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

By Robert Half December 14, 2016 at 5:00pm

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!

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

“Sorry I’m late!” Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. If you’re late to the interview, employers will presume that you’ll be late to work, you’re bad at time management or you just don’t care.  

“So, what does this company do?” You might as well say, “The dog ate my homework.” Interviewers expect you to have read industry publications and local business news to have a good understanding of the company by the time you arrive at the job interview. It’s fine to ask questions about the company, but not what the organization is!

“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 made it all up.

“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.

“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 leaving eventually.

“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 mistakes — they know they don’t exist.

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

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

“So did I get the job?” The interview isn’t over until you actually leave the building: Every interaction you have with employees will be considered when evaluating whether to make you an offer.

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. 

“That’s a good question — let me find out and get back to you.” Job seekers might be afraid to admit they don’t know something, but it’s OK. When an interviewer stumps you, be honest and say you’ll find the answer and follow up. If the intent of the question is to evaluate your problem-solving skills, explain how you’d find the answer.

“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 going for, you’ll feel more confident and relaxed when you’re fully prepped with the right things to say in an interview.

Check out our list of bad questions you should never ask an interviewer.

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