6 Things You Shouldn’t Say in an Interview

There are six major topics you should avoid during a job interview. From my experience, these are major issues better left untold when you are job searching. I heard stories listed below from several candidates I interviewed and let me tell you – they make a bad first impression.

Before we move to details I want to clarify a distinction between being open and being honest. I advise you to be honest in an interview, but not to be fully open. By honest I mean sticking to the truth when you are asked about something. By open – telling all there is to share even when nobody asks you about it.

So please get me right here: I don’t encourage you to lie. I recommend that you are conscious of the things you say and how you phrase your views. Let me show you examples of what I mean.


When talking about the past
Being Negative About Your Former Employer or Boss

This is a well-repeated advice however it still happens. People talk negatively about their boss or company. While I know that sometimes you are not happy with them, I recommend keeping the negative opinion to yourself during the interview.

It doesn’t mean you have to lie and claim to be super happy when you are not. It means to avoid passing on very negative comments, i.e. “the firm is very badly managed”, “frankly my boss has no idea what he is doing”, “in my view the last few decisions were mistakes and led to problems only”.

I wouldn’t hide it but phrase it as follows instead: “I don’t agree with the management decisions”, “my boss and I have different visions on what is best for the business”, “unfortunately I couldn’t influence the leadership team to drop few of the last decisions that brought poor outcome”

Can you see the difference? (or is it just my nuance loving brain?) For me, it is all about the wording. I am not telling you to pretend you are happy. Instead, I recommend you avoid giving harsh judgement and negative opinion. It will work out better for you if the interview has an overall positive vibe. Calling somebody “fool” will not help it.

Verging on the Edge of Law

Ok, this is probably not the most common issue to deal with. I include it here as in the past one of the interviewed candidates told a story that really stayed with me…

Now in a commercial role in life science area, in the past, he wanted very badly to be a surgeon. He proudly told me and my colleague (we interviewed him together), that when still in the middle of the medical school he made that “deal” with some of the already practising surgeons, where he would actively participate in surgeries “under their supervision”. This story was supposed to show us how entrepreneurial and go-getting he can be…

It doesn’t have to be such an “achievement” that’s better not to share. Telling your interviewer that “it took a bit of speeding, but I made it here in time! Good that there was no police on the way!” will also not leave the best impression (yes, I’ve heard it few times from candidates)

Ethically Doubtful Issues

This one very much depends on the culture and environment you are working in. If you talk about bribing high ranking officials in Europe you will be treated as a law-offender. But if it happens in some of the South American or African country, it may show the initiative and ability to navigate the local market.

But it is still a sensitive issue. Even if it happens and is tolerated (or even encouraged) by the firm operating in the particular country, many people prefer to turn their back on it and pretend it doesn’t happen.

I am all for fighting the injustice and introducing fair trading approach. However, your job interview is not a platform for activism. If there are stories that can be viewed as ethically doubtful, keep them to yourself. Unless specifically asked about them.

When talking about the future role
Treating the Position as a Stepping Stone or Temporarily Step

Recruitment cost money and time. When a firm invests in finding a new person for the role, they want a long-lasting result. Unless it is a temporary cover position or a fixed term contract, no company will be happy to hear that you plan to stay only a few months or 1-2 years in the role before moving to new ventures.

If such is your plan, you are better off not sharing it with the interviewer.

Focusing on Why Other Opportunities are More Interesting

I once heard from the candidate that she is considering this offer as all other processes failed.

Well, nobody likes to be “the second choice”. Recruiters and HR teams are perfectly aware that they are competing for the best talent. And that people looking for a job usually consider several options.

But being told straight in the face: “It’s great meeting with you, but actually I am more interested in the other firm I’m speaking to” will hurt… And will not build your image as motivated to stay in the business for longer (see point above).

If you really prefer the other option and you decided you are not interested in the role here – fine. Say it, thank for their time and interest. Let them move on.

But if you want to be considered still, focus on what draws you to the role with them, talk about what motivates you to take part in this recruitment.

Why You Aren’t Right for the Role

This is my favourite and the one that makes an appearance at least once per month: candidates interested in the position (!) telling me during an interview what are their limitations and why they are not the best choice for the job.

Ok, it is good to be self-aware and to know one’s weak spot. But if you want the job, you think you can succeed at it and you know what your weak points are, then focus on how you can overcome them. What I often see instead are candidates going into elaborated speech on where they experience falls short of expectations.

Last month I interviewed a woman who had great CV and one missing piece of experience. She was interested in the job, yet at the end of our discussion, she said: “I am not the best one for this I think. I mean I know this area, but I am not an expert. Well, nobody is frankly as it is such new area, but I want you to know that I am also not one”

Well… what would you make of that being in my place?

Every employer wants to take on board people who have a positive approach and focus on reaching the goal. If your experience falls short in crucial points nobody will even bother to invite you to an interview. So if you find yourself in one that means they’ve seen something promising. Focus on what you can bring to the job, not – on what you are missing.

What is your view on being open in an interview? Have you ever shared more than you’d wish to?

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