Your No. 1 goal in an interview is to convey why you—above all other candidates—are the best person for the job. You want the recruiter to walk away feeling like you have the right set of skills and the drive to make an impact in the role.
It’s just as important to know what the hiring manager will consider a red flag. After all, a big monologue about your micromanager boss may lead to concerns that you’ll complain about this company, too, even if you have stellar sales numbers five quarters and counting.
So, what are these red flags? Read our list of 18 things never to say in a job interview below—then spend your time prepping for what to say during your conversations here. And good luck!
1. “I didn’t have time to prepare.”
Rule No. 1 of interviewing: Do your research. You never want to walk into an interview knowing next to nothing about the position or company. You want to show that you’re excited enough that you’ve done some homework and thought about how you’d fit in. To get started, do some online research, and try to find a current or past employee you can talk to before the big day.
2. “I’ll do anything!”
Most recruiters want to hire passionate people. Not being clear on what you want to do tells interviewers that you’re not truly invested in any specific role. A surefire way to irk interviewers is to say, “Well, the real job I was interested in is in another division at your company. Can you connect me to that recruiter?” Or worse, “Do you have any other open positions? I’ll do anything!”
Even if you are interested in a specific role—you’re just trying to get a job—“I’ll do whatever” dilutes your brand.
3. “My last company was so toxic.”
No matter how bad a job was, you never, ever want to badmouth a former employer in an interview. Even if you truly had a toxic job or boss, your interviewer doesn’t know that—and could wonder whether you’ll dish on their company next. Keep your tone somewhere between neutral and positive, focusing on what you’ve learned from each experience and what you’re hoping to do in the future. This especially applies when you’re talking about why you’re leaving.
4. “I know I don’t have much experience, but...”
This mistake is easy to make, especially if you’re a recent grad or career changer. Problem is, when you apologize for experience you don’t have, you’re essentially saying that you’re not a great hire, that you’re not quite the right fit for the role, or even that you would be starting from square one. And that’s just not the case! Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.
5. “It’s on my resume.”
Here’s the thing: Interviewers know it’s on your resume. If they’re asking you about a particular job or experience, they want you to tell them more than you have written. They’re also evaluating your communication and social skills. Are you articulate? Should you be client-facing, or are you someone we need to keep hidden in the basement next to the IT lending library? If a recruiter is asking you about a certain skill, don’t reference your resume (you should be able to expand beyond a phrase or bullet point anyway), and instead use it as your moment to shine.
6. “Um, I don’t know.”
Even if you practice, and practice, and practice, you could still get a question that stumps you. But saying “I don’t know” is rarely the right approach. Two strategies that work well are repeating the question thoughtfully before answering or saying (slowly), “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say…” Still stumped? Ask for what you need—whether that’s a pen and paper, a glass of water, or a quick minute to think.
7. *Reads notes word for word*
Practiced your answers to some interview questions? Great. But don’t memorize them word for word. When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions, you'll likely have a very hard time engaging in genuine conversation with the interviewer. And interviewers don’t tend to hire detached people who can’t seem to have a genuine conversation. Certainly, walk in prepared, but force yourself to not memorize or over-rehearse the practice questions.
8. “My greatest weakness has to be perfection.”
Chances are, hiring managers have heard this one before. And apart from being a cliché, it also doesn’t offer much of a true insight into your work style or personality (especially if half the other candidates are giving the same response). Try a more genuine response—and if perfectionism really is your greatest weakness? Use these tips to spin it right.
See also: “I work too hard,” and “I have such high standards for myself.”
9. “I’d like to start my own business as soon as possible.”
Entrepreneurial ambitions are great—but if you’re applying for a job to work for someone else, you probably want to downplay the fact that you’re trying to get funding for your burgeoning startup. Most employers want to hire people who are going to be around for a while, and if there’s any suspicion that you’re just collecting a paycheck until you can do your own thing, you probably won’t get the job.
10. “I’ll circle back on our strategic alliance to create synergy.”
If your interview answers sound a little too much like Weird Al’s song, “Mission Statement,” you’re probably not going to be the most memorable candidate. Business speak like “strategic alliances,” “growth mindset,” and *shudder* “synergy” make hiring managers’ eyes glaze over. And unless they’re industry-standard terms, don’t use role or company-specific acronyms or jargon when you’re describing your responsibilities. You’ll be much more compelling (not to mention interesting) using language that everyone gets right off the bat.
11. “Um, you know, like…”
Filler words like “like” and “um” can make you look like you lack confidence—or worse, the ability to communicate clearly on the job. Try these tips to erase “like” from your vocabulary for good.
12. “So, yeah—
“Even with the most prepared interview candidates, I’ve found that a lot of people still make one critical mistake,” says career counselor Lily Zhang. “They’ll deliver absolutely fantastic and relevant stories, and I’ll be completely hooked—all the way up until they end with, ‘and... yeah’ or just an awkward pause.” Instead, try one of these three approaches to perfectly wrap up your answers.
13. “Sh*t, I’m so sorry.”
You’d think not swearing is Interviewing 101, but you’d be surprised how often people still do it. Even if your interviewer drops a few S- or F-bombs, you’re better off keeping your language PG.
14. “If it makes you feel better, I never wash my bras.”
Never, really? And you ran a red light so that you could be on time today? How interesting—yet completely inappropriate to say during a job interview. Even if you’re interviewing for a role within the most free-wheeling, fun-loving organization, the fact remains that you are…in a job interview. Never, ever get wooed into believing that the casual environment gives you an all-access pass to the TMI zone.
15. “And then my dad had to call the school…”
Stories are a great way to connect with the interviewer. They’re more memorable than facts, and help back up your skills and experiences. But you need to tie that story back into what the company’s needs are or the position they’re trying to fill—or you risk being forgotten (and looking a bit strange).
16. “What’s in it for me?”
When you bust in with WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) questions, you look both arrogant and, frankly, unappealing. Guess what interviewers want to know when they meet with you? First and foremost, they want to know what you can do for them. What can you do to make the company money, improve business processes, grow the organization and make their lives easier? If you start asking about benefits, promotions, and when you can take off too early, it can come off as a bit entitled, and like you’re not as focused on the job as the personal perks for you. However, you can and should ask about professional aspects of the job to make sure this is the kind of position you’re looking for.
17. “Do you want to see my references?”
When an employer wants your references, they’ll ask for them.
18. “Thanks, but I don’t have any questions."
Not having any questions for the interviewer says that you’re not interested enough to learn. And if you don’t even work at the company yet, there’s plenty to explore! Prepare some thoughtful questions to ask ahead of time to help finish your interview strong.