Fluent Interview-ese: Common Interview Flubs and How to Avoid Them

Fluent Interview-ese: Common Interview Flubs and How to Avoid Them

Are you fluent in Interview-ese? As a recruiter, this is my pet term for overused, clichéd, and sometimes red-flag-bearing answers that I hear all the time from potential candidates. I know in most cases that these candidates are trying to get the best impression across, but unfortunately they often seem canned and overwrought. In the best case, they can make a candidate seem nervous or uneasy. In the worst case, it seems like someone simply hasn’t thought about their answer or is simply faking their experience to the question at hand. At any rate, nobody wants to give an interviewer answers that he or she has heard a dozen times that day already. Here are my top offenders, and alternative ways to get your point across so you can stand out and represent yourself compellingly:

“Believe it or not, I prefer a fast-paced environment” – I completely believe it, because I hear it multiple times a day! The pitfall of an answer like this is that the phrase “fast-paced” is now so common that it makes me wonder how much thought someone’s put into his or her answer. It also makes a candidate look like they’re on the defensive, more concerned with assuring me that they’re definitely not slack or careless, rather than showing me something new or compelling about their work habits or preferences.

If you find yourself jumping to “fast-paced” as a go-to phrase, think about what it is that attracts you to this kind of workplace and try to come up with an honest, thoughtful answer. Do you like knowing that you’re entrusted with lots of responsibility? Do you love learning about all the different facets of a company? Do you find yourself coming up with useful new organizational systems? Do challenges help you tap into your competitive side? These are some things to think about, and be sure to have some concrete examples you can draw on to back it up.

“You know, it’s all about time management” – If I hear someone use this phrase, I immediately ask what he or she means. “Time management” itself is NOT a strategy! It is an umbrella-term that covers many different organizational strategies, some more helpful than others. Getting all your easy tasks done first so you can tackle the difficult projects without distraction is a form of time management. So is focusing on big, grueling or frustrating stuff that you dislike and “rewarding” yourself with more pleasant or easy items later on. Working with your peers on projects so everyone’s work gets done more efficiently counts as time management, but not everyone thinks of it as such. The same goes for managing expectations by letting your managers know what else is on their plate and letting everyone know when you’ll be able to get their projects done.

Instead of using “time management” as your first instinct to answer a question, think about specific instances where you had to use your organizational skills, and be sure to describe exactly what they were. There is usually no right or wrong answer – interviewers just want to know that you have a system that works for you.

“I always stay late, whatever it takes to get it done” – As with “fast-paced,” this phrase usually sounds a little defensive to me, as if a candidate wants me to be sure he or she won’t be leaving early or letting things go undone. It also strikes me as misguided: I think all managers would prefer their team members work more efficiently rather than simply log more hours than the next guy. It also raises a couple red flags: Does this candidate have poor time management skills? Will he or she get fed up with the job or burned out and leave abruptly?

If you tend to work long hours at your current or recent position, know that that alone won’t necessarily be impressive. Everyone has specific projects or times of year that get particularly hectic, but try to focus on highlighting your efficiency rather than just time and devotion. This really lets managers know that you can focus on the bottom line and know how to get things done.

As you prepare for your next interview, take note of all the times you reach for these common phrases and think of them as new opportunities to fine-tune your interview strategy and stand out from your peers.

By Sara K., Wall Street Services Recruiter & First Impressions Manager