Taking a Deeper Look: What These 5 Common Interview Question Responses Really Mean

Managers hold interviews to learn more about a candidate’s personality and approach to work – but often, what they get is a carefully choreographed dance, with prepared answers based on traditional “wisdom” about interviewing.

Fortunately, just because an answer is prepared doesn’t mean it won’t provide valuable information about the candidate. Here are five common responses to interview questions and how to parse them:

“Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I graduated from XYZ University in 2012, I have two dogs and I really enjoy French cooking.”

This response would be right at home at a cocktail party or on a blog “About” page, but it’s out of place in an interview. It indicates the candidate is trying to be polite or even friendly, but hasn’t thought carefully about how they fit with the position as a professional. Even if you’re also an XYZ alum who loves dogs and French cooking, remember to separate this personal affinity from what you learned about the candidate – which isn’t much.

“What is your greatest weakness?”
“I’m a perfectionist, and people tell me I work too hard.”

Many older sources of interview advice recommend candidates take a strength and turn it into a weakness to avoid showing “cracks” in their armor or sound humble. If this answer has the opposite effect on you as an interviewer, you’re not alone. “I’m just too good at my job” is a red flag for insecurity and attempts to weasel out of honest self-reflection and plans for improvement.

“What motivates you to perform?”

“I really love winning/getting paid/not getting fired.”

While this answer might be entirely true, any focus on external motivators indicate a candidate who isn’t in the job for their own reasons. By contrast, candidates who cite internal motivators like “reaching my goals,” “achieving as part of a team” or “beating my personal record” are more likely to find reasons to keep going even when work seems boring or overwhelming.

“Tell me about a time that you failed.”

“Well, I was all set to achieve X, but then Casey from Accounting….”

The candidate isn’t telling you about a time that they failed; they’re telling you about a time they blamed someone else when they didn’t get what they wanted. Instead, listen for the candidate who says, “but here’s what I learned from that.” This candidate is telling you they possess self-awareness and a willingness to learn from their mistakes.

“Why do you want to work here?”

“I’ve always been passionate about frozen yogurt.”

“I’ve always been passionate about [your product or service]” is often code for “I don’t particularly want to work here, I just want to work.” Even if the passion seems genuine, listen for how the candidate believes they will benefit from the relationship and how they think the company will benefit as well.

At THE RIGHT STAFF, LLC, our recruiters help our Maple Grove clients connect to some of the best local talent – and improve their interview processes to ensure they find the right person for their team. Contact us today to learn more.

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