30 Things You Should Never Say in a Job Interview
In an interview, your primary goal is to get across to the hiring manager why you—above all the other candidates—are the right person for the job. That you have the right set of skills, a great personality, and the drive to really make things happen in your new role.
But as you’re preparing answers to interview questions that’ll let you do all of those things, it’s equally important to know what the hiring manager will consider a red flag. After all, a wrong move or two, and it won’t matter how great your sales numbers at your last job were.
To help you out, steer clear of these 30 messages. You’ll make sure that your awesome abilities and accomplishments—not a totally avoidable faux pas—will be what your interviewer remembers.
1. “So, tell me what you do around here.”
Rule #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 (here’s your game plan), and try to find a current or past employee you can talk to before the big day.
2. “Ugh, my last company…”
No matter how bad a job was, you never, ever want to badmouth a former employer in an interview. 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—here are a few tips on how to do it right.
3. “I didn’t get along with my boss.”
Similarly, you don’t want to speak negatively about anyone you’ve worked with in the past. Even if a previous manager could put the characters in Horrible Bosses to shame, your interviewer doesn’t know that—and could wonder whether you’re the difficult one to work with.
4. “I’m really nervous.”
Even if you’re more nervous than you’ve ever been, no company wants to hire someone who lacks confidence. “So, in this case, honesty is not the best policy,” says Amy Hoover, president of the job board TalentZoo. “Fake it ’til you make it!” (Via Business Insider)
5. “I’ll do whatever.”
Most hiring managers are looking for people who are incredibly passionate about the role they’re taking on. So when you say something to the effect of, “I don’t care what jobs you have available—I’ll do anything!” that’s a big red flag. Instead, target your search to a specific role at each company, and be ready to explain why it’s exactly what you’re looking for.
6. “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. Here are a few better phrases to try instead.
7. “It’s on my resume.”
“Here’s the thing; I know it’s on your resume, but if I’m asking you about a particular job or experience, I want you to tell me more beyond a written word. I’m actually 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?” says Nando Rodriguez, Head of Employment Branding at Ogilvy & Mather. “If a recruiter is asking you about a certain skill, don’t reference your resume, and instead use it as your moment to shine.”
8. “Yes! I have a great answer for that!”
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 for which you’ve prepared to be asked, you will 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.
9. “Perfectionism is my greatest weakness.”
Here’s the thing: Chances are, telling a hiring manager that perfectionism is your greatest weakness won’t surprise him or her—and it might come off as sounding like an overly rehearsed 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 (here are some ideas)—and if perfectionism really is your greatest weakness? Use these tips to spin it right.
10. “I’m the top salesperson at the company—and I have two semesters worth of Spanish.”
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant Halvorson gives an excellent example of a case in which less is more: Instead of stopping after describing your degrees from Harvard, your relevant internships, and your technical expertise—you tack on your two semesters of college-level Spanish. Maybe Spanish is relevant to the job, but even so, according to the “Presenter’s Paradox,” rather than seeing that as a bonus, our minds tend to average out the impressiveness of the listed achievements. Try to keep any string of accomplishments you mention within the same range of impressiveness as others, and either leave out the outliers or wait for a better opportunity to talk about them (when they won’t be stacked against your highest achievements).
11. “I think outside the box.”
Resume buzzwords make hiring managers’ eyes glaze over, and similarly, using clichés in an interview won’t get you very far. Skip these overused business phrases, and describe your skills and abilities using stories about things you’ve actually done.
12. “I, like, increased our social following, like, 25%...”
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.
13. “On my third goose-hunting trip to Canada...”
Stories are a great way to connect with the interviewer—they’re more memorable than facts, help you build rapport, and can help you to quite literally share an experience with your interviewer. But, as highlighted in this SlideShare (see Mistake #4), you need to tie that story back into what the company’s needs are, your interviewer’s experience, or, more specifically, to the position he or she is trying to fill, or you risk being forgotten (or looking a bit strange).
14. “I built a synergistic network of strategic alliances...”
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. Turns out, listening to abstract words (think “strategic alliances” and “cutting-edge technology”) only activates areas of the brain related to language processing. Alternatively, concrete words like “carrot juice,” “smoking car engine,” and “stood in front of 150 people” are easier to picture, activate more areas of the brain, and are therefore more memorable. Pull in the five senses and describe actions taken. You’ll be remembered positively rather than for being a jargon bot.
15. “I pulled together the STF reports.”
Unless they’re absolutely industry-standard terms, don’t use 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.
16. “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.
17. “How much vacation time do I get?”
When you bust out with an immediate litany of 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 that company money, improve businesses processes, grow the organization and, importantly, make their lives easier? Making you happy will be important if they want you, but you’re not even going to get to that stage if you make your list of demands clear too early.
18. “How soon do you promote employees?”
“An individual asking this question may come off as arrogant and entitled,” says Josh Tolan, founder and CEO of SparkHire.com. A better way to ask this? “I’m really interested in staying at a place for a while. What do career paths within the company typically look like?”
19. “Nope—no questions.”
Not having any questions for the interviewer basically says that you’re not interested enough to learn any more. Have some thoughtful questions prepared (here are more than 50), and your interview will feel more like a conversation than a firing squad.
20. “Then, while I was at happy hour...”
Is your underwear riding up your rear end as you sit in that interview? Did you totally run a red light (and nearly sideswipe a school bus) so that you could be on time? Did your husband lose $15,000 at a craps table in Vegas last weekend? How interesting—yet all completely off-limits conversation topics while you’re in the interview. Even if you’re interviewing for a role within the most free-wheeling, fun-loving organization, the fact remains that you are in an interview. Never, ever get wooed into believing that the casual nature of the environment frees you to enter the TMI zone.
21. “I’ll have the steak and a glass of Cabernet.”
If your meeting takes place over a meal, take the lead from your interviewers. Casually ask if they’ve been to the restaurant before and what they think are good options—hopefully their recommendations will give you a sense of an appropriate price range. If not, try to have your interviewer order first and choose something at that price point (or less). And put down the drink menu—even if your interviewer imbibes, you should stay on your best behavior.
22. “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.
23. “What the hell!”
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.
24. “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.
25. “Do you know when we’ll be finished here?”
You should never give the impression that you’re in a hurry or have somewhere else to be. “What could be a 30-minute interview might turn into a 90-minute interview if all goes well, and if you seem like you have somewhere more important to be, the interviewer will definitely be turned off,” Hoover explains. (Via Business Insider)
26. “I’m going through a tough time right now.”
Yes, most people would be incredibly sympathetic to someone who has been laid off, is going through a divorce, or is dealing with family drama. And even if your interviewer is, he or she may also wonder how your personal life will affect your performance on the job. So, keep your problems under wraps and keep the conversations focused on your professional life.
27. “Sorry I’m so late.”
Just be on time. Enough said.
28. “Sorry I’m so early.”
But don’t be too punctual. When you arrive more than five or 10 minutes before your meeting, you’re putting immediate pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever she may be wrapping up and deal with you. Or, she’s going to start the interview feeling guilty because she knows she just left you sitting in the lobby for 20 minutes.
29. “Would you like to see my references?”
“Interviewing is a lot like dating,” says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter of CareerTrend.net. “It’s important to entice with your value and attract them to call you for the next ‘date.’” Offering up your references too soon may hint at desperation. Plus, you don’t want to run the risk of overusing your references. (Via LearnVest)
30. “I just wanted to follow up—again.”
As with most relationships, looking interested is good, but looking too interested makes you less desirable. You may think you’re showing your future company that you’re ready to hit the ground running, but if you come on too strong post-interview (think “checking in” to restate your interest less than a week after the interview or double communicating—emailing and then emailing again without a response from the other party), you look less like a candidate they’d be lucky to hire and more like someone who’s anxious to leave your current role.
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