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Things Not To Say During a Job Interview

Many of my posts are about how to act and what you should say during a job interview, so I thought I’d take some time to outline things you should not say. These are things that, even though they are inappropriate, will probably not be pointed out to you.

They will simply be silent killers of your interview.

As a Hiring Manager, here are the nine things that in my experience will tank your interview. And you may never know they are the reason you didn’t get a callback.

Saying Anything Negative About Former Employers, Bosses, or Co-Workers

This will throw a negative light on your interview from that point forward. You may even get angry just thinking about it and blurt out things that are impossible to take back.

Plus, if you freely criticize past employers or bosses, I’ll automatically assume that you’ll eventually be critical of my company and position. It will be difficult for you to shake this image off unless you absolutely nail everything else in your interview.

If you can’t say anything nice, just make a general statement that you’re previous employers learning experiences are what gave you the skills and knowledge that you’ll bring to this job.

Talking About Your Personal Life

Your interview is about your business qualifications and what you can bring to the job. It has nothing to do with your personal life. And frankly, I don’t want to hear anything that isn’t directly relevant to my job opening and why you’re a good candidate for it.

The main reason to avoid personal information, other than the fact that it’s irrelevant to the job, is that you just never know when someone on the interview panel finds some aspect of your personal life to be offensive.

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I was once interviewing a candidate for an accounting position. I put together an interview panel composed of four other managers, plus the Director of Finance (she liked to occasionally sit in on interviews).

When asked to tell us something about himself, this candidate started out by saying he was married, has three children, liked hiking and camping, and was an avid hunter.

Uh oh.

The Director of Finance was well known internally as an animal rights supporter who was adamantly against hunting for sport. It didn’t matter how well that candidate did on the rest of the interview, he wasn’t going to get a job with our company.

Confine your answers to what makes you the best candidate for the job. You can talk about your personal life once you get hired, just not in the interview.

Asking Questions About Salary, Vacations, or Any Other Benefits

The only time you should ask these questions is after you have been offered the job. Otherwise, you run the risk of being seen as interested primarily in the benefits, rather than the job.

Saying “It’s On My Resume”

I’ve seen this mistake made many times. Commonly, interviewers will ask questions that they know can be answered by reading the resume. They want to hear the information in the candidate’s own words.

Of course, occasionally it’s because they haven’t read the resume or haven’t read it in detail.

Regardless, the worst response you can make is “It’s on my resume”. I even had one candidate add to this “Do I have to Repeat Myself?” It was obvious that he was irritated because he assumed I hadn’t read his resume.

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I have another entire post dedicated to how to not be a jerk in your interview. This candidate obviously hadn’t read it.

Even if the answer to every question you’re asked can be found in your resume (this never happens), just mentally bite your tongue and answer the question in a way that assumes they never saw your resume.

Asking “When Do I Start?”

Some interview advice you may have read recommends you say this at the end of the interview when you’re asked if you have any questions. The reasoning is that this shows you want the job and are confident you’ll get it.

What it really shows is that you’re arrogant and presumptuous. You don’t already have the job and it’s up to the interview panel, not you, as to if you’ll get the job.

I’ve had this question asked several times over the years and my answer is always the same: “Well, you don’t have the job yet. We’ll let you know when we’ve reached a decision.”

Try saying this instead: “Everything I’ve researched and my interview today has convinced me that this is the job I want. I believe my experience and qualifications are a great fit and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

This makes the point equally well that you want the job, you’re a good fit, and you asked for a follow-up tactfully and professionally.

Saying “I Don’t Know the Answer to That Question”

If you go on enough interviews, chances are you’ll be asked a question that you don’t have the knowledge or experience to answer. But don’t come out and admit that right away.

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Being stumped by an answer is nerve-wracking, but you do have some alternatives to saying “I don’t know”.

First, you can try to connect the question to something you do know. For example, Let’s say you’re interviewing for an IT job and are asked about your experience with a certain technology, and you have no experience with that technology. You might be able to answer it with something like this: “I don’t have experience with that exact technology, but I believe it’s somewhat similar to XXX technology…”

Substitute a technology you do know for XXX and go on from there. It’s not a perfect answer but far better than saying you don’t know.

Second, if you can’t connect the question to something that you do know, you can say: “I’d like to think about that question a bit. Can we loop back to it at the end of the interview?” Chances are good that you’ll be given the okay.

This gives you some time to consider the question and you might even gather information during the interview that may help. You may even find that the interview panel forgets about going back to the question, or simply runs out of time. However, be aware that this is something you can only use once.

Lastly, if the question is about how you would handle a certain situation and you’ve never encountered that situation, you may be able to talk about a time that you observed how that situation was handled well and describe it.

Asking “What Exactly Does Your Company Do / What Does This Position Do?”

Asking either of these questions gives you an automatic two strikes against you in your interview because it indicates you didn’t do any advance research.

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If I have to describe what my company does or what the position entails, I’ll know you didn’t bother to find out for yourself, even though that information is readily available.

Almost every company has a website and 60 seconds of looking at it will tell you what that company does. Looking at the job posting in detail will usually tell you what that job does.

If you didn’t take even this minimum amount of effort, how much effort will I think you’ll put into the job?

Saying “I Don’t Really Have Any Questions”

When you’re asked at the end of the interview if you have any questions (and you will be asked), avoid saying you don’t have any. This indicates you haven’t really thought about the position and/or you didn’t do any advance research.

You should always have three or four questions ready to ask. You can then select the one or two you feel are most appropriate considering how your interview went.

Good questions to ask include:

  • “What do you feel is the best thing about working here?”
  • “Can you tell me about the team I’d be working with?”
  • “How is success measured in this position?”
  • “Can you describe some specific projects I’d be involved with?”
  • “What do you look for most in new employees?”
  • “What do you feel is the single most important qualification for this position?”

Saying “I Really Need This Job”

This statement reeks of desperation and that all you’re looking for is a paycheck.

The hard reality is that companies hire based on your qualifications, experience, and what you can do for them if you get the job. You won’t be given a job because you need it, but because you’re the best candidate and have earned it.

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Just one or two of these things you shouldn’t say won’t tank your interview if you otherwise perform well. But if your performance was just borderline good, they will definitely put you in the negative column.

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