Unless you’re a CEO, celebrity, or head of state, you’re probably not used to having your every word weighed by others. Even if you’re somewhat anxious in social situations, you likely understand that occasionally misspeaking is unlikely to have major consequences.
One exception to this rule: job interviews. Why are interviews so prone to conversational pitfalls? In part, it’s because you’re aware of being judged. Also, you only have so much time to make a good first impression, and you’re trying to do so while also conveying your qualifications for the job and determining whether the role is a good fit for you.
Finally, there’s the fact that you’re competing with all the other people who are trying to land the job.
With so many candidates for just about every job opening, misspeaking makes it easier for the hiring manager to reject your candidacy.
You usually won't get a second chance once you have made a mistake and said something inappropriate or something that will make the interviewer think twice about hiring you.
With that in mind, avoid the following.
Watch Now: Never Say These Things in a Job Interview
Top 10 Things Not to Say in a Job Interview
- “How Much Does This Job Pay?” Don't be the first to bring up salary, if you can help it. Mentioning pay can send the message that all you are after is money. This is an especially grave sin at the first meeting. There’s plenty of time to talk numbers later, when you’ve learned more about the role and can determine an appropriate salary range.
- “My Boss Was Incompetent” (Or a Jerk, an Idiot or Anything Else Disparaging). Prospective employers will likely side with your current or previous supervisor and assume you will be difficult to manage. They may even worry that you’ll bad-mouth them at some future job interview.
- Saying, “I'll Have Your Job,” When Asked Where You See Yourself Five Years From Now. Displaying confidence is a good thing, but overly cocky statements will not endear you to interviewers. Remember that part of what hiring managers are assessing is whether you’ll fit well with the team: in other words, you want to come off like (and to be!) someone who’s pleasant to work with.
- “I Hate My Job,” perhaps in response to a question like "Why are you applying for a new position?" A better approach is to emphasize why the new position is appealing and, when reflecting on your current job, to emphasize what you have learned and skills you have developed. As with disparaging comments, this type of negative attitude will be a red flag to hiring managers.
- “You Look Great.” Avoid any comments that could be interpreted as flirtatious or otherwise inappropriate, no matter how stunning your interviewer appears.
- “I'm Not Aware of Any Weaknesses,” When Asked to Share Some Shortcomings. Always be prepared to communicate some weaknesses: just make sure the quality is not central to the job. Sharing a historical weakness that you have worked toward improving can be an effective strategy. Rather than making you seem confident, claiming not to have weaknesses at all will make you appear boastful, delusional, and lacking self-awareness.
- “Why Have Earnings Slumped at Your Company During the Past Two Quarters?” A better angle would be to stay clear of anything sounding negative. Rather, frame your question more neutrally. For example: "In your view, what are some of the biggest challenges that your company faces at this juncture?"
- “Can I Work a Flexible Schedule?” or “How Much Vacation Would I Get?” Save these types of question until after you have been offered a position or the employer might question your motivation or work ethic. If these factors are important to you, you can try inquiring about the company culture, which will often prompt your interviewer to discuss the company's work-from-home policy and vacation days.
- “You'll Regret It If You Don't Hire Me: I'm the Most Qualified.” You can't possibly know this unless you have met and evaluated all the other candidates. Overconfidence is a real turnoff to employers.
- “I Don't Have Any Questions for You.” Prepare some questions to ask that build upon your company research or something that your interviewer has shared with you. Another approach is to ask the interviewer a question about their experience with the organization, such as: “What do you enjoy most about working at ABC company?” Not having any questions at all will make you appear unprepared or uninterested.
How to Avoid Misspeaking During Your Interview
Knowing what not to say during an interview is important, and will help you avoid giving an answer that's a turnoff to interviewers.
It's also helpful to have a clear sense of what you do want to get across during the interview.
To that end, try practicing your responses to common interview questions. Brainstorm a list of questions to ask the interviewer, too. The more you prepare for the interview, the more confident you'll feel during it.