I never used to understand what people mean when they say that they "interview well."
How was that possible? If you're too prepared, your answers sound robotic, and if you're too unprepared, you start most answers with a long sip of water to gather your thoughts.
Now, I understand (or at least, I think I do) what it means to interview well: Interviewing well is possible when you speak with confidence and competence about your experiences and your capabilities.
This is easier to accomplish when you apply for jobs you're qualified for -- I definitely wouldn't come across as confident or competent if I applied to be a neurosurgeon. But once you've come across the perfect job opening and have an interview on the books, start thinking about yourself and how you'll fit into the company, and the role -- and the answers will flow naturally, without seeming rehearsed.
That being said, there are a few things you should prepare -- what not to say. Below are 13 responses, questions, and words you shouldn't drop in an interview -- if you want to come across as confident and competent, that is. We'll review what not to say, why not to say it, and what to say instead.
What Not to Say in an Interview: 13 Phrases to Avoid
1) "What do you do here?"
You should know the answer to this question already -- because you thoroughly researched the company and your interviewer. Make sure you prepare for your interview by learning about who will be asking you questions so you can start an interesting conversation.
"I read that you helped launch a new product last year. How was that experience?"
Ask a question that shows you've done your research -- and starts an interesting discussion.
2) "I'm really nervous."
Confidence is a big part of preparedness, and the role you're interviewing for will most likely require you to be decisive and confident so you can get things done. So don't say you're nervous -- it will probably make you more nervous, and it won't do you any favors with your interviewer, either.
"I'm excited to be here!"
It's okay to feel nervous -- just don't say it. This phrase expresses what might be behind that nervousness -- enthusiasm -- and will (hopefully) help you relax a little bit.
3) "Um ... "
Filler words like "um," "like," and "well" are a no-no. You have limited time in your interview to make a great impression, so use the time you have to speak eloquently and thoughtfully.
"That's a great question ... "
If you need to buy yourself some time to answer a question, start your answer with a phrase like this instead. It's understandable if you need a moment to collect your thoughts, just use the right words to do it.
4) "[A lie.]"
As tempting as it might be to differentiate yourself from other applicants, don't tell a lie in your interview that might come back to haunt you if you get the job. Whether it's knowing how to use a certain software or familiarity with a social network's ad platform, a lie could hurt you if the truth comes out later.
"I'm not familiar with that, but I am experienced in ..."
It's okay if you don't know how to do or use something your interviewer asks about -- after all, learning on the job is a real thing. If you run into this question in an interview, pivot to something you do know how to use that's related -- and note that you're excited to learn more.
5) "I grew our blog traffic a lot."
If you're going to toot your own horn, make sure you have some data or evidence to back it up. Anyone can say they excelled in a previous role, but numbers or examples will make you stand out to your interviewer.
"Over the course of two years, I grew blog traffic by 150%."
If you don't have numbers to use, you might consider leaving out this tidbit -- or using qualitative data to toot your own horn instead. "Customers said it was one of the best events with the company they had ever attended."
6) "I hate my job."
You're interviewing for a new job, so obviously your current role isn't perfect for you. There's no need to editorialize your reasons for seeking a new role with complaints or bad-mouthing -- it makes you seem immature, and it won't curry you any favor with your interviewer, who, among other things, will be evaluating your emotional intelligence and maturity. Maybe you do hate your job, but don't say it -- instead, explain why you're seeking a new opportunity.
"I like what I'm working on, but I'm ready to learn more about inbound marketing by taking on a new challenge in a content creation role."
Say what you like about your current role, but frame your desire to seek a new role as an interest in learning more, taking on a new challenge, or expanding a skillset.
7) "My boss is the worst."
Just like the previous question, it's critical that you don't speak ill of your current role or your current team when discussing why you want to pursue a new role. It's immature and petty -- not to mention, your interviewer could be your boss if you get the job. They might not be interested in hiring someone who might turn around and speak ill of them in a future interview.
Seriously, don't say anything personal about your current boss. You could offer an answer like, "It's challenging to hit goals when leadership priorities are constantly changing," but honestly, we don't recommend saying anything that could be perceived as a personal slight.
8) "I don't know."
It's okay to not know the answer to a question, but don't leave it at that! Make sure your answer acknowledges a gap in your understanding in a way that still gives you authority.
"I'm not certain of the answer, I'd need to dig into more data from the email marketing team to know for sure."
Sometimes, interviewers will spring questions on you to test your on-the-spot critical thinking skills. If you can't answer the question, at least demonstrate how you'd figure it out if it happened to you in the role.
9) "My greatest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist."
Self-compliments disguised as critique make my eyes roll so hard. Your interviewer has heard every one of these in the book, so don't try to trick them into thinking your "greatest weakness" is anything but a special skill on your resume.
"My greatest weakness is public speaking, something I haven't had many opportunities to do in my current role, so I'm hoping to expand on those skills working with a bigger team at this company."
Be honest and use a real weakness -- but make sure you caveat that with what you plan to do to make it a strength, whether that's by taking a class or by simply practicing.
Even if your interview drops a profanity, and even if you know the company culture allows for F-bombs, it's best to keep your first impression appropriate for all ages. Interviews are a formal setting, and if the role you're interviewing for involves representing the company externally, your interviewer will want to know that you can rein in your vocabulary if it's particularly profane.
Nothing. Don't swear.
11) "What's the salary?"
Don't ask questions about salary, company policies, or benefits until you've been extended an offer. It's a fair question to ask your recruiter, but don't waste time during your interview -- when you should be talking about skills you'd bring to the role -- by asking about salary, work-from-home policies, or how many vacation days you'll have.
Nothing. Wait until you receive an offer to ask specific company policy questions.
12) "I don't have any questions."
Come on! You need to come prepared with a final question when you're inevitably asked this at the end of your interview. It shows that you're engaged, interested, and that you've been paying attention to what your interviewer has said over the course of your time together.
"What do you wish you'd known before starting here?"
"What's the biggest challenge about working in this industry?"
Ask an open-ended question based on what you know about your interviewer to learn more about the company culture or team priorities. This will be useful information for you, and it'll help you end your interview on the right foot.
13) "When will I hear back about the role?"
When we say you should have a question at the end ready, we don't mean this one. This is another question for your recruiter, not your interviewer -- so don't be too pushy.
"Thanks so much for your time, I really enjoyed learning more about you and the company."
Or something along those lines. Be gracious, humble, and kind when signing off of your interview to leave your future new employer with the best possible impression.
Originally published Sep 18, 2017 6:00:00 AM, updated November 05 2021