Careers advice

What you should never say in a job interview

Don’t say these things.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why you need to be careful about what you say
  • 10 things you shouldn’t say in a job interview

There’s no doubt about it, job interviews are high pressure environments. Whether you’re applying for a dream job, or a job that just pays the bills, you need to nail how you come across if you’re going to get the result you want.

We highly recommend preparing for job interviews by thinking about what you’re going to say, but also thinking about what you’re going to avoid saying. 

The last thing you want to do is conduct the perfect interview, and then blow the whole thing by blurting out something stupid.

Why you need to be careful about what you say in a job interview

At first glance, this might seem obvious. However, it’s crucial to understand that job interviewers don’t just note the answers you give to the questions they ask, they’re also interested in the way you speak, and your approach to the interview as a whole.

For example, even if you answer the focus of a question, but you do so in very short, clipped responses, they might start to think that you won’t be the most fun person to have in the office.

Equally, if you use the interview to rant about your former boss, or to talk about how great you are, these won’t help you make the best first impression either. And this, ultimately, is what a job interview is all about.

What not to say in a job interview

1. Negative things about your current/former employer

No matter what you think about your boss, or no matter how bad things got at your last job, it’s an awful look to moan about this stuff in a job interview. 

There are two reasons why this is something to be avoided:

  1. It’s not relevant: in your job interview, you should be laser-focused on showing the interviewer why you’re the right person for the job. Complaining about your old/current job doesn’t do this, so there’s no reason to do it.
  2. It’s not professional: if a potential employer hears you speak negatively about your former workplace, they might start wondering: “Is complaining common for this person, and what might they say about us in the future?”. Given how much employers care about their company culture, they might worry about bringing someone in who seems to have a negative mindset. And, of course, they don’t want their staff talking badly about them if they choose to move on.

There's nothing to be gained from talking negatively about your former job, and a lot to lose.

2. “That’s on my CV”

For employers, a job interview is their chance to follow up on your CV and cover letter. So, yes, this means that they will ask a lot of questions relating to what you have included in these two documents.

One of the worst things you can do, therefore, is respond to a question by simply saying: “That’s on my CV.” If the interviewer is asking a question about something you included on your CV this is because they want you to provide more detail, so give them some. Chances are, if they’ve picked up something on your CV, this is a good sign that they’ve found it interesting or impressive, so make the most of this opportunity to shine.

3. How much will I be paid?

Of course, it’s important you understand exactly how much you’ll earn before you sign your employment agreement, but your job interview isn’t the time to do this.

Remember, your job interview is (normally) about halfway through the job application process. You’ll have done your CV and cover letter, but you could well have a second interview and perhaps some psychometric tests left to go, so it’s much too early to be getting into discussions about pay. The same goes for asking about perks or how much holiday you’ll get.

The damaging thing about asking about pay/perks is that the interviewer might think you’re only interested in what you can get out of the job, not how you will contribute to the company’s objectives.

4. Anything that suggests you don’t know about the organisation

It’s fine to learn new things during the job interview, but you really do need to do your research about the company’s core objectives and culture before you go in.

It can be a real game changer from an interviewer’s point of view if they think you don’t even know the basics about who they are and what they do. This isn’t an ego thing, it’s because it will make them think that if you can’t be bothered to do your research before heading into a job interview, you might not be an overly thorough and diligent employee if they chose to hire you. So, with that in mind, be careful with statements that suggest surprise, if you think it’s something you probably should have known.

You need to have done your research before heading into the interview.

5. Any profanities

Even if the employer claims to have a super relaxed workplace culture, and no matter how frequently you might swear in your day-to-day life, keep it out of your job interview. Even if the interviewer themselves swear, we’d still advise you to keep things clean.

This is simply because you don’t know how it will be received. It’s a risk and it’s not necessary, so just leave it out, we reckon.

6. That you’re too much of a perfectionist

Answering the biggest weakness question is one of the biggest challenges of a job interview. You really want the job, so surely you want to keep things as positive as possible, right?

Wrong. You don’t want to use cliches to answer this question, and “my biggest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist” is about as cliché as it gets. Interviewers ask this question because they want to see that you can be genuinely self-reflective, so handing them something meaningless like this won’t tick the box.

The best way to answer the biggest weakness question is to talk about something real, but that won’t directly impact your role with their organisation. For example, if you’re applying for a software engineering job, it’s unlikely to be a game changer if you tell them you feel like your public speaking skills could do with some work.

7. I’m really nervous

Good employers understand that job interviews are anxiety-inducing experiences, and will try to do everything they can to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

Despite this, there’s still a very good chance that you’ll be feeling some butterflies on the day of your interview. If this is the case, we don’t recommend you make a big deal of it on the day. Firstly, this is almost certainly a much bigger deal in your head than it is to them, they might not have even noticed that you're nervous. Secondly, while being nervous in a job interview is totally natural, employers want to hire confident people, and talking about how anxious you are won’t make them think this. Finally, it’s not relevant to your objective, getting the job, so there’s no need to bring it up.

8. I don’t know

Don’t panic, we’re not saying that you need to know the answer to every question the interviewer could potentially ask. The problem here is with the phrase “I don’t know”. That shuts down the conversation, and almost tells the interviewer that you aren’t interested in trying to provide an answer.

If you find yourself mind-blanking, or simply don’t know the answer to what you’re being asked, there are a few different ways you can respond. These include:

  • Ask for clarification: it might simply be that, if the interviewer rephrases the question, you’ll have a better grasp of what they’re looking for.
  • Think aloud: in some cases, if you don’t have a prepared answer, it can help to talk through it out loud. For example, if an interviewer asks: “Tell me how you prioritise your work”, you could respond by saying: let me see, I would start by doing X, and then think about Y….” as a way of giving yourself time to formulate your response on the fly.
  • Ask to return to it later: if they’ve really got you stumped, you could answer by saying: “That’s an interesting question. do you mind if we return to this later?”.

9. Unnecessary personal info

While you might give a bit of information about your personal story when answering the, “tell me about yourself” interview question, you should make your professional experience, skills and attributes the absolute focus of how you answer the questions you asked.

Going off on long irrelevant tangents or, even worse, using sob stories in the hope that this will help you get the job, are not good tactics to employ.

10. I don’t have any questions

You might think that your speaking part is done by the time it gets to the part where the interviewers ask if you have any questions for them. In fact, this is perhaps one of the most important parts of the process.

It’s crucial that you have a few (we’d recommend having three to five up your sleeve) questions to ask the interviewer when they ask you. This matters so much because you need to show that you’re properly engaged with the conversation, and that you have a genuine interest in the organisation, and the potential role you might have in it.

Good questions to ask include:

  • Questions about the role.
  • Questions about the company.
  • Questions about development.