Career Woman

14 phrases to avoid using in job interviews


Are you the kind of person who apologizes when a colleague bumps into you – even if it’s their fault? Do you have a policy of ‘radical transparency’ – owning up when you don’t know something that you’re expected to know, whatever the cost? Do you ever suffer jaw-ache from smiling too hard during small talk with your boss?

To be honest, it sounds like you’re a pretty decent person! But it is fair to assume, if you answered yes to one or more of the above, that your job interview game isn’t top-notch. That’s because a lot of the habits we develop to be the kind of person we want to be – kind, selfless, honest, likeable, driven, confident, or whatever – have a tendency to backfire in the wrong context.

Getting the balance right between ‘being yourself’ and ‘being ideal for the job’ in the interview room is a delicate process. To be confident yet humble, passionate yet coolheaded, eager without being needy, would be a hard-enough balance to get right if you got to write a script ahead of the big day. But you don’t. You just have to go in there and get it right in the moment.

Luckily enough, a lot of the same questions and situations come up in job interviews again and again. So while you can’t write a script, you can at least prepare some potential answers and study up on the kind of answer to avoid.

For example, admitting that you’re nervous may seem like a good idea. It shows you’re human, offers an explanation for your sweaty palms and wobbly voice, and neutralizes any potential mistakes, right? Well, maybe. But if your interviewer thinks that nervousness indicates an underlying lack of confidence, they’ll likely write you off as a nice person who isn’t quite right for their company.

The alternative? A simple word-swap. Tell the interviewer that you’re excited about the opportunity, and they’ll get it. It makes you look human, and very positive, and explains why you might be speaking at twice the rate of anyone else in the room.

But be careful not to overdo it with the enthusiasm. A lot of candidates believe there is no better way to demonstrate drive and ambition than to immediately begin promotion talk. Of course, it is great news for a business if you see your long-term future with them. And it is great news for them if you are big on personal advancement and learning. But when you walk in and ask when you can expect your first promotion, it kind of makes it seem like can’t wait to move on from the very job they’re trying to fill.

Your potential employers want to know that you fit the job that is available now, not that you’re using it as a leap pad. To demonstrate your ambition (and to ask that question that may be on the tip of your tongue) try instead talking in terms of career progression. Ask “What do career paths within the company typically look like?” and you will get a pretty good guide to the subject – and maybe even the precise answer to the real question that’s burning inside you!

Okay, so how about how you talk about yourself and your achievements? Remember that you had a pretty good chance to nail a lot of this in your initial application, when you wrote out long answers that specifically addressed the points in the job description. Now is not the time to be dull and thorough, but rather to make an impression.

Leave the jargon at home, and use questions about your experience as a chance to tell interesting, memorable stories about challenges you have overcome and problems that you’ve solved. This is even more the case if there are people on the interview panel that aren’t involved in the daily ins-and-outs of what you’ll be doing, such as an HR representative or a stand-in from another department. Likewise, never say that something they ask about is on your resume; if they ask you something, they want you to tell them the answer.

And finally, how (not) to answer that dreaded classic of the job interview: what is your biggest weakness? Well, like any other answer, avoid clichés and tell the truth. Just make it a good truth. Choose something you have genuinely struggled with, but demonstrate the concrete steps you are taking to overcome it, and the progress you’ve already made. For example, maybe you’ve signed up to an IT course, or you’re practicing your public speaking at an open mic night!

Just don’t say your biggest weakness is that you’re a perfectionist. If you’re really a perfectionist, you’ll find a better answer.

For more ideas on what to not say when tricky questions come up, and what you might say instead, check out this new visual guide to job interviews from

About Taylor Tomita'

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