to have worked for me: my 10-year anniversary for state government employment is in August, and I’ve turned down 2 other state job offers in the last year.

Comments are closed.