15 Worst Answers You Can Give in a Job Interview
Top hiring professionals reveal their biggest deal breakers.
Whether you’re going hard for that entry-level position at a fledgling company or you’re meeting with the board of a rival company about a top leadership posting, the rules of job interviews are constant: be early, dress right, show confidence, bring a copy of your résumé (even if they already have it), be mindful of your body language, and come equipped with well thought-out answers to the most basic questions that you know you’re going to be asked.
Oh, and one more thing: Never, ever, say any of the following answers.
We know this because we reached out to 13 top hiring professionals to give us their biggest pet peeves and deal breakers, which they gamely provided. So read on, and good luck! And for more coverage of the all-important HR interview, don’t miss these 30 Lies Everyone Tells During a Job Interview!
“I have no weaknesses.”
“It can be jarring to answer [the weaknesses question],” says Valerie Streif, a senior advisor for Mentat, a service that applies for jobs on behalf of its users. But if you say you don’t have any, you’re just lying. “Be prepared with a good answer,” she says.
Consider discussing a weakness that won’t clearly detract from your ability to do the job. (If you’re applying for a banking job, don’t say you’re terrible at math.) And when you mention your actual weakness, you should then explain the steps you’re actively taking to improve yourself. Employers want to hire someone who will get better as he goes, so don’t miss the opportunity to show them you’re that person.
“My last boss was a total jerk.”
Whether you left your last job on your own accord or not, talking trash about a former employer will make any hiring manager cringe. “In my humble opinion, the worst thing a jobseeker can do is bad-mouth former employers,” says Caileen Kehayas, Director of Marketing for job-placement outfit Proven. “Even if a candidate just left the absolute worst working situation, she should be able to take responsibility and not play a blame game.”
Yes, it’s OK offer constructive criticism on your former employer. But broad, unfocused disapproval brings little to the table. And if you truly have a tough boss, don’t worry. We’re here to help: here are 10 Ways to Deal With a Difficult Boss.
“I’m not sure why I want this job.”
“Not researching the company and mission before going on an interview is the kiss of death,” says Susan Peppercorn, career coach and Principal at Positive Workplace Partners. If you don’t take a prospective employer seriously, why should they take you seriously?
“Many employers will ask why you want to work for them and expect the candidate to have researched the company mission and goals,” Peppercorn adds. “Not having a compelling answer to this question is a turnoff because it shows a lack of interest and preparation.”
“How big is this company, anyway?”
According to Jana Tulloch, an HR professional for the software company DevelopIntelligence, applicants should never “ask anything basic about the company or the position they are applying for; candidates should not be saying anything that indicates they have not done their research.”
In other words, don’t you dare ask questions that can be answered with a simple Google search. It’s lazy, and shows a lack of work ethic. And for more great tips, don’t miss the 25 Ways to Make a Good First Impression Every Time.
“I prefer to work alone.”
There’s nothing wrong with being introverted… unless it negatively affects job performance. Jake Tully, the Head of Creative for truckdrivingjobs.com notes: “While some positions and occupations may require an individual to be more isolated than others, an initial admittance of wishing to be left alone often seems problematic and it may manifest itself in ways that impact the entire workplace rather than simply the habits of one employee.”
Even if you’re applying for a position that involves mostly solitary work, there will always be times when you need to communicate with others. If your interview indicates an inability to do so, you may be out of a job.
“I’ve already received an offer from…”
Sure, everyone wants what they can’t have, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to interviews, says Matthew Cholerton, an HR professional for Hito Labs. “Revealing this info can be done tactfully if needed, but telling me of other offers in order to pressure me, or to make the candidate appear more desirable, doesn’t work,” he says. “We look for people that really want our job and our company.“
Any skilled hiring pro will easily sniff out this tactic. Bragging about your desirability in order to increase offer likelihood or earnings potential may result in a job not being offered at all.
“I did a deep-dive on the Z forms to drill-down market share…”
Much like an unsolicited display of existing job offers, hiring managers will often look down on braggadocious jargon and industry speak. “While there might be room for this later in the interview process, showing off your knowledge can also indicate a lack of emotional intelligence, which is usually even more important than your technical expertise,” says Cholerton.
Skilled technical workers are a dime a dozen. Workers who exemplify peak technical and emotional intelligence are harder to come by. Yes, do your best to sound knowledgeable and capable during a job interview. Do not cross the line into condescension.
“What questions do you have for me?”
“I see lots of things people say and do in interviews that are regrettable, but one of my least favorite is when asked ‘what questions do you have for me,’” says Stephanie McDonald, founder of Hire Performance.
This type of question only serves to detract the interview and possibly agitate the interviewer. When a hirer has questions, they’ll ask them. Reminding them to do so may come off as a means of killing time and a lack of preparation. “The candidate who answers ‘when do I start’ always makes me groan in my head,” adds McDonald.
“I’m an ideas guy.”
“Say that and the interview is over,” says Bryan Trilli, team leader at Optimized Marketing. “That’s an immediate disqualifier.”
Claiming you’re an “ideas person” provides little actual substance for a hirer to judge you off of. At worst, you sound cocky. “Everyone is an ideas person, in particular, the founders of most businesses,” says Trilli. “What business leaders need are not more ideas, they need people who can take action to turn ideas into reality.”
“I’m recently divorced, I have three children, and I’m looking to move…”
“During a job interview, it is imperative that the interviewee focuses on professional accomplishments and information,” says Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, owner of Feather Communications. “For example, don’t mention that you are recently divorced, have three children, and are looking to move to another town in the next six months. Employers will simply hear that you have an unstable personal life and most likely won’t be around long enough to train, get up to speed within the company, and make an impact with customers.”
Interviews exist to help a potential hirer gauge one’s relevant skillset. Unless personal details directly increase your ability to perform the job, they’re probably best left out.
“Can I have my second week off?”
Asking for time off during an interview—before you even start a job—can show a serious lack of consideration for the employer.
“While accommodating that sort of request might be possible, asking about it during the interview is certainly not wise,” says Timothy Wiedman, a professor of management at Doane University. “When candidates ask for time off that would occur during their initial training period, I honestly have to question whether they would have any real commitment to meeting the needs of the organization.”
During an interview, keep your mind on how you’re going to be an effective employee. Period.
“My personal life is my priority.”
According to Airto Zamorano, Managing Director at The University Pennsylvania’s Becker ENT Center: “Employers are looking for people they can count on. By telling an employer that your personal life comes first, you essentially just said that you may be unreliable.”
Sure, when it comes down to it, your personal life is probably your true priority. But there’s no need to emphasize this during an interview.
“@#%^ your competitor, am I right?!”
“Using foul language in an interview just shows poor judgement,” says Zamorano. Plain and simple.
“I’m a people person.”
The problem with this popular response to the “tell me about yourself” question is that it holds very little substance. If you’re trying to drive home how well you work with others, use specific examples, not nebulous claims.
“Assuming working with others is a true interest or skill it’s important to be specific about the interaction, e.g. ‘I enjoy coaching and mentoring others,’” says Tim Toterhi, author of The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting. “Follow up with an example that validates your statement such as: ‘In college I volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters, counseled incoming freshmen or held a part time customer services job at ABC.’”
Give the interviewer some concrete details to remember you by—don’t bother with the same old buzz phrases they hear from everyone else.
“I love to gamble!”
A little verbal filtering during a job interview can go a long way. “I was applying for a finance job managing other people’s money and was asked ‘what do you like to do during your free time,’” says Mike Scanlin, CEO at Born To Sell. “My answer: gamble. It was an honest answer but I probably should have picked something else.”
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