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How to avoid clichés that put interviewers to sleep

No one wants to hear about why you’re a “hard worker” or “team player.” If you want to make a strong impression in an interview, you’re going to have to get a bit more creative.

How to avoid clichés that put interviewers to sleep

My biggest hang-up with the job interview process has never been the act of interviewing itself. Rather, I’ve always spent an inordinate (and frankly, counterproductive) amount of time worrying about the other candidates, nameless and faceless to me, with whom I was competing for a job. Assuming we were all equally qualified, I’ve always worried: What sets me apart from the herd?

Having now gone through the interview process a number of times, I’ve learned one assured way to stand out from the crowd: Avoid describing yourself and your talents with clichés. Treat them the same way you’d steer clear of an 18-wheeler barreling down at you on the highway.

"A resume [or interview] full of clichés but short on specifics won't be memorable to hiring managers," said OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking in a release. "Employers want concrete examples of professional achievements as well as descriptions of any transferrable skills that can be applied to the open position."

Toss “team player” or “hard worker” out of your vocabulary. In all likelihood, the other applicants you’re competing with for the job are speaking in similar language.

Lucky for you, there are three simple steps that will help you get a leg up on the competition.

Get specific about what makes you special

Think about what makes you a team player. You might say something like, “I thrive in collaborative settings. I take well to constructive criticism and am willing to learn from those around me. But I’m also not afraid to speak my mind and lend my thoughts and ideas to projects I think I can improve on.”

This relays more or less the same message but is specific. Vague platitudes are easy to forget, especially for interviewers who hear them from seven different people. Specific qualities are memorable.

Hosking advises to focus more on storytelling than listing off accomplishments.

"People recall the stories they hear,” he says. “During interviews, job applicants should share anecdotes that illustrate their best qualities."

Give examples of your traits and how they apply to the new job

“For each strength you give, be prepared to back it up,” writes Lin Grensing-Pophal in The Everything Job Interview Book. “To say that you have initiative without mentioning a specific example of this trait will not work. In addition to describing how your strengths have worked for you in the past, talk about the ways in which these skills could be put to use in the new position.”

As a writer, I might reference past work I’ve done with other writers. It shows I’m not overly possessive of every project I’m involved with (since I’ve shared bylines) and that I’m not opposed to splitting credit with other people for work I’ve contributed to.

Demonstrate your company knowledge with smart questions

They say it’s good practice to study up on a company in advance of an interview. You want to go in knowing what challenges the company faces in the industry and maybe even show up with some questions of your own.

What’s important is “actually asking the kinds of questions designed to make the interviewer sit up and take notice,” writes John Kador in a Monster article. “It’s no longer enough to be qualified.

Kador says the goal is to make a statement in the form of a question. He suggests asking questions like:

  • What exactly does this company value the most, and how do you think my work for you will further these values?
  • What will have happened six months from now that will demonstrate that I have met your expectations?
  • Do you have any concerns about my being successful in this position?

“Don’t squander the opportunity to shine by asking mundane questions the interviewer has heard before,” writes Kador.

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