The following commonly-heard suggestions range from misleading to just plain wrong – not necessarily in that order. For example:
“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 controversial areas like politics and 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.
“Write down your answers to all the common questions (and memorize them).”
Yes, you should prepare for the most likely interview questions, 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 see online are just that – samples, intended to give you an idea. If you copy them, you won’t sound real.
“Sometimes you have to fib a little.”
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.
“It’s easy to over-prepare.”
There’s a grain of truth here, but only a grain. As I wrote above, I don’t recommend that you plan your answers word-for-word and memorize them. Few of us can 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 thinking about how to best present their experience, developing stories that demonstrate their skills and doing mock interviews. The vast majority of job seekers need more preparation for interviews, 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.
Bad advice about interviews is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of questionable advice out there about every aspect of job search. Sometimes the problem is simply that the tips are aimed at the general public – but not at you, specifically. The best guidance is personalized coaching from an expert who knows your background and goals. (This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for the 2020s.)