Canned interview questions are the ones listed on every website when you Google: “Interview questions and how I should answer.” The common thread amongst progressive recruiters and hiring managers recently has been to avoid these questions and think more out of the box to structure an interview more like a discussion to get to know one and other rather than an attempt to catch someone off guard or put them on the spot. Regardless of how the trend seems to be inching over time, you will no doubt hear either one or a mix of all of the standard “old school” questions in an interview nowadays.
Indeed, the questions are lame but what makes it a total waste of time, is when you respond with a totally canned answer. Don’t under estimate how many interviews I’ve done this week , and how many people read the same blog or career advice site that you did the night before their “big day.” There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like you are wasting your time talking to someone who isn’t being genuine.
Here are some examples of canned interview questions and answers I don’t want to hear ever again:
Q: What kind of a job are you looking for?
A: One that provides stability, a good culture, good people and challenges me.
Comment: What does that even mean? I don’t know you yet. How am I supposed to work with your answer when I have no idea what “good” means to you and what “challenge” means to you? Be specific here. What have you experienced in the past that you are looking to avoid in your next job and what from your experience was satisfying that you are looking to mirror in your next job? What types challenges are you looking for? What areas of growth do you prioritize in your career at this point? How do you feel you can contribute most? What type of corporate vision/mission do you identify with and more specifically, why do you feel that THIS job and THIS company will meet those needs? Be careful talking in subjective terms when interviewing; remember that the person across the table doesn’t know you yet. This is your opportunity to paint a picture for them and the more relevant and deliberate you can seem, by relating your needs/wants back to their job opening/culture/vision, the better.
Q: What are some of your weaknesses?
A: I am a perfectionist. I have trouble with work life balance – some have called me a work-a-holic.
Comment: How are those bad? Be prepared in an interview with me to hear me ask you that very question. Look, don’t try to “beat the test” here. Most people can see right through this pathetic attempt to not share areas for improvement. It’s important for you to come off as realistic and accountable. Immature people have trouble answering this. People with self-awareness and confidence don’t. Come prepared for this one – the question can be presented in a variety of forms and you should tailor your answer to not only the job itself, but the qualities that you mention here need to be true and backed up with how you are able to combat those tendencies because of your awareness of them.
If you truly are a perfectionist – and I see that as both a strength and a weakness – say “at times it is difficult for me to meet deadlines or walk away from a project when it is finished because I can always find areas where I can make it better – perfectionism has been both a strength and a weakness for me. I have had to implement time management tools like calendar reminders and personal deadlines to counter-act this trait”
Caution: There are some weaknesses that just won’t work with certain jobs no matter how you spin it. If you are interviewing for a Project Manager position, don’t list time management or attention to detail as a weakness. If you are applying for a management role, be careful not to say that you have a hard time holding others accountable because you want to be their friends. If you are interviewing for a sales position, don’t tell me you have a hard time following through.
In terms of the cliché work-life balance answer – no employer will look at that as a weakness. None. Furthermore, we don’t want to think that working too hard is something that causes issues in your life, so my advice would be to avoid that one
Examples of good answers to the weakness question that I have heard:
I tend to be very competitive, which at the beginning of my career translated into me wanting to be the best on my team and I constantly focused on beating those around me. As I matured, I have learned to internalize that quality and now, I tend to compete against my own deadlines and my own goals. It’s rewarding rather than frustrating that way.
I have not always been the best at delegating. I have learned over my career that I have to trust those on my team to support our goals. I have gotten better at communicating where I am in a project and being able to utilize the unique talents of those around me. I find that team work is very rewarding.
Q: What sort of management style do you prefer to work under”
A: I like both types. I like Micromanagers as well as hands off managers. I feel that I could be successful in either scenario.
Comment: I call BS. Usually when someone answers this question like this – I know that the rest of the answers they give me will also tell me nothing about them at all. You are just trying to NOT rule yourself out for the position. The best way to approach this is to say that you have found ways to work with both types of managers in your career. But then point out your best experience, your favorite manager, what their style was and how you were able to excel in that type of environment.
**If questions ask you to peg yourself on one end of a spectrum or the other and you keep putting yourself right in the middle – it’s frustrating. You have to take the clue that we are trying to learn about you and give us something to work with.
My bottom line to this segment is, be genuine and be smart.
Read and react to the person across from you.
Be comfortable in your own skin.
Be confident about your ability to contribute and be prepared to articulate how you can do that.
Be relevant to the job you are seeking and the company you are talking to.
Don’t get stuck in the pile of people who answered these questions with throw away answers. We are both here for a reason. We need to uncover real information about you and you need to uncover real information about us so we can determine (on both sides) whether this will be a good fit. I can’t tell who you are when you don’t know yourself.
If anyone has any specific questions that they are wondering how to best answer, let me know and we can talk about them. If you have an example of what you say as a weakness and want my opinion – I will give it, gladly.