“What is the biggest misconception people have about you?” is a question many hiring managers use to weed out otherwise qualified people who will be difficult to work with.
Though it might seem like an odd thing to ask on a job interview, the question is designed first and foremost to test whether candidates are aware of how their coworkers perceive them.
“This question requires an individual to observe their behaviour from outside themselves and determine how they look to others based on actions, emotions, and language,” says Russell Tuckerton, a tech executive and the author of “15 Minutes to a Better Interview: What I Wish Every Job Candidate Knew.”
Your answer will also let the interviewer know how well you handle pressure and whether you will be a good fit for the organisation’s internal culture, adds Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.”
Here’s what hiring managers do and do not want to hear in your response:
1. They want to know that you are emotionally intelligent.
Being understanding of other people is a crucial skill in the modern workplace, whether you’re collaborating with a coworker on a project or trying to make a sale to an important customer.
By not having a thoughtful answer to this question, you are telling the hiring manager that you either don’t know or don’t care how your customers, bosses, and peers feel about you.
Tuckerton recommends providing a misconception about you that is neither good nor bad, such as, “People sometimes assume I am an introvert because I like to keep to myself when I’m working at my desk, but in actuality I love being around people and have a healthy social life outside of work.”
This shows that you are introspective and self-aware, without putting yourself in a negative light.
2. They want to hear that you can adjust your behaviour depending on the circumstance.
Your boss in the finance department might have a vastly different personality from your company’s head of IT, so it’s likely you will need a different approach for getting your manager’s support on a project from the one you would use to persuade the head of IT to provide data for a report.
You can show off your flexibility by recalling a minor misconception someone had about you, and then neutralising any damage to your candidacy by explaining how you corrected your behaviour to fit the situation.
Taylor recommends an answer like, “In one job I had, there was a misconception that I preferred writing things out over face-to-face communications. Actually, I was trained by my prior boss that way. But I quickly adjusted to the new manager’s style, which was less formal — and in fact, I much preferred it.”
3. They want to be assured that you don’t have any red flags.
If you tell the interviewer that people think of you as lazy or argumentative, it’s unlikely they will want to hire you.
4. They want to know that your personality fits the company’s culture.
It’s important to be mindful of how things work where you’re interviewing. If the company prides itself on its openness and family-like atmosphere, it’s best not to say that you are sometimes seen as a loner.
5. They want to see that you can think on your feet.
This is a tough question, and answering it carefully can go a long way toward showing how well you handle high-pressure situations.
Taylor recommends giving a general, concise answer and moving quickly to a discussion point that is more positive.
What you don’t want to do is recall a specific instance of a misunderstanding that hurt you at an old job, which a hiring manager could then run past your former boss for accuracy. You also don’t want to get stuck in a negative conversation about your weaknesses and past challenges.
6. They want to see that you are honest.
Tuckerton says the temptation for some is to avoid this difficult question by bringing up a misconception people have about them that has nothing to do with work, such as, “Some people think I am too obsessed with how my kids are doing at school.”
You don’t want to give off the impression that you’re hiding something.
7. They want to know that you value self-improvement.
If there really hasn’t been a misconception people have had about you at work, it’s best not to make one up just to answer the question.
Still, it’s important to let the hiring manager know that you are always striving to become the best employee you can be.
Taylor recommends saying something like, “In the rare instances where there were misconceptions of me during my career, I’ve always tried to address them immediately and directly. My goal has always been to be transparent and straightforward with colleagues, and if necessary, readjust my approach as needs change.”
This allows you to avoid telling the interviewer something that isn’t true, while also making clear that you are willing to work on yourself to improve your performance.
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