1. “So, tell me what you do around here.”
Rule #1 of interviewing: Do your research. You never want to walk into an interview knowing next to nothing about the position or company—you want to show that you’re excited enough that you’ve done some homework and thought about how you’d fit in.
2. “Ugh, my last company…”
No matter how bad a job was, you never, ever want to badmouth a former employer in an interview. Keep your tone somewhere between neutral and positive, focusing on what you’ve learned from each experience and what you’re hoping to do in the future.
3. “I didn’t get along with my boss.”
Similarly, you don’t want to speak negatively about anyone you’ve worked with in the past. Even if a previous manager could put the characters in Horrible Bosses to shame, your interviewer doesn’t know that—and could wonder whether you’re the difficult one to work with.
4. “I’m really nervous.”
Even if you’re more nervous than you’ve ever been, no company wants to hire someone who lacks confidence.
5. “I’ll do whatever.”
Don’t say I’ll do whatever. Instead, target your search to a specific role at each company, and be ready to explain why it’s exactly what you’re looking for.
6. “I know I don’t have much experience, but…”
This mistake is easy to make, especially if you’re a recent grad or career changer. Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position. Here are a few better phrases to try instead.
7. “It’s on my resume.”
“Here’s the thing; I know it’s on your resume, but if I’m asking you about a particular job or experience, I want you to tell me more beyond a written word. I’m actually evaluating your communication and social skills. Are you articulate? Should you be client-facing, or are you someone we need to keep hidden in the basement next to the IT lending library “If a recruiter is asking you about a certain skill, don’t reference your resume, and instead use it as your moment to shine.”
8. “Yes! I have a great answer for that!”
Practiced your answers to some interview questions? Great. But don’t memorize them word for word. When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions for which you’ve prepared to be asked, you will likely have a very hard time engaging in genuine conversation with the interviewer. And interviewers don’t tend to hire detached people who can’t seem to have a genuine conversation. Certainly, walk in prepared, but force yourself to not memorize or over-rehearse the practice questions.
9. “Perfectionism is my greatest weakness.”
Here’s the thing: Chances are, telling a hiring manager that perfectionism is your greatest weakness won’t surprise him or her—and it might come off as sounding like an overly rehearsed cliché. It also doesn’t offer much of a true insight into your work style or personality (especially if half the other candidates are giving the same response). Try a more genuine response (here are some ideas)—and if perfectionism really is your greatest weakness? Use these tips to spin it right.
10. “Um, I don’t know.”
Even if you practice, and practice, and practice, you could still get a question that stumps you. But saying “I don’t know” is rarely the right approach. Two strategies that work well are repeating the question thoughtfully before answering or saying (slowly), “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say…” Still stumped? Ask for what you need—whether that’s a pen and paper, a glass of water, or a quick minute to think.
11. “How much vacation time do I get?”
What can you do to make that company money, improve businesses processes, grow the organization and, importantly, make their lives easier? Making you happy will be important if they want you, but you’re not even going to get to that stage if you make your list of demands clear too early.
12. “How soon do you promote employees?”
“An individual asking this question may come off as arrogant and entitled,” says Josh Tolan, founder and CEO of SparkHire.com. A better way to ask this? “I’m really interested in staying at a place for a while. What do career paths within the company typically look like?”
13. “Nope—no questions.”
Not having any questions for the interviewer basically says that you’re not interested enough to learn any more. Have some thoughtful questions prepared, and your interview will feel more like a conversation than a firing squad.
14. “I’d like to start my own business as soon as possible.”
Entrepreneurial ambitions are great—but if you’re applying for a job to work for someone else, you probably want to downplay the fact that you’re trying to get funding for your burgeoning startup. Most employers want to hire people who are going to be around for a while, and if there’s any suspicion that you’re just collecting a paycheck until you can do your own thing, you probably won’t get the job.
15. “What the hell!”
You’d think not swearing is Interviewing 101, but you’d be surprised how often people still do it. Even if your interviewer drops a few S- or F-bombs, you’re better off keeping your language PG.
16. “So, yeah…”
“Even with the most prepared interview candidates, I’ve found that a lot of people still make one critical mistake,” says career counselor Lily Zhang. “They’ll deliver absolutely fantastic and relevant stories, and I’ll be completely hooked—all the way up until they end with, ‘and… yeah’ or just an awkward pause.” Instead, try one of these three approaches to perfectly wrap up your answers.
17. “Do you know when we’ll be finished here?”
You should never give the impression that you’re in a hurry or have somewhere else to be. “What could be a 30-minute interview might turn into a 90-minute interview if all goes well, and if you seem like you have somewhere more important to be, the interviewer will definitely be turned off,” Hoover explains.
18. “I’m going through a tough time right now.”
Yes, most people would be incredibly sympathetic to someone who has been laid off, is going through a divorce, or is dealing with family drama. And even if your interviewer is, he or she may also wonder how your personal life will affect your performance on the job. So, keep your problems under wraps and keep the conversations focused on your professional life.
19. “Sorry I’m so late.”
Just be on time. Enough said.
20. “Sorry I’m so early.”
But don’t be too punctual. When you arrive more than five or 10 minutes before your meeting, you’re putting immediate pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever she may be wrapping up and deal with you. Or, she’s going to start the interview feeling guilty because she knows she just left you sitting in the lobby for 20 minutes.
21. “Would you like to see my references?”
Offering up your references too soon may hint at desperation. Plus, you don’t want to run the risk of overusing your references.