4 Job Interview Questions That People Screw up the Most

Interview, job, boss, office
Prepare for these common interview questions. | FX

When it comes to acing your job interview, one important piece of the puzzle is how well you answer each question. An insufficient answer could make or break your chances of snagging the job.
Career expert Lavie Margolin said practice makes perfect when it comes to wowing the hiring managers. “Advanced practice will give you an opportunity to think through your work history to have the points you are most proud of and those that apply to your present job search at the forefront of your memory. It will also help you research any information about the position you are interviewing for in advance so that you come across as a serious applicant,” said Margolin in Winning Answers to 500 Interview Questions.
The Cheat Sheet chatted with Lorna Hagen, senior vice president of People Operations at OnDeck, for more insight into the questions to watch out for and how to answer them with grace. Here are the four questions Hagen says many candidates don’t get right.

1. Can I get you a cup of coffee? Water?

Coffee at work
Take the drink. | iStock.com

Common mistake in answering: “Oh, no thank you, I’m fine!”
Example of better way to address the question: “Yes!” Walk with the interviewer to retrieve. This is usually in a separate room from where you’ll be interviewed, so it will give the candidate an opportunity to see more of the office and understand more of the perks and culture. Is there a kitchen with free beverages? Is the office quiet? Are people working in offices, cubicles or community desks? Having this first-hand look allows the candidate to assess the space, the people, the vibe and the culture. It also allows the candidate to determine if it feels like it might be a good fit.

2. Why didn’t you graduate college?

young man walking outside with a backpack over one shoulder
Have a good reason. | iStock.com

Common mistake in answering: An emotional response usually happens (financial difficulties, family issues, etc.)
Example of better way to address the question: Candidates need to recall the reason why they left school and then own the decision. Candidates should talk about the personal growth that came from having to make the decision, the lessons learned and experiences gained from the time out of school until present. Showcasing continued learning and advancement regardless of an earned degree can prove attributes that are normally associated with traditional schooling.

3. Why are you leaving your current job? What’s wrong with it?

Man holding head
Point toward professional growth, not drama. | iStock.com

Common mistake in answering: Talking about the misfortunes of the previous company (I don’t agree with management’s decisions. My boss left so I left. The company was going down the toilet) is never the way to go.
Example of better way to address the question: Candidates need to pivot the conversation and talk about their personal growth, professional goals, and how the new organization can help them achieve this. Talking down about a current or previous employer is an indication that the candidate might do the same to a future employer.
Future employers are testing for judgement with this type of question. Does the candidate know what to share and what not to share? Will the candidate be trustworthy with confidential and proprietary information? At OnDeck, openness is a core value. We also trust our team members to be responsible with proprietary information and to use good judgement when talking about our products, people and processes. It’s paramount for us to find someone who shares these same qualities

4. Tell me about yourself

job interview
Highlight your career success. | iStock.com

Common mistake in answering: Most candidates begin with personal information such as “I was born …” or “My parents …”
Example of a better way to address the question: Although this sounds like a personal question, it’s not. This type of question provides a window into a candidate’s life and offers the opportunity to highlight professional successes and achievements. Candidates should think about the timeline of their professional life and walk the interviewer through the highlights of their resume, but with added context and color. For instance, you can offer a story or anecdote to fill in the blanks as to why you left a certain company or why you relocated.
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