The following commonly-heard suggestions range from misleading to just plain wrong – not necessarily in that order.
Misrepresenting your background or abilities is not only unethical but it can easily backfire and ruin your reputation.
If you’re having trouble figuring how how to tell the truth and still get a job, you need a good interview coach to help you sell your strengths and downplay your weaknesses – without deception.
“Just be yourself.”
At the other extreme, answering an interviewer the same way you might answer your best friend may be charming, but it’s unlikely to get you hired.
Let’s say you’re asked “What famous person from history would you want to have lunch with?” You may be thinking Che Guevara or Charlie Chaplin, but is either answer going to help you get a job in Human Resources?
You’ll earn more points with an answer that’s relevant to the business world and avoids reference to sex, politics or religion. Everything you say in an interview should be not only authentic, but strategic. Every answer should communicate why you’re right for the job.
“It’s easy to over-prepare.”
There’s a grain of truth here, but only a grain. True, you shouldn’t plan all your answers word-for-word and memorize them. Few of us could do that without sounding phony. Employers don’t trust canned answers.
However, in my experience as a career coach, I rarely meet anyone who has spent too much time researching the company, thinking about how to best present their experience, developing stories that demonstrate their skills and doing mock interviews. The vast majority need more preparation, not less.
If you’ve been preparing a lot and it’s feeling stale, try this: Do a mock interview with a partner whom you have specifically instructed to ask unusual questions and to interrupt your answers with additional questions like “Can you give me another example besides that one?’ or “What would you have done if that hadn’t worked?” That may knock you out of your rut.
“Write down your answers to all the common questions (and memorize them).”
Yes, you should study as many interview questions as possible, but don’t script your answers word-for-word. Instead, jot down a few words to remind you of the key talking points. Memorize those – then flesh it out into fresh words as you go along.
“Find good answers online and use them yourself.”
The sample answers you may see in blog articles are just that – samples, intended to give you an idea. If you copy them, you won’t sound real.
“Keep your answers short.”
If you’ve received expert and/or repeated feedback that your answers are too long, this may be good advice for you. But it’s also possible that those answers you’re worried about are actually only seconds long. Try timing yourself.
Are your answers really too long, or just not well thought-out? That’s the real point.
Knowing the key points you want to cover can help you get to the point more quickly, making time for the truly relevant, meaningful details that help the interviewer picture you doing a great job.
An in-depth answer is appropriate and necessary for many questions, especially crucial ones like “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to work here?” or “What was your best accomplishment at your most recent job?” A good answer to those questions might take up to a minute. (That sounds short, but right now, try watching a clock with second hands, or counting slowly to 60. A minute is a pretty long time for one person to continually talk.)
There’s a lot of job search advice out there aimed at the general public – but not at you, specifically. Articles like this one can’t substitute for one-on-one help. The best guidance is personalized coaching from an expert who knows your background and goals.