Some job interview faux pas are obvious. Showing up late or badmouthing your former employer are almost guaranteed to ruin a first impression.
But there’s one sneaky interview mistake that can cost you the job: Forgetting to provide specific examples in your answers.
Holly Lee, a former recruiting leader at Amazon, Meta and Google, says it’s “hands down, the number one reason” people tank a job interview.
“People are either overconfident and think that their resumes speak for themselves, that they only need to provide a vague, short answer, or don’t take the proper time to reflect on how, exactly, their work is benefitting a company’s bottom line — the who, what, when, where and why of it all,” says Lee, who is now a leadership career coach based in Phoenix.
For example: An interviewer might ask you, “What is the biggest impact you’ve made in your career at this point?”
“If you answer with a brief line like, ‘I saved my company $1 million on a project’ or ‘I made our onboarding process more efficient’ without providing specific context or details, it’s not clear how, exactly, you did that and who you helped,” Lee explains.
Neglecting to provide specific examples of your strengths, contributions and impact in previous roles can hurt your chance of getting an offer because it signals to a potential employer that you’re not thoughtful or trustworthy, says Lee.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, but you have to demonstrate what you’ve done in order to build trust and positively influence the person who’s interviewing you,” she examples. “Giving vague, clipped answers causes a lack of trust, it shows me that someone is unprepared and doesn’t have a deliberate approach to their work.”
Tips for acing your next interview
You can avoid this common mistake — and stand out in your next interview — by coming armed with at least 3-5 specific examples of your strengths and weaknesses, challenges you’ve overcome in your career, recent wins and mock answers to other common interview questions.
“The biggest tip I can give is to make sure that the example you’re providing is relevant to the job you’re interviewing for,” says Lee. “If it’s completely unrelated to the job description or company you’re interviewing for, I, as an interviewer, would be so turned off.”
You can also use the “STAR” method: situation, task, action and result when plotting out your examples.
If you’re struggling to come up with one, Lee recommends starting with the end result: What outcome did you achieve in a recent project, or by applying your skills in a role? Then work backward from there: How did you achieve the result, who was involved and what was the context?
“That kind of preparation can help you build your confidence so that when you walk into an interview, the person you’re speaking with can hear the passion in your voice,” says Lee. “The candidates who have the fire in them are the ones you want to hire.”