Worst Answers to ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’ and Other Common Interview Questions

Published: Mar 25, 2021

 Career Readiness       Interviewing       Job Search       Resumes & Cover Letters       Salary & Benefits       
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Even within all advancements and changes to the job search process, some parts of the interview process remain unchanged. For example, hiring managers still use certain common interview questions to judge how well candidates will fit with their firms. So, to be successful in your job search, you need to answer these questions well. And, perhaps even more important, you need to avoid the below mistakes—the worst answers to these questions.

1. Tell me about yourself.

This common question seems innocent enough, but it’s actually a challenging question that can be difficult to answer concisely. And it’s particularly important since it often starts your interview and defines its tone. The most common mistakes in answering this question are:

  • telling your life story
  • talking about your hobbies and interests
  • revealing personal life matters
  • asking, “Well, what do you want to know?”

All of the above strategies will not make positive impressions, as they don’t match the question’s key intention—which is to see if you understand the essential skills and experience necessary to succeed in the role you're applying to.

2. What's your greatest weakness?

This ubiquitous interview question continues to trip up candidates. The problem is the majority of candidates stick to one of the following undesired scenarios in their answers:

  • demonstrating strengths as weaknesses
  • highlighting perfectionism and hard work
  • facing difficulties with identifying weaknesses
  • showing no perspectives for improvement

By asking this question, interviewers are looking for three critical qualities: self-awareness, honesty, and the ability to self-improve. None of the answers above reveals these qualities.

3. Could you explain this gap in your employment history?

It’s entirely okay to have a gap on your resume, and most people do—for various, valid reasons. Why this question can be so tricky is candidates often think they need to hide their gaps, and thus they say something that’s untrue. What’s most important when answering this question is to be honest—but at the same time, you don’t have to reveal too much. And the worst possible answers to this question are those that reveal conflict, aggression, or misbehavior issues. For example: 

  • "I was fired from my previous job, but it wasn’t my fault. I sued them and am taking them to court."
  • "I quit my last job. My manager was horrible. I couldn’t wait to get out of there."
  • "I was in between jobs. I didn’t too much."
  • "My previous job did not work out. Actually, my boss made a massive mistake by laying me off."

It’s extremely important when answering this question to avoid bad-mouthing anyone, and to make sure to mention anything you did during your gap that might be relevant to the role you're applying for, or your career in general. So, you might mention online courses you took or side hustles you started. Just don’t mention all the Netflix movies you watched.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Speaking of movies, remember that awkward situation in The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, when 70-year-old job candidate Ben (played by De Niro) is asked this very question in an interview? That situation reveals the only possible case where no answer to this question is a good answer. In other words, you must answer this question. It can’t be avoided. And never provide a vague answer with no reference to the current position such as:

  • "I don’t know—that’s a long time!"
  • "I’d like to start my own company one day."
  • "I see myself in your job."

These answers will be seen as lazy and irrelevant, and will be sure ways to end your candidacy.

5. What are your salary expectations?

This can be a tricky question, especially since it often comes early in the process so as not to waste time on a candidate who wants more money than can be offered. The worst answers to this question have no basis in research or avoid a concrete number altogether:

  • "I don’t know. What are you offering?"
  • "What's the average for this position?"
  • "I will cost you a bit more than an average employee at this position."
  • "You won't regret a cent, I'm totally worth it."

For sure, you don't want to be the first one bringing up the money conversation—let hiring managers and recruiters bring up salary—but since compensation is going to come up eventually, you want to be prepared with a clear, reasonable number or range in mind. So, make sure to do your research, find out the going rate for the role, and think about what you’d really need, monetarily speaking, to be satisfied in the position.

Erika Rykun is a career and productivity copywriter who believes in the power of networking. In her free time, she enjoys reading books and playing with her cat, Cola. Find her at Medium and Twitter.