We’re the first to admit that suggesting there are things you shouldn’t say in an interview at first just seems obvious, right? Wrong, you can never legislate for what some people think of as a killer answer or for how they might chose to describe their current role.
Obviously, the interviewing process is designed to highlight all aspects of a candidate’s character and career. And inevitably, probing weaknesses (and the candidate’s ability to overcome them) is part of the job description.
But who knows how many promising careers have been ruined by an ill-thought-through phrase, or worse, a David Brentesque cliché. They should be avoided at all costs. Here are some of the things you shouldn’t say if you want to make the right impression:
My weakness is I work too hard.
Interviewers dislike weaknesses being portrayed as strengths. It suggests arrogance and over-assertiveness. Instead, if you’re asked about weaknesses, try saying that you can take criticism too harshly, or you can become too wrapped up in the detail of a project. However, if that’s your response, you also need to have a resolution to the problem.
Anything that reflects badly on a previous job or employer
Bad-mouthing is a bad idea. It suggests disloyalty and an inability to deal with conflict. It will also raise doubts over your reasons for leaving the job and might even cause the interviewer to question everything about you and your CV.
What does your company do?
‘If you don’t know, why are you sitting in that chair, wasting my time?’ is the probable – and merited – response to this one. The only possible reason for not researching a job you’re interviewing for is that you don’t want it. In which case the interviewer’s stinging response question is bang on and may well be the last thing you hear about that particular role.
The one little word interviewers don’t want to hear. Negativity of any kind is the wrong message to send out, and plenty of studies have concluded that whenever you use ‘no’ it sets alarm bells ringing. For example, if you say ‘I was determined to finish the project, no matter what…’ all the person across the desk hears is ‘no’. So ‘no, just no,’ to this one.
Anything that’s not true
Very obvious but, scarily, very common. It was bad enough being caught lying about your experience or background in the age of the fax machine and telephone. Nowadays, where any information is just a few keystrokes away, its plain reckless and just not worth it.
Industry jargon and technical terms
Your interviewer may not be familiar with the detail or technical aspects of your chosen discipline. So, apart from the chance that they may not understand what you’re talking about, they may feel you’re belittling them, which is not good. They may also feel you’re showing off, which is just as bad. If, on the other hand, the interviewer is familiar with the field of work, they may know a lot more than you so all you’re doing is exposing your limitations. Either way, it’s a non-starter.
What’s the salary?
It’s what everyone wants to talk about but what no-one should. If you bring up the subject of money, you’re seen as having the wrong focus. You’re there to talk about you can bring to the company, not what they can give you. Of course, if the interviewer wants to talk figures, that’s fine – but find the right balance between interest and your main priorities.
It wasn’t my fault
Excuses don’t work. They might be valid, but that’s not the point. If you’re trying to attach blame to someone or something else, you’re not taking responsibility. Far better to put an incident down to experience: ‘I was at fault, but I have learnt a lot from the experience and it’s not a mistake I will make again.’
Anything about politics or religion
Unless you’re trying for a job in politics or religion, avoid these topics at all costs. Personal opinions on anything not directly related to the position on offer have no place in an interview.
Anything about the interviewer
You’re here for a job, not to make a friend. Even if the interviewer was interested in your opinion on him or her (which is, to say the least, unlikely), you don’t need the distraction and there’s always the risk of saying the wrong thing and waving goodbye to your hopes of success. Just keep your mind on the job.
Be smart. Let your CV do the initial talking. Answer all the questions as directly and succinctly as possible. Let the interviewer guide you – if more information is required, you’ll be asked for it. If you’re invited to ask questions yourself at the end of the interview, use the opportunity to show your initiative and genuine interest rather than as a chance to show off or brag about things you’ve done elsewhere that might not be applicable for this role.