A common interviewing mistake professionals often make is not answering the interviewers questions directly.
You may think you’re being clever by avoiding the question, but in reality, you’re only pissing the interviewer off.
Unfortunately, this is a common advice you’d see on the internet and social media.
Why Others Recommend It
The advice comes with good intentions. Don’t answer a question that puts you in a bad light.
Steer the conversation to the direction you want.
By itself, it makes sense.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the interviewer sees it.
Remember, you don’t have any power during the interview. You are at the mercy of the hiring company.
It may sound harsh, but it doesn’t make it false.
What Really Happens When You Don’t Answer the Question
When you don’t answer the interviewer’s question, two things happen.
First, you piss off the interviewer. If the competition is tough, that’s going to be the biggest reason why you don’t get a job.
According to Jon, a marketing manager at a startup, he says “I tolerate this [referring to not answering the questions directly] 2-3x. Any more than that, I end the interview right away.”
At the end of the day, the interviewer’s job isn’t to interview you. She wants to fill a position in her team in order to achieve results and meet their goals. The interview process is just there to filter people.
By not answering the question:
- You demonstrate that you are difficult to communicate with
- You don’t understand how the interview process work
- You are naive thinking you can be clever
The second reason is more egregious. You waste the interviewer’s time more than necessary.
Because she will listen to your answers out of courtesy, take notes that you didn’t answer the question, and after you finish, will still ask you the question again.
Wouldn’t it be better if you simply answer the question upfront?
Prepare a Great Answer
The best way to avoid this is to prepare a real answer to the question beforehand. Naturally, you can’t prepare for everything. But as mentioned, the “steer the conversation” advice is used for when a question puts you in a bad light.
Some examples where this may fall are as follows:
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why is there a gap of 6 months in your employment history?
These are just some examples.
The point is you need to prepare an answer to these common questions beforehand. Don’t circle around it. Don’t be clever.
If you’re asked for your greatest weakness, answer it. Don’t say, “well, I don’t really have a weakness” or “My greatest weakness is also my strength.”
A great answer for that question can fall along the lines of “my greatest weakness is saying yes too often” —if you’re talking about always overcommitting to tasks and projects.
Then follow it up with why and, more importantly, what you’re doing to overcome that weakness.
“I tend to overcommit to tasks during meetings which is the biggest reason I feel stressed and work extra hours just to finish them on time. I know it’s not perfect, but what I do now is always try to add a ‘time to complete’ per task. That way I know if I can still accommodate it to my schedule. When that happens, I say no or if I can’t get out of it, try to renegotiate the deadline with my manager.”
That’s what the interviewer is really looking for.
That’s why the answer of “I work too much” is terrible. It doesn’t answer the question and doesn’t provide the interviewer any indication of whether or not you actually think it’s a bad thing and that you’re doing something about it.
Stop Being Clever
If a question puts you in a bad light, remember that interviewers won’t use that against you.
A fundamental rule in professional life is to always assume positive intent.
If they ask you about the gap in your resume, don’t feel judged because if you simply assumed positive intent, they are merely asking.
If you took that time off to take care of your mom or your child or your own mental health, do so.
Most interviewer’s will shrug it off, give a comment, and move to the next question. They won’t use that against you.
In fact, it may help you move to the next step in the interview process because you answered clearly and didn’t waste their time.
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