Oops! Things to Say in an Interview if You Don’t Want the Job

By Robert Half on July 16, 2020 at 5:45pm

You have a right to get nervous during a job interview. The next phase of your career depends on nailing it. 

What could go right? Plenty!

What could go sour? Plenty!

Whether you have a video or in-person interview, the key is to prepare diligently so you don’t succumb to self-inflicted errors. Following is a list of some wrong things to say in an interview, followed by some things you can say that you thought were verboten.

Wrong things to say in an interview

“So, what does your company do?” You might as well say, “The dog ate my homework.” Hiring managers expect you to have a solid understanding of the company by the time you have your interview. It’s fine to ask questions about the company, but not what the organization is! Always do your research.

“Uh, what does it say on my resume?” If you have to refer to your own resume to answer an interviewer’s question, it’s going to make him or her wonder if you stretched the truth on your application materials.

“I’m a perfectionist.” Offering up a thinly shrouded positive as a negative when asked about your strengths and weaknesses is so transparent. Prepare truthful answers to common interview questions and explain what you’re doing to work on your weaknesses.

“No, it’s fine, I can talk.” If your phone rings during an interview — and it shouldn’t, because it should be set on silent or airplane mode — don’t answer it under any circumstances. If you're doing a video interview from home, pick a location that will be free from distractions or potential interruptions.

“I’ve never made a mistake.” An obvious lie. Interviewers will often ask questions like, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you fixed it,” to determine how you deal with difficult situations. They aren’t looking for people who’ve never made errors — they know they don’t exist.

“My dream job is [something else entirely].” If the position you’re interviewing for is not your dream job, keep that fact to yourself. Express a passion for the job and field at hand rather than signaling to the interviewer that you’ll be looking to jump ship the first chance you get.

“What’s in it for me?” The interview is not the time to ask about how much vacation time you’ll get or how good the healthcare insurance plan is. Asking about salary is also presumptuous if it’s your first interview.

“No, I don't have any questions.” Asking no questions is almost worse than asking bad questions. If you’d done your homework, you’d have prepared some thoughtful queries.

“So did I get the job?” Asking about the next steps of the hiring process is a far better thing to say at the end of the interview.

Acceptable things to say in an interview that may surprise you

Now that you know some things to say in an interview that are off limits, here are a few that are OK, though you may not have thought so.

“I’m a little nervous.” Acknowledging that your nerves are getting the better of you might actually help you shake off your nervousness. Most interviewers have been there, too, at some point in their career and will understand.

“What would success look like for this position?” This question will help you get a real understanding of how the position contributes to company priorities and what the hiring manager expects of you. 

“What do you enjoy most about working here?” When it comes time to ask questions of your interviewer, this is a good one to get an insider’s perspective.

No matter what job you’re applying for, you’ll feel more confident and relaxed when you’re fully prepped with the right things to say in an interview.

Looking for more job interview tips? Read our post on how to nail a video interview

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