Preparing what to say in a job interview isn’t easy. Overprepare, and you’ll come across robotic and incapable of normal conversation. No doubt you’ll give some rehearsed answers which don’t quite fit the question. If you underprepare you’ll look like a fool who doesn’t know why they’re there.
It’s a difficult balance to strike. One thing you can definitely do, however, is to make sure you know what not to say. It’s good to make an impression, but you don’t want your interviewer to remember you for the wrong reasons!
To help you out, here’s a list of 10 things to avoid saying an interview:
Avoid badmouthing your previous employer. Your interviewer is much more likely to side with them and assume you will be difficult to manage. If asked about your relationship with your former boss, be sure to spin it. You respected them, but had different values and ideas for the company, for instance.
Chances are that at some point you’ll be asked a question you just don’t know the answer to. It happens. But saying ‘I don’t know’ is rarely the right approach. Ask for a minute to think – pen and paper if necessary – and if you’re really stuck, tell them you’ll have to get back to them. At least you’ve shown you’re willing to engage with the question, however difficult.
This is useful information to know, but there’s a time and a place. It doesn't look good if, before you've even been hired, you're planning your absence from the company. You can always find out once you’ve actually been offered the job.
Who do you think you’re fooling? Certainly not your interviewer. When asked for weaknesses, try to give a genuine insightful answer. Of course, don’t draw attention to anything that would clearly make you unsuitable for the role.
Pick something not directly related to the position you’re after, and which you’ve made a conscious effort to improve. For example, you might point out that you have a poor long-term memory, but that you’ve started to address this by carrying a notepad with you when you’re at work.
You want to make a good impression, so make the effort to speak eloquently and thoughtfully. If you’re in the habit of using filler words, this can require a lot of effort. Practice speaking without fillers beforehand with friends and family. Don’t be afraid to speak a little more slowly.
Any job-seeker can use buzzwords and key phrases and so they don’t really say anything about you on their own. If you’re going to claim to be a problem-solver, back that up with an example of a difficult problem that you’ve solved. If you’re going to claim to be a dedicated team-player, mention a time when you made a personal sacrifice for the sake of the team.
If you’ve just spilt water over your interviewer, it’s a good idea to apologise. Otherwise, avoid saying sorry. Certainly, don’t apologise for a lack of industry experience or qualifications – you don’t want to draw attention to your weaknesses.
Don’t apologise for your answer to a question, either beforehand or afterwards. This can make you look indecisive and suggests you lack confidence. And don’t use ‘sorry’ as a filler – saying ‘sorry’ over and over again will just make your interviewer feel uncomfortable.
You’re trying to make yourself sound as impressive as possible, and so you give a list of all your achievements. A degree from Oxford is genuinely impressive. A second degree from Cambridge isn’t bad. Sure, GCSE French isn’t quite in the same league, but it’s something, right?
Wrong. Psychologists Weaver, Garcia, and Schwarz have recently drawn attention to what is called the Presenter’s Paradox. It turns out that when we hear a list of accomplishments, we don’t sum up the impressiveness of each to reach an overall measure of impressiveness. Rather, we average out the impressiveness of all the accomplishments.
This means that you’re better leaving less impressive achievements off your list, as they’ll only bring your average down.
You knew you were going to be asked whether you had any questions – this is a standard way for the interview to conclude – and so failing to ask anything just makes it look like you’ve come unprepared.
In all likelihood, if you really want the job, you’re going to have questions you want to be answered. If you genuinely don’t have any questions, you might want to ask yourself whether this is the right job for you.
Even if your interviewer is foul-mouthed, you shouldn’t be. Even if the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, don’t forget where you are. Swearing shows bad judgement, and can only hurt your chances.
Oliver Hurcum writes for Inspiring Interns, which helps career starters find the perfect job, in everything from sales jobs to marketing internships. To browse our graduate jobs London listings, visit our website.
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