50+ Things Not to Say in a Job Interview – Experts’ Advice
What you say and how you say things during an interview is crucial to helping the interviewer decide whether you are a good fit for their company or not.
That’s why it’s essential to think carefully about the things you want to cover, as well as the things you should try to avoid saying during an interview.
Don’t belittle or talk down to or about anyone
I was interviewing a person one time and I asked him why he thought he would be good at the job he was interviewing for and he said “Well, my brother-in-law does it and he isn’t that smart. So, I figured if he can do the job well I can do it better.”
Not really what I was hoping to hear. You don’t want to make others look bad to make yourself look better. Companies don’t want to hire a bully.
Don’t speak negatively about a previous boss and/or company
This is a huge issue and still very prevalent in interviews. When an interviewer hears negative talk about a previous boss and/or company, that will usually end the interview process.
Be positive and don’t focus on the negative – no matter how bad a situation is or was, you can always learn something from it – share those details.
Don’t ask, “What is a typical day like?”
This is not good and shows you really haven’t done your research on the company and the role. There are so many ways to find this out before even speaking with the interviewer.
Don’t give overly prideful responses
I tell the candidates I work with to be pridefully humble in their answers. What I mean by that is to share the accomplishments they are proud of in a humble way. You don’t want to be boastful or arrogant as companies don’t like that.
Don’t say, “I know I don’t have all the experience or skills you want, but I can still do the job”
You want to focus on highlighting the experience and skills you do have that the company is looking for and not focus on the things you don’t have.
Don’t say, “I already addressed that in my resume”
If an interviewer asks you about something, even if it is on your resume, they would like to talk about it with you. Please don’t refer them back to your resume – they already read your resume and saw it there – they just want further information and/or clarification.
President, Job Search Master Class® for Veterans and non-Veterans
Don’t walk-through your entire resume
This is boring and overwhelming. This question is an opportunity to promote the most relevant aspects of your background. Here’s the formula:
Highlight the skill, then describe how you are strong at it
All soft skills vs. starting with hard skills. They expect you to have these. It’s like saying, “I breathe.” You can say, “There are three strengths I’d like to share with you today. One, I’m analytical. I have great attention to detail and proud of my accuracy and analytical skills.”
Don’t give statements that show a lack of self-awareness and humility
We all have areas of improvement and should be learning to correct them. You can choose to turn a negative into a positive.
You can say, “I’m working on the following two areas of improvement. One, I used to triple-check every item in a spreadsheet; now, I try to limit my reviews. Two, being organized wasn’t my strongest point, but I implemented a time management system that really helped my organization skills.”
Don’t say that you don’t have questions
If you have no questions, you are not interested or have not done any research, or you are unprepared for this interview. No financial/benefits questions.
To avoid unconscious biases or judgments, do not disclose personal or special needs until you have an offer in hand. Every precious question should be relevant to the job, highlighting a strength, or showing you did research. Some sample statements are:
Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-SCP
Human Resources Director, Michael Trust Consulting
One never wants to be negative in a job interview. So bashing a former employer, or relating work issues that were less than desirable usually will nix your chances for the role. However, it is, of course, appropriate to share work stories that show how you overcame a negative situation.
In this case, be brief on the details of the negative situation – just enough to set up your story, and then spend more time relating how you overcame the issue. Even if the outcome was still negative, you can share why, without bashing anyone.
Don’t share proprietary or confidential work-related information
For example, customer lists, salary plans, marketing plans, vendor agreements, internal politics, details about proprietary software, and the like. Beyond any legal ramifications (and there could be some), this also shows a lack of discretion and judgment.
Don’t badmouth your boss or your organization.
No matter the situation, this shows a lack of professionalism. If you had a bad relationship, you can say “bad fit” or “we didn’t see eye to eye”. Keep it simple, keep it professional.
Don’t bring up sensitive topics
Do not bring up religion, politics, marital status, kids, age, race, and the like. Do not bring up personal problems. If you’re asked about any of these, politely demur. It’s none of their business.
If you’re asking for reasonable accommodation during the interview process, you’ll necessarily have to bring up your disability – but just the minimum required to request the reasonable accommodation and nothing else.
If you’re asked about performing the essential functions of the role because of a disability (or in general), answer truthfully; if you need a reasonable accommodation, you can so state.
In this case, honesty is a great policy, as it always is, here it can also hurt you (discrimination is alive and well in many organizations), so you’ll have to make a judgment call.
Once hired, the ballgame changes and is in your favor. Having said this, I would never advocate being dishonest. If any of these topics come up, gently and politely steer the conversation back to the job.
Don’t blanket your weaknesses
Be authentic and share what really holds you back, because people respond to vulnerability and transparency. It builds trust. Avoid saying things like “I am a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.” It is easy to see you are hiding something.
Don’t ask about sensitive topics early on
It is fair game to ask about diversity, challenges, and benefits later in the process once you have built rapport, but stay away from transactional language early on before you get to know one another. This is similar to asking to get married on the first date.
Don’t overshare details about yourself and your personal situation
This is work and staying professional and focused on work experience. It is okay to share some information about your family to be a good human, but do not offer too much too quickly.
Don’t throw your previous employers under the bus
Keep it positive and do not come off as a blamer or victim that will likely be seen as a headache for this organization. Own your part in the process.
Now is not the time to be humble. Get your confidence up and power poses with some positive affirmations. They want to talk to you, remember!
Don’t ask about how not to get fired
I once had a candidate for a sales position ask me what the minimum quota requirements not to get fired were. That’s obviously not a great look!
Even if you don’t say something quite that bad, it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking questions that make you seem like you’re already hedging against future bad performance.
Don’t ask what it takes to get fired – ask what the top 10% of performers are doing differently.
Don’t appear dubious or hesitant of the job you’re applying for
Another time, I had a job candidate come into a first-round interview and start listing all the things he ‘wasn’t sure about’ when it came to the job. The way he was acting reminded me of someone buying a car and complaining about it so the salesman will lower the price.
There’s plenty of room to negotiate almost any aspect of a job, but the first-round interview isn’t the place to do it.
You haven’t yet built any value in yourself, so why should I bother trying to convince you to overcome your hesitations?
Don’t rant or complain about your hiring experiences
One candidate came into my office and almost immediately started talking about how poorly she’d been treated by a hiring manager at another firm.
She was venting her frustrations and clearly had been treated very poorly, but there was a lot of hostility in her voice as if she was lumping all hiring managers together and blaming us as a group for poor manners.
I know how frustrating the job search can be, but each new interview is a new opportunity – don’t blow it by carrying your past frustrations forward.
Jennifer Lee Magas, MA, JD
Vice President, Magas Media Consultants, LLC |
Clinical Associate Professor of Public Relations, Pace University
Going into a job interview, you have probably heard lists of things that are important to remember to make a good first impression on a potential future employer.
What you may be unaware of, however, are the things that you must remember to never say or neglect to say.
Don’t show up unprepared by saying, “I don’t have any questions”
You should be prepared so you can ask smart and meaningful questions to show that you know what you want.
The best candidate I interviewed had thoroughly researched the company on multiple platforms – from Glassdoor to LinkedIn – and asked questions where she could show she was a good fit for both job requirements and company culture
Don’t fall prey to the negative
You should keep an ear open for questions with negative connotations, and be ready to spin these into positive things about yourself. Don’t fall prey to questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness or tell me about a time you failed…?”
Quickly state the negative and then focus on the positive result with quantifiable metrics. Organize your thoughts using the PAR acronym, or Problem, Action, Results.
Quickly illustrate your worth by outlining a problem you dealt with at work, what specific action you took to solve that problem, and how your solution ultimately benefited the organization in terms of saved money or time.
Don’t talk bad about the previous employer
Many people make the mistake of talking badly about previous bosses in a job interview. When an interviewer asks why you left your previous job, never say anything negative about a previous boss or coworker.
By speaking ill of a previous job, interviewers can catch a glimpse of the worst of you. They can see that you may have trouble getting along with others and that you may have a problem working as a team. The company is already wondering what kinds of bad things you would say about them to others.
Instead of saying anything negative about past job experience, find a way to make the experience positive and personal.
Don’t lose grasp of the direction of the interview questions
You should offer to talk to the interviewer through your CV or resume to ensure that the interview stays on topic and doesn’t lead to any tricky questions.
Offer some polite interruptions when you are uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, this will keep things on track and show that you are engaged.
If the interviewer asks a question that you don’t understand, don’t make up an answer, as this will dig you into a hole, just ask them for clarification.
Certified Life Coach and Founder, Monarch Life Coaching, LLC |
Chief Transformation Officer, Harlem United
Don’t speak negatively about a former or current employer
The last thing your potential employer wants to hear is you complain about your current environment. Remain professional and keep the commentary to a minimum.
When asked why you are looking to leave your current job, site the key reasons that you want to leave. These should include self-development, an opportunity for growth, a new experience.
Don’t speak about your personal life
Remain focused on the job you are interviewing for. Answer the questions that are being asked. When you are asked “tell us about yourself”, have your pitch ready. It should include a brief review of your career and what you are looking for in the next role.
Don’t make up stories
When you are telling stories about your experiences, be truthful. I have sat in many interviews and can identify when someone is telling a tale of fiction.
I’m always amazed at the number of people who complain about traffic, the weather, parking, wrong directions, or even the inconvenient time that a resume is scheduled for. This is your opportunity to show people why they should hire you. No one wants to work with a complainer.
Don’t talk about how nervous you are
Being nervous is completely understandable and expected but don’t highlight it. Candidates who talk about how nervous they are don’t appear confident. Confident candidates are the most attractive to hiring managers.
Be confident but avoid arrogance
For most of us, it’s hard to brag about our own accomplishments which are absolutely something you should do in an interview. Unfortunately, there are a few people out there who cross the line of confidence and become arrogant in an interview.
This can take the form of starting each sentence with “I”, taking credit for all of the accomplishments of your team without ever mentioning the team that made it possible or interrupting the interviewer.
Don’t talk too much
Let the interviewer do more than 50% of the talking. Also, Be clear and concise with your answers while avoiding one-word answers.
Customer and Career Services Division Manager, Virtual Vocations
Don’t dwell on the negatives
Whether the interview is taking place virtually or in person, it’s important to paint yourself in a positive light. If asked why you left your previous role, don’t say anything negative about your former company or boss; instead, prepare a response that is true, but optimistic.
For example, instead of saying your previous supervisor was a jerk who worked you to the bone, say, “While I enjoyed my time with the company and learned a lot about [a related skill], I am looking for more flexibility and work-life integration with remote work. I am really excited about [the new company] and the opportunity to work with an organization that embraces telecommuting.”
Don’t say you’re just in it for money
It’s also not a good idea to talk about why you need a job or to admit that you’re just looking for something to pay the bills.
While it may be true, employers want to know what you’ve accomplished and how you’ll achieve results for them. The employer is interested in how you can benefit the company and what their ROI will be if they hire you; this is not the time to talk about why you need the job.
Don’t be the first to bring up compensation if you can avoid it
Questions about salary and wages can give the impression that it’s all about the money for you. Still, make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time so you know what a fair salary range would be if the employer asks about your expectations.
Don’t say no when the interviewer asks if you have any questions
Do your research and come prepared with questions to ask that position you as someone interested in how you can help the company succeed—not what the company can do for you.
Instead of asking when you can get time off for a vacation, try asking something like, “What would be expected of me, if I get the job, in the first 90 days? First six months? First year?”
Don’t disregard opportunities for improvements
When someone asks what you could improve upon, don’t say something trite like “I work too hard”. Be honest and talk about how you’d like to improve.
Use the words “opportunity for improvement” vs. “weakness”. Weakness implies permanency. Opportunity for improvement shows self-awareness and ideally, you can share a plan as to how you’ve started to improve.
Don’t appear uninterested or unprepared
When asked “What questions do you have for me?”, the worst answers to me are “Nothing”, “I don’t have any” or the blank stare.
You should be interviewing as much as you are being interviewed. Have a typewritten list of questions you want to ask about the company you’re interviewing for, the interviewee, the job, who you’d report to, etc…
Make sure you’ve done your research including connecting on LinkedIn with those you will be meeting with.
Don’t speak negatively about a previous employer or boss
Many individuals currently interviewing for jobs may have been laid off due to COVID-19 and may still harbor resentment over what happened. Do not speak ill of your past employer during the interview.
You may briefly mention that you’re seeking a new job due to COVID-19. Use this time to talk up your past experience and skillsets, as well as any initiatives you were working on or may highlight from your last job, that would make you an ideal candidate for the role.
Ciara Van De Velde
Don’t speak negatively of a previous employer, coworker, or job
You have a very limited time to make a great first impression and saying anything negative may be a red flag to your potential employer. Instead, focus on your strengths, major accomplishments, and examples of how you are a good team player.
Don’t ask about salary or benefits during the interview
Keep this in mind unless the interviewer brings up the topic first. The whole focus of the interview is to assess the candidate’s skills and qualifications. Therefore, employers believe it is inappropriate for interviewees to ask about salary and benefits prior to the interviewer asking the question.
Don’t appear uninterested by not asking questions
Additionally, candidates should always be prepared to ask the interviewer questions near the end of the interview.
If the hiring manager or interviewer asks, “do you have any questions?” and the candidate responds by saying “I don’t have any questions” this may appear that the candidate is not entirely interested in the position or company.
Keynote Speaker | Learning Designer and Master Facilitator
Candidates can get so nervous during a job interview they inadvertently say things they don’t even realize can sabotage their success. Here are a few topics to avoid:
Don’t to criticize anything about the facilities
Even casual comments like: “The parking around here is terrible.” It can signal to a potential employer that you are negative.
Don’t badmouth your past employers.
Even if you left an untenable situation. Again, this will signal that you are someone who a) holds a grudge and b) doesn’t learn from experiences.
Find a way to frame the fact that you left your last job as a good thing. You can say something like: “I learned as much as I could there and realized I was ready to move on.”
Don’t ask about vacation days or signing bonuses
During the interview stage, you want to show them that you will add value to their team. You want to show that you’ll add so much value that by the time you get to negotiating what you want, they’ll be happy to give it to you.
These are important questions to ask, but the time to ask them is after they’ve made you an offer.
Don’t provide non-career related answers
Finally, it’s important to remember that a job interview is not an interrogation or a therapy session. Questions like: “Tell me about your strengths and your weaknesses” are meant to solicit work-related answers.
I once interviewed a candidate for a teaching position and he told me that one of his weaknesses was that he had a hard time communicating with his mother! This answer not only made us both uncomfortable, but it also made me question his judgment about drawing effective boundaries with students.
A job interview is successful when answers are (1) building a connection with the interviewer, (2) relevant to what the team needs, and (3) clear and easy to understand. Candidates can hinder opportunities by saying things that are opposite from achieving these goals:
Don’t ask yes or no questions and don’t “not” say anything
A lot of interviewees get nervous and make things awkward in the beginning and end by cutting conversations short or not saying anything at all.
In the beginning, instead of making small talk, they wait for interviewers to ask questions and lead the conversation. At the end of the interviews, they ask irrelevant questions that are not deep enough to spark meaningful conversations.
Research from Princeton shows that people judge first impressions within the first tenth of a second. Make sure to do some pre-interview research through the interviewers’ social media and Linkedin to spark conversation ideas.
At the end of interviews, make sure to ask deep questions such as “What are the biggest challenges/opportunities for the business?” and “Based on what you know about me, is there anything missing from my background that may hinder you from considering me as a great candidate?”.
The interviewers will then be able to open up more and build a stronger connection/rapport with you.
Don’t focus answers on you
A lot of clients I’ve helped prepare interview answers for focus on what they want and need. However, this is not helpful for the team or interviewer because they can’t make a connection to how you can help the team’s goals and business challenges.
This means, don’t spend 40-minutes explaining your personal story when asked, “tell me about yourself.” Instead, keep your answer to 30 seconds to 1 minute and allow the interviewer to ask follow-up questions on portions of your introduction that they’re interested in.
Don’t say, “I want to get into your company because I don’t like my current job.” Instead, say “I want to get into your company because I love the team’s mission to expand this product globally and make it the #1 account software in the world. I strongly believe this can be done through 3 ways: first…second.. third…”.
As a general rule make sure to ask yourself “What’s in it for them?” before answering any interview questions!
Don’t answer questions with a train of thought
As much as it doesn’t seem this way, interviewers and hiring managers really have a tough time filling up the roles so they are truly rooting for you and want you to succeed.
They try to write notes, especially in tech companies internally, to help support their case as to why you’re a great candidate. However, when you answer with a train of thought without a clear structure, it’s very hard for them to do so.
So don’t answer questions with any words you’d use with trains of thoughts “I think..”, “Also…”, “and then…” because it will make you ramble!
Instead, use the STAR method, 1-2-3 method, or a combination of both!
The STAR method allows you to explain behavioral/example experiences with Situation, Task, Action, and Result. The 1-2-3 method allows you to explain reasonings such as why you want to join the company, why you want to change industries, or how you would hypothetically approach a situation with “First, I would… Second, I would… Lastly, I would…”.
These frameworks will help you structure your interviews well in a clear and concise way!
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Resume Expert and Career Advice Writer, Zety
Don’t give the impression that you are in a rush
“I have to leave now because my next job interview is about to start.”
If you are actively looking for a job, it means that you also have other options. It’s clear for everyone, and every recruiter is aware of it.
However, try to arrange your interviews so that you have plenty of time to finish the previous one. Cutting the meeting short or notifying the recruiter you are in a hurry will always be frowned upon and may cost you an opportunity.
Don’t badmouth your previous boss.
It doesn’t matter how evil your previous employers were. Do not speak badly of them. It’s a sign that you approach problems at work personally.
Slandering former employers at a job interview always sounds bad. For the recruiter, this is a risk of employing someone who complains and starts conflicts. So avoid it at all costs.
Don’t say, “Did I really write that in my CV?”
Your resume is your business card if you asked your friend or a Resume Writing Expert to help you with a resume, read through it carefully. There’s nothing worse than not knowing what your resume says about you and your experience. If you are very stressed and indeed, do not recall putting something on your resume – don’t act surp[rised. Instead, play along and stay confident.
Don’t say, your weaknesses are your strengths
It’s always a temptation to be a little too clever in our interview responses. One of the most common examples is phrasing the answer to the “what are your weaknesses” question so that they’re also strengths. This is often a big mistake.
Hiring managers want to see that you’re self-reflective enough to identify areas of opportunity within yourself and that you have a plan to improve these areas.
Be honest about areas where you could use improvement and share your plan for shoring up those weaknesses.
Don’t bad-mouth your previous employer or coworkers
Speaking poorly of your previous employer, especially when interviewing with a competitor, might seem like an easy way to get on your interviewer’s good side but it usually backfires.
Savvy hiring managers know that if you’re willing to trash your current employer now they can expect the same treatment from you in the future.
Focus more on talking about why you want to work at the new company instead of what is driving you away from your current company.
Don’t say how desperate you are for the job or to work for the company
Hiring managers want to see that candidates are interested in working for their company but it’s easy to go overboard with enthusiasm. If you appear too eager or worse, desperate, to get the job they are going to start wondering why that is.
The highest-quality candidates tend to have other options available which allow them to come off as interested but still professional. Candidates that are desperate tend to get passed over or offered the position with reduced compensation.
Shawna Newman, MBA
Don’t appear as desperate
Resist the urge to tell a potential employer that you’re up for any open position or work that they have available for you. While you may think that it makes you sound like a real go-getter, the reality is that it makes you look both desperate and like a short-term hire.
When hiring managers hear that an interviewee will do anything, that translates as “I need any job I can get right now until I find something better.” And they won’t want to hire you if they think you’re not going to stick around.
Don’t fess up to any mental or physical health issues
While it’s illegal for firms over 15 workers to discriminate against your mental or physical disability, the truth is that it’s an interviewer’s job to glean any and all information in order to choose the best candidate among several.
Based on their bias’ (which may be unintentional), you do yourself harm by giving away more information during the interview than the employer needs to know.
Can you do the job? Will you be a good addition to the team? Are you reliable and trustworthy? That’s what the interviewer needs to know.
Telling them information beyond that (such as you having anxiety issues or needing time off for surgery this summer) does nothing to get you hired. That’s information you can convey after you receive a job offer, once they’re committed to working with you and more likely to be open to reasonable accommodations that you’ll need on the job.
CEO and Co-Founder, Choosing Therapy
Do not badmouth your former employers.
Even if they fired you, laid you off, or were terrible people. You don’t want to send a message that you are going to be an unhappy, disgruntled worker or have problems with authority. If you were asked what happened, it is important to frame the context of what you have learned.
For example, you can say, “XYZ company was a very high-pressure environment focusing on individual results. I am more of a collaborative person and work best in a team environment. After leaving XYZ company, I have focused on working at places where a high priority was placed: communication and teamwork. Can I provide you an example where I excelled as a member of a high performing team?”
Don’t talk about the salary as your only motivation
We were interviewing a very promising candidate for a data analyst role at our company. When asked the standard question, “What interests you about our company?”, the jarring response came in. “The salary”.
Oof, that’s a non-starter. Of course, you’re applying for a role with the expectation you will get paid well.
When an employer asks that question, they expect you to talk about what specifically interests you about the given role or company. Is it a new domain you’d get to work in? Are you interested in their growth potential? Just please don’t answer with, “the salary”.
Don’t be too focused on yourself
The worst job interview answers all stem from being too focused on yourself and what you’re seeking to gain from landing the job.
Whether you talk about the role being a stepping stone, something you’ve always wanted, or how this job is a “huge opportunity” for you, you’re framing your position as someone who is selfish and focused on what you get out of the bargain.
While you might be truly focused on just getting your paycheck, companies want employees who are aligned with the company’s goals and best interests. By focusing only on what you’re getting without focusing on the value that you can provide to the company, you’re sending the message that they’ll be getting the short end of the stick.
Don’t ask the obvious questions
Another huge mistake interviewees make is asking questions that could be answered by a cursory search of the company’s website. High-level candidates have all done their research on the organization and its projects, culture, and background, and also researched their interviewer.
Asking a question that anyone spending five minutes on the company site would know will not only show your lack of preparedness, but also likely insult the interviewer.
It’s fine to ask a clarifying question, but take the time to research the company, current projects, past projects, and any and all industry news surrounding them so that you can show the interviewer that you’re enthusiastic and actually excited to be there.
The job interview is one of the scariest moments of every job applicant of any field. It can cause anxiety and loss of sleep prior to the applicant’s scheduled date no matter how prepared and how confident they can be.
Listed below are some of the things an applicant should not say during her job interview:
Don’t talk negatively about your previous employer
Hiring managers tend to ask questions regarding your past employer, keep in mind that everything that you’ll say is the reflection of your character and not the company.
Don’t say, “I don’t know”
You might be surprised at some of the questions the managers will ask you but avoid saying the phrase “I don’t know”, you’ll give them an impression that you don’t make an effort to think of other ways to solve a problem.
Don’t dwell on your lack of experience
In every interview, keep in mind that you are selling yourself as well as your services to the company, focus your discussion on your strengths more than your weakness. It would give the impression that you want to be eliminated in the list of possible hires.
Resume Expert, ResumeLab
Don’t talk negatively about your previous boss
Most employees don’t quit their previous jobs; they quit their less-than-stellar managers. That’s why when asked about your employment history, you might be tempted to badmouth your former employer and go into detail about how your day-to-day work resembled a scene from Dante’s Inferno.
It might send the wrong message to the company and cause the hiring manager to disqualify you on autopilot. That’s because there are two sides to every story, and badmouthing your old boss can raise enough of a question mark regarding the objectivity of your account and potentially cast a shadow over your candidacy.
Instead, keep your tone between neutral and positive and focus on what you’ve learned from that experience and how it’ll help you do a better job at the new place.
This content was originally published here.
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