The Difference Between What a Good Candidate and a Great Candidate Says During an Interview

The difference between a good interview and a great interview may be just a hair, but it could be that one little strand that lands a candidate the job (or not). When there are dozens of excellent candidates vying for the same job, finding that little extra something that makes someone stand out is imperative. A good candidate might say all the right things.  But a great candidate will say all the “wow” things. Here are some examples of how a good candidate might answer standard interview questions as compared to a great candidate.


Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Good candidate:  In five years I expect to be in a leadership position within this organization—one in which I have a great deal of responsibilities and challenges.   

Great candidate: I am so excited about where I see myself in five years at XYZ Company. I envision myself as a team leader in the marketing department, amassing major profits and bringing my unique brand of creativity onto the scene. 

See the difference? The first candidate’s answer is solid, but a bit predictable. It's also vague and lacking enthusiasm.  The second candidate mentions the name of the company specifically, as well as the department he plans to be managing, all in an enthusiastic tone. He paints a picture for you where you can actually visualize him excelling in the position.

Why Should We Hire You?

Good candidate: I'm a hard worker and I have a lot of experience. I'm meticulous when it comes to details, and I feel like I have a lot of potential.

Great candidate: You should hire me because I'm one of those people that takes everything to the next level.  I am never satisfied with mediocrity. If a client is happy with our work, that’s great. But it’s not enough for me. I want the client to be over the moon about our work, telling all his friends and colleagues why they should come to XYZ Company.

See the difference? Once again, the first candidates answer is suitable but ordinary. It’s not going to send up any red flags, but it’s not going to launch any fireworks either. The second candidate shows how he's extraordinary, not in a boastful way, but in a way that illustrates how beneficial he will be for your company. He always speaks in terms of “our” instead of “my,” indicating that he is a true team player. He also scores points for first repeating the question as a statement, i.e. “you should hire me” thereby reinforcing the notion that yeah, we should hire this guy.

What are Your Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses?

Good candidate: My greatest strengths are that I am an excellent communicator, a team player, and I have great leadership skills. My biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist—I have to make sure everything I do is perfect.

Great candidate: I can illustrate my strengths and weaknesses for you right now by telling you about a challenge I recently faced. I had to let an employee go because he failed his drug test. But I felt really bad for the guy because he has a family and a baby on the way. Compassion is definitely a weakness of mine, yet I was able to turn it into a strength by not only breaking the news gently, but also giving him a number he could call to get help with his issues. He called me a few weeks later and thanked me, telling me he was in the process of turning his life around.  

See the difference? It used to be that the “perfectionist” answer to the “what are your weaknesses?” question was considered to be pretty clever. But it's so overused and transparent these days it's more likely to turn you off than it is to impress you. Telling a story like the one above is a much more memorable and illustrative way for a candidate to convey his strengths and weaknesses in a positive light. Plus it saves you from having to ask for an example of how the candidate solved a problem or overcame a challenge. No one is going to remember how the first candidate answered the question. But they will definitely remember the second candidate’s answer because it paints a positive picture of his traits in a relatable way.  

No interview answer is perfect.  But as you can see from these comparisons, there are definitely some responses that don’t just pass—they pass with flying colors. If you want a superior workforce, go for the colors.  

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