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  1. Blog
  2. Interviewing
  3. February 19, 2024

What Not to Say in an Interview: These Answers Reveal Red Flags

Plus, tips for better interviewing skills

woman participating in an interview
Photo courtesy of Thirdman

“I’ve honestly never been criticized. My work is simply top-notch.”

We can all agree this is a bad interview response when tasked with discussing a time you’ve received negative feedback. An answer like this clearly shows a lack of preparation and honesty. But bad answers aren’t always easy to spot. 

Of course you should never make inappropriate comments or use unprofessional language in an interview. But what are the other subtle answers employers might not want to hear when they ask common interview questions? We asked interview coach Tazeen Raza to provide insight into common interviewing mishaps and how job seekers can use strategies to interview better. 

Read more: Did You Bomb a Job Interview? These 4 Follow-Up Emails Can Keep You in the Running

3 interview answer approaches that reveal red flags to employers

We asked Raza if there are specific approaches or answers that tend to be red flags for interviewers. In her experience as a seasoned career coach with a background in human resources, this is what she recommends avoiding.

1. Lacking specifics in your answers

“Employers often find answers unsatisfactory when candidates provide vague or generic responses without specific examples,” says Raza. “Being specific about past experiences and achievements helps demonstrate competency.”

For example, say you’re asked, “What were some of your biggest successes in your previous position?” A bad example answer would sound like, "I was promoted to a higher position with more responsibilities and challenges." This response doesn't highlight any specific metrics, and it could apply to almost any job. Raza says tailoring your response using quantifiable results adds credibility to your interview.

A good example answer would sound like: 

“In my previous role as a marketing specialist, one of my most significant successes was leading a digital marketing campaign that resulted in a 30% increase in online engagement and a 20% boost in website traffic over a three-month period.”

2. Being overly confident or arrogant

Of course confidence is important in an interview, but Raza says interviewers may be put off by candidates who come across as overly confident or arrogant. Arrogance reveals a lack of teamwork, difficulty taking feedback, or challenges working with others. Raza says it's crucial to strike a balance between confidently highlighting your achievements and maintaining humility and respect for your colleagues' contributions.

For example, you might be asked, “What’s your greatest strength?” A bad example answer would sound like, “I find that others struggle to keep up with my pace. In my previous role, I single-handedly revamped an entire project and it took a while for my colleagues to catch up.” This answer comes across as boastful and dismissive, and implies a lack of respect for colleagues.

A good example answer would sound like:

“One of my greatest strengths is my strong analytical skills. At my previous job, I was tasked with evaluating financial data to identify trends and make strategic recommendations for cost savings. I developed a financial model that streamlined our budgeting process, resulting in a 15% reduction in unnecessary expenses within the first year.”

3. Talking negatively about previous employers

Badmouthing a previous employer is disrespectful (even if they were toxic) and can reveal that you’re unable to adapt to different work environments. Instead, Raza says candidates should focus on the positive aspects of their experiences and what they learned.

For example, say you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” You shouldn’t say anything along the lines of, “I left my last job because my boss was incompetent. They didn't appreciate my talents, and I felt constantly undermined.” This response is unprofessional and doesn’t show any accountability or responsibility for the situation.

A good example answer might sound like: 

“My work on the development of a customer relationship management (CRM) system at Company A helped me discover my passion for streamlining business processes, and I want to explore the full scope of that work. To do so, I need more resources and a bigger team, and I see both of those needs fulfilled through this role.”

Read more: How to Answer 10 Tough Interview Questions + Example Answers

3 common interview questions that jobseekers struggle to answer effectively

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

Raza says, “Many candidates struggle with this open-ended question by providing personal information or lengthy narratives. The key is to focus on professional aspects, highlighting relevant skills and experiences.” Here’s what to avoid when answering this question.

Oversharing personal details

Example answer: “I'm really into hiking and playing video games in my spare time. I also have three cats who are basically my children.”

Why it's not a good answer: While sharing personal interests can be relevant in some contexts, this response focuses too much on hobbies and personal life and doesn't provide relevant information about professional background or qualifications.

Providing a lengthy response

Example answer: “Well, let me start from my childhood. I always knew I wanted to be in this field because of a particular incident when I was 7 years old. From there, I went to college and studied accounting…” 

Why it's not a good answer: Providing a long-winded response can lose the interviewer's interest and fail to effectively highlight your most relevant skills and experiences.

Repeating your resume verbatim

Example answer: “I graduated from XYZ University with a degree in marketing. After that, I worked at Company A for three years, where I was responsible for managing social media accounts and creating marketing campaigns…

Why it's not a good answer: Simply repeating the information already available in your resume doesn't provide any additional insight into who you are as a candidate or what sets you apart from others.

When answering this question, focus on your professional background, relevant skills, and experiences that are directly related to the position you're applying for. Highlight your strengths and what makes you uniquely qualified for the role.

2. “What is your greatest weakness?

“Candidates often present a weakness that is actually a strength or provide a generic answer,” Raza says. “Instead, they should be discussing a genuine weakness and demonstrating efforts to improve.” Here are some examples of answers that are considered ineffective.

Saying you’re a perfectionist

Example answer: “My greatest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist. I just can't stop until everything is absolutely perfect, and sometimes it takes me longer to complete tasks.

Why it's not a good answer: Perfectionism may sound like a positive trait, but framing it as a weakness might come across as insincere or as a way to dodge the question.

Saying you’re too dedicated to work

Example answer: “My greatest weakness is that I'm too dedicated to my job. I sometimes neglect my personal life because I'm always thinking about work.

Why it's not a good answer: Dedication is generally a positive trait, but framing it as a weakness may raise concerns about your ability to manage work-life balance effectively.

Highlighting a required skill as your weakness

Example answer: “I'm not good at public speaking. I get nervous and sometimes stumble over my words when presenting in front of a group.

Why it's not a good answer: While it's okay to admit a genuine weakness, mentioning a skill crucial to the job you're applying for, without addressing how you're working to improve, may raise concerns about your suitability for the role.

When answering this question, honesty and self-awareness are key. Discuss a genuine weakness and demonstrate the steps you are taking to address or improve upon it.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is designed to assess your career goals, ambition, and alignment with the company's long-term plans. “A common pitfall is that the interviewee’s answer needs to be more specific and realistic,” says Raza. “Candidates should align their response with the company's goals, showcasing ambition and a commitment to growth within the organization.” Here’s what to avoid in your answer.

Being arrogant or overly ambitious

Example answer: “In five years, I see myself as the CEO of this company, making major decisions.

Why it's not a good answer: While ambition is positive, setting unrealistic expectations and making it sound like you want to take over the company within five years can come across as presumptuous and may not align with the company's expectations.

Giving an answer that has no connection to the role

Example answer: “I plan to start my own business and leave the corporate world within five years.

Why it's not a good answer: Entrepreneurship is a valid goal, but stating that you plan to leave the company suggests a lack of long-term commitment to the company you're interviewing with.

Focusing solely on personal goals

Example answer: “In five years, I hope to have a family and be settled in a nice house.

Why it's not a good answer: It's acceptable to mention personal aspirations to some extent, but you shouldn’t only focus on personal goals unrelated to your professional development.

When answering this question, you should discuss your career goals within the context of the company and position you're interviewing for. Talk about your desire for professional growth, additional responsibilities, and how you plan to contribute to the organization's success.

Read more: Hard Interview Questions Are Easy with These Expert Strategies

4 strategies for crafting better interview answers

Improving your interviewing skills is essential for presenting yourself effectively to potential employers. Here are some strategies to enhance your interviewing skills.

1. Research the company in depth

To prepare for common interview questions like, “Why do you want to work for this company?” and “Why do you want this job?”, you’ll want to know specific information about the company. Raza says interviewees should tailor their responses to align with the company's values, goals, and culture to show genuine interest and a proactive approach. Use our guide to thoroughly researching a company to get started. 

2. Prepare answers using the STAR method

STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action, and result. Essentially, when answering behavioral and situational interview questions (“Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…”), you should include background information on the task you needed to solve, how you completed the task, and what the outcome of the task was. 

Raza says employing this framework strategy helps interviewees provide well-rounded answers with specific examples. Learn more about the STAR method and how to apply it naturally here

3. Practice behavioral questions

Raza advises job seekers to anticipate common behavioral questions and practice quality responses. She says, “This can help candidates feel more confident and articulate during the actual interview.” To help you get started, here are the most anticipated interview questions for 2024 and how to answer them. 

4. Ask for feedback

Ask a friend, family member, or career advisor to conduct a mock interview to help you become more comfortable with the interview process. “If possible, ask for feedback on the interview,” says Raza. “Constructive criticism can help refine answers and improve overall interview performance.” 

If you don’t get the job you’re interviewing for, you can also politely ask the hiring manager for feedback on the interview. Say something like, “I value continuous improvement and would appreciate any feedback you can provide about my interview performance. Are there specific strengths or areas for improvement that stood out to you?

Read more: Post-Interview Self-Evaluation: How to Conduct an Interview Autopsy

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