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Staring Down the Barrel of a Cliché

Posted by: James Cant

There are hundreds of clichés in everyday life. Clichés in writing, in films, in advertising, in day-to-day conversation – especially small talk. 

The realm of the job interview has not avoided this pestilence, and I’m confident enough to bet that 90% of interviews that take place daily involve the interviewer asking the interviewee a clichéd question.

So, how to answer the most prominent ones without sounding like a cliché yourself?

What accomplishment are you proud of most?

A cliché that never goes away. They don’t want you to brag. They’re examining what you do and don’t filter into your list of great achievements. And if the accomplishment is hardly relatable to the job to which you’re applying then it would be better to have second and third best accomplishments ready to use instead. Good answers are genuine ones: a unique award at university graduation; evidence of record growth in your previous job role’s metrics while you were involved. All questions are tests in some form or other. This test could be considered the how modestly do you brag about achievements test.

Top tip: “Errr…I don’t really know.” Is a response heavy with uncertainty. Nearly all employers want to hire people who can define what their accomplishments have been and will be. Preparation is important. Make lists of your accomplishments, and decide which ones could be most effective in assisting your job hunt. 

What are your biggest weaknesses?

The king of the cliché interview question. 

Top tip: “I try too hard; I care too much; I don’t know when to quit; I’m trying really hard but I can’t think of any that one?”

Take your pick. They're all exhausted. These will all earn you nothing more (or less) than a sceptical eyebrow raise. And: you’re leaving yourself open to exploitation. Managers will expect you to stay after hours to get through your workload if they can quote you saying you work too hard and care too much

So how to answer? This is another of those questions that you will benefit from preparing your answer for beforehand. Awareness is the key. And here you can truly transform the question into a demonstration of your willingness to develop. If you have so far worked mainly independently then perhaps being a team player has been a weakness for you. Clarify that you are now looking for opportunities to develop yourself professionally and personally by strengthening yourself as a member of a collective unit. 

Or: Your weakness might be that your ability to predict the time any given task might take you is wrong more often than right. But not to worry, because, you can tell the interviewer, you’ve just started a Time Management course online, and you’re hoping to be able to demonstrate the new techniques you’ve been learning… in your next job! Self-awareness, honesty, self-improvement. 

Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
A good blend of modesty and honesty is the recipe to strike for here. “Hopefully still working for your company” reeks of desperation – you haven’t even been offered the job yet, remember.

“Travelling the world!” suggests that you are only using this job for a short period of years before moving on – and you’re implying that you want somebody to hire you on this basis. 

Top tip: Leave out the holidays and the pungent pretend loyalty and try to create an answer like this: 

“In five years I hope to have strengthened and refined the skills I’ve included in my CV. I hope to have acquired new skills within my chosen career path that will enable me to climb the ladder within my field towards higher salaries and even job promotions, and further I’m hoping that joining a successful and vibrant company will present me with opportunities to refine my communication and team-playing abilities.”  

This sort of answer illustrates your ambitions, your willingness to grow and learn, and the self-awareness that you still have learning and growing to do anyway! 

Have you been asked a different clichéd question during an interview? Let us know in the comments! 


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