Landing an interview is, of course, a step in the right direction toward getting a new job. But what you say and do during that interview can be the difference between getting an offer and getting rejected. Sure, you know the obvious things to avoid—like showing up late or dressing too casually—but the following nine lines can just as easily derail your chances of scoring the gig. Read on to learn which talking points to steer clear of during your next job interview.
9 Things Never to Say on a Job Interview
“I’m leaving my current job because my boss is terrible to work for.”
Even if a boss is pure evil, resist the urge to badmouth her, your old company and your coworkers. “It’s a smaller world than you might think,” says Lisa Quast, a certified executive coach, author of Your Career, Your Way! and founder of Career Woman Inc. “The interviewer may have previously worked for the same company or be your boss’s best friend.” Besides, a negative attitude won’t endear you to any recruiter. “Even if you did work for the worst boss in the whole world, saying so in an interview makes you come across as a disgruntled employee,” says Julie Lacouture, co-owner of Mom Corps Los Angeles, which helps companies fill part-time and temporary jobs. “Remember—you’re talking to a potential boss, so it’s best to answer positively.” Explain how you navigate tricky situations at work, and if you’re asked about your boss, focus on how you work together successfully despite your differences. Lacouture suggests discussing a boss who, for example, micro-managed you by saying something like: “We had different work styles, but I always gave her as much information as I could because I knew she was detail-oriented.”
“I want to be upfront about my weaknesses. I’m not good at…”
Though you should never say that you’re great at everything, admitting a flaw without being asked is a bad idea. Beth Sears, communications expert and president of Workplace Communication, Inc., recalls a client who had an excellent resume and attitude. “I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t getting job offers, so I decided to role-play with her. After a brief introduction she said, ‘I don’t want you to have any surprises—here’s what I’m not good at.'” Once the client kicked that habit, she landed a position at a great organization. If you’re asked directly about your faults, there are smart ways to respond. “Talk about a weakness that isn’t central to the position that you’re seeking, and, more importantly, show how you’ve overcome that weakness,” suggests Cheryl Palmer, a certified career coach and founder of Call to Career. Avoid saying things like, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard,” which will come across as dishonest.
“How much vacation time do I get?”
It’s no secret that company perks are an exciting part of getting a new job. But by asking about them during an interview, you’ll seem focused on the wrong things. Paul Cameron, president and senior technology recruiter at DriveStaff, Inc., had two candidates ask during their first interview, “What time is lunch here, and how long do I get?” Neither got the job, he reports. “Especially in a first interview, keep the intent behind your questions centered around ‘What can I do for you?’ not ‘What can you do for me?'” he says. Benefits should certainly be discussed, he notes, but not before the company indicates they’d like to make an offer. When giving your salary history, you can mention how much you received in bonuses, vacation time, 401(k) contribution matches, tuition reimbursement and more. “This will show that these things are important to you, and it will open the door to start negotiation about these items,” says Cameron.
“I love your glasses!”
You may think that complimenting your interviewer will create a connection, and possibly score you brownie points for your good taste. But there’s a fine line between praise and flattery. “You might get away with this if you have established a good rapport with the interviewer,” says Palmer. On the other hand, these statements could be seen as fake or flirtatious. A safer conversation starter, says Palmer: Comment on an award or picture in that person’s office.
“So, what does your company do?”
It’s one thing to ask specific questions about your potential duties at the company; it’s another to ask broad queries you could’ve found answers to yourself. “If you don’t appear to know anything, the recruiter may not think you’re interested in working there,” says Palmer. She urges job-seekers to check out the company’s website, press releases and news articles to find out what issues they’re facing. “Try to weave some of this data into your answers early on in the interview so that the recruiter knows you’ve done your homework.” Plus, the background info will help when you’re asked if you have any questions. And you should always have questions to ask, says Palmer—it shows that you’ve educated yourself about the company and are taking an active interest in learning more. She also recommends finding out as much as you can about your interviewer through professional sites like LinkedIn and ZoomInfo. “This research will pay off as you establish rapport with the interviewer based on what you’ve read about them.” So what should you say? If you learned where the interviewer went to college, it’s okay to mention that you share a connection with that school (if you really do). But avoid asking about personal things you may have noticed on a site like Facebook. “Or if you find that person’s blog, mention something about a post that you found useful rather than simply staying you saw the blog,” suggests Palmer.
“I haven’t been able to find a job because of the bad economy.”
Everyone knows that the sluggish economy has made job-hunting tough. Still, blaming your situation on the tough market will make you seem passive. Instead, focus on the positives, suggests Kate Alderfer, who works on staffing for a consulting company in Pennsylvania. “You always want to stay positive and avoid finger-pointing,” she says. Try something like: “I’ve been focusing my career search to jobs that relate to my expertise in X, Y and Z. It’s been challenging, yet exciting, to explore potential opportunities.” When asked what you’ve been doing since your last job, be clear that finding the perfect position has been at the forefront of your efforts. Alderfer advises saying something like: “I’ve been actively interviewing for my next career move; there have been many options, but I’m seeking a long-term role with opportunity for growth.” As she points out, “this type of response insinuates you’re not simply sitting around—you’ve been career-focused and have had other opportunities pop up, but are intent on finding the best match.”
“I don’t have a salary range in mind—I’m flexible.”
By offering this, you’re probably trying to show how eager and easy to please you are. “Some candidates say this in order to get the job offer or to leave the door open for negotiation,” says Lacouture. “But the recruiter may see you as uninformed about your industry.” Even worse, she may see it as an opportunity to give you the lowest possible offer. Instead, do research beforehand about what similar jobs pay, and give an appropriate range. Disclosing what you currently make will also give you a jumping-off point for negotiations.
“I want to work here because I need a job.”
If you’re trying to come across as to-the-point, you’re not going to achieve it with this sort of statement. “You have to show interest in the employer or the employer won’t show interest in you,” says Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd. “By saying something like this, it seems like you’re just in it for the paycheck.” Your goal should be to let the recruiter know that you want to be a part of their particular company, and that you’ve invested time and effort into learning about the organization.
“I’m planning to start a family soon.”
While it’s instinctual to be honest about your personal life, revealing too much might hurt you. “It’s never a great idea to share whether you want children in the future,” says Quast. “Some unethical hiring managers may believe that a desire to have kids—or even to get married—will cause disruptions in your work schedule or your ability to complete tasks on time.” Instead, Quast recommends focusing on your commitment to your job and your discipline in completing assignments. Give specific examples of projects you’ve spearheaded and contributions you’ve made to successes in your current or previous role.