13 Things You Shouldn't Say in a Job Interview

Discover here the phrases you should not say in an interview, to advance in the process and achieve the job of your dreams.
13 Things You Shouldn't Say in a Job Interview
Leticia Martín Enjuto

Written and verified by the psychologist Leticia Martín Enjuto.

Last update: 11 June, 2024

Have you attended a meeting for a job offer and thought you did great, but time passes, and you never hear back from the recruiter? Chances are, you mentioned something that raised red flags. Therefore, it’s important to know both what to say and what not to say in a job interview.

There are phrases that, if you mention them during that first meeting, make you look egocentric, insecure, or even desperate. Are you unaware of what these phrases are? We’ll share them in the following article. Keep reading!

Things you shouldn’t say in a job interview

The words and phrases you use during the conversation with an interviewer influence your chances of joining a company. In fact, some analyses report that human behavior in the context of interviews, including what you say and how you say it, influences acceptance or rejection for any vacancy, even if you’re the most qualified candidate for the position.

Below, we’ll indicate 13 expressions that should be avoided at all costs, some good alternatives to replace them, and some final advice. Let’s get started!

1. “My previous boss was terrible”

One of the most difficult questions in a job interview is usually what your relationship was like with your former (or current) boss. Even if they were like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, you should never say that they were a toxic, terrible, horrible, or bad boss.

Speaking badly about your previous boss or, in general, about a job or company doesn’t leave a good impression because the recruiter may be led to think that you lacked commitment and loyalty to the company or that you have a hard time respecting your superiors. That’s not what you want to convey, is it?

Instead, use a phrase in which you focus more on the positive aspects of the experience than the negative, such as the following:

“I learned a lot about the area from my previous boss. We may have had different points of view, but we always came to an understanding.”

2. “I have no weaknesses”

This is a big example of something you should never say in a job interview. All people have flaws, and denying that reality is lying openly to the interviewer. That phrase keeps you away from your dream position, as it’s a warning sign for those in Human Resources (HR). If you lie about something so obvious, you may do it about something else.

Are you worried about how to talk about your flaws? The most important thing is to address them with the truth. Be authentic in your response and choose your words carefully before saying them. You can also point out what you are doing to improve. For example, let’s say your flaw is that you have a hard time asking for help. Instead of simply stating your weakness, you could something like this:

“I’m aware that it’s sometimes difficult for me to ask for help to complete certain projects. But I’ve also noticed that doing so, when required, has become an enriching experience, allowing me to avoid delays and get to know my colleagues better.”

3. “I need this job”

If you read the previous sentence calmly, you’ll notice that it sounds like a request, doesn’t it? Well, the recruiter will sense the same thing. This statement presents you as someone who’s desperate, and instead of helping you, it could do just the opposite. This is what psychologist, professional brand advisor, and recruiter Michelle Engelmann says.

According to this specialist, desperation is a sign that you’re capable of leaving for any offer that may come your way in the future and that you have no real interest in belonging to the organization.

A man and woman in a job interview.

The recruiter will even think that you don’t care about the position and that all you want is to earn income. Another possibility is that, because of the desperation that you’re showing so openly, they’ll offer you inferior benefits, as you’re implying that you’re willing to accept anything.

Instead of saying you need the job, highlight your strengths and what you do best. Here’s an example if you have customer service skills, but you can also adapt it to other areas:

«I have X years of experience in customer service. I consider myself an analytical, proactive, and empathetic person who knows how to listen. All of these skills have helped me on a day-to-day basis when working with the public.”

4. “I’m a big perfectionist”

The word “perfectionist” is one of those words that raise red flags, and it sounds like an overused lie. The HR team may take this phrase as a strength that you want to sell as a weakness, plus it doesn’t come off as authentic.

Many people answer this when asked about their weaknesses, but the truth is that there are much better strengths and weaknesses that you can mention in these conversations. One related to this, but stated in a better way, is the following:

“I’m someone who pays attention to details, and, sometimes, that can cause me to take a little longer when completing a project. I’m working on it and looking for a balance that doesn’t affect final delivery times without neglecting quality.”

5. “I was the best in my work team”

“Tell me about you.” Without a doubt, this is one of the questions that are most difficult to answer in these meetings. It’s normal for you to want to expose your achievements and what makes you stand out, but avoid crossing the line and bragging too much about your abilities, as you come off as egocentric.

We suggest you make a brief summary of your experience, what you’re looking for, and how this relates to the position for which you’re being interviewed. An answer that you can adjust to different situations is:

“I’m a (your career) and I have X years of work experience. I’ve worked as (your most important previous jobs), and, in these roles, I’ve learned skills like (your strongest points). I think these would be a great addition to the company.”

6. “I have no experience”

While it’s true that honesty is the best policy, saying that you have no experience is a negative for recruiters. This is a warning sign, and it indicates that you don’t have the necessary knowledge that the position demands.

So, what can you say in an interview if you have no experience? Talk about your skills related to the position and show your willingness to learn. If you’re a student looking for your first job, you can mention the internships you’ve done or any related volunteer work:

“I have a good command of X program, and I have X level of X language. I did internships at X company. I’m open to learning from you, and currently, I’m taking a course on the X skill required in the position.”

7. “Check my resume”

The recruiter may ask you at some point about information that you’ve included on your resume, and responding with phrases like the above isn’t a good idea. What recruiters want is to hear in your own words what you have to say about that experience or skill and how you perform.

We also don’t recommend answering the same thing that you wrote on your resume, as the idea is for you to expand and go deeper. Let’s say the question is about previous work experience. You can say something like the following:

“In my experience in company X, I was in charge of carrying out (describe the tasks you did). That helped me develop skills in (name the skills related to that job).”

8. “What does this company do?”

This question is a huge red flag in interviews because it indicates that you know nothing about the company, and the interviewer will feel that you’re not very interested in the position.

Doing a little research on the organization and position for which you’re applying is one of the keys to successfully passing an interview, and you should always do this beforehand. There may be some details about the position that you’re not clear on. If this is the case, orient the sentence like this:

“I know that the company is dedicated to the field of X and that it has a history of X years. As for the position itself, I see that it’s oriented toward the area of X, but could you give me more details about the function of X?

9. “I’m very nervous”

We’ve all felt nervous at some point in our lives. However, it’s a bad idea to tell the HR person because they may see you as someone who’s insecure and who cracks under pressure.

Nowadays, most jobs require you to know how to manage stress and control your nerves in any situation. The fact that you say you’re nervous proves the opposite. Therefore, we recommend that you keep that phrase to yourself and practice the following tip:

Breathe, count to five in your head, and try to speak slowly, but without losing fluency. This will help you better organize your ideas and overcome anxiety.

10. “I don’t know”

The recruiter may ask a trick question, one of those that takes you by surprise. But one thing you shouldn’t say is “I don’t know” or “I have no idea.” These words reveal that you didn’t do a good amount of research before the meeting and that your ability to resolve the unexpected isn’t the best.

Avoid saying you don’t know and, instead, opt for a short sentence to save time so you can formulate an answer to that complicated question in your head:

“You’ve raised a very interesting question. I consider that (start your answer here).”

11. “How much am I going to get paid?”

We know that one of the reasons you’re looking for a job is to have income but try not to bring up the subject in that first meeting (and especially at the beginning of the conversation). This gives off a negative image because the recruiters may get the impression that all you care about is the money.

The same is true if you talk about vacations and compensation bonuses at the beginning of the process; They’re topics to touch on later. The exception to this is when the recruiter themself brings up the matter. But if they don’t, one way to address the subject is at the end of the interview, after clarifying all doubts about the position. Also, try to ask in a more global way:

“I’ve found everything we’ve talked about very interesting. Now I’d like to know a little more about the socioeconomic benefits that the company offers.”

12. “I don’t have any questions”

You’ve surely noticed that, at the end of these meetings, both in person and by video call, recruiters often ask if you have any questions or doubts. You may be surprised to discover that answering no is often worse than saying yes. The reason? It’s a sign that you lack curiosity about the company and the environment in which you’ll work.

Ideally, you should ask one or two more questions about the position or how the company works to demonstrate your genuine interest in the position. If you can’t think of any, here are some options:

“What does a normal work day look like?”

“Does the company offer development opportunities for its employees?”

“What computer programs are used the most in the position?”

13. “How did I do?”

This is one of the best examples of what you shouldn’t say during a job interview. While it’s true that there are questions that the interviewer shouldn’t ask you, there are also others that, out of courtesy, you shouldn’t ask.

This particular phrase creates an uncomfortable situation for the recruiter because they may not be able to give you that immediate response or feedback that you want, and some even see it as an indiscretion. We recommend you change it to the following:

“It was a pleasure talking with you today. If you have any questions about my resume and experience, you can contact me, and I’ll be happy to clarify anything

Final Tips and Other Words to Avoid

Apart from the phrases that we’ve already mentioned, there are also behaviors and expressions that you should avoid in these situations to project a better image to recruiters. Avoid fillers when speaking: Expressions like “ummm,” “like,” etc. They’re signs of nervousness and insecurity. Instead, speaking more slowly (without sacrificing fluency) conveys greater control.

It’s also not a good idea to treat your interviewer in an informal way as, in some cases, this tends to come across as disrespectful. The exception is if the interviewer themselves sets a relaxed and informal tone.

Many wonder what weaknesses not to mention in these meetings. We recommend staying away from points such as obsession with work or indicating that you had a problem with your colleagues in a previous job, which could quickly send your chances down the drain. If you follow these tips and avoid the phrases we’ve mentioned, you’ll have a greater chance of success.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.