Job Interview Answers: 5 Common Mistakes

Before you walk into your next interview, I thought it’d be helpful to share with you some common mistakes people make when providing job interview answers.

Mistake 1. Length

The perfect interview answer should last between 20 seconds and two minutes. That means that you should basically never answer a question with a simple yes or no. You need to share the critical details and should provide a thorough answer to appropriate questions. However, you don’t want to tell your life’s story. When you feel like you’ve shared the highlights, cut yourself off. If you feel compelled to share more, you can offer, “If you’d like, I can also describe...” Don’t be surprised if the interviewer turns you down. Too long an answer, and the interviewer will just tune you out.

Mistake 2. Not answering the interview question.

Some people like to think they are politicians and seem to avoid providing a straight answer. More often, you may not be exactly sure what an interviewer is asking. So, ask for clarification. Repeat the question back in your own words. If you’re still not sure whether you answered the question when you’ve completed your response, say to the interviewer at the end, “I’m not sure whether my answer fully answered your question. Was there a piece of it I left off?”

Mistake 3. Speaking before thinking

You will likely face an interview question that you’re not ready for. Before you respond, get your feet under you. Otherwise, you may end up using a lot of “ums” and “likes.” Your answer may lack direction or miss the question entirely. What can you do? Pause. Take a breath. If you want, say, “That’s a really good question; let me take a few moments to gather my thoughts.” If you’re still not sure how to tackle it, break it down into pieces. Start by answering what you feel most confident about, and go from there.

Mistake 4. Providing generic answers.

A good answer gives vivid examples. An okay answer at least references yourself and the organization. A generic answer sounds like you had a list of canned responses, played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and pulled out wherever your finger landed. Generic answers include “I’m a team player,” and “I’m really excited about the work you do here.” If you prepare for your job interview well and do your homework, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Mistake 5: Not creating a conversation

An interview is, in large part, about establishing a relationship between you and your interviewer(s). If it seems like they’re just shooting questions at you on the hot seat, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. When you have a question pop up during the conversation, ask it. If they ask you, “What’s the most challenging project you faced?” at the end of your answer, you can follow up with, “What are the kinds of challenges that people here encounter?” A good interview splits the airtime 50-50 between the interviewer and the interviewee.

Having strong answers for job interview questions is a matter of practicing before the interview and providing succinct and personal answers during the interview that answer the interviewer’s questions.

Last modified on Monday, 11 June 2012 23:19

Alan is the creator of Interview Success Formula, a training program that has helped more than 40,000 job seekers to ace their interviews and land the jobs they deserve. Interviewers love asking curveball questions to weed out job seekers. But the truth is, most of these questions are just asking for the same key pieces of information. Learn more about how to outsmart tough interviewers by watching this video.