Here's What Not To Say In A Job Interview

Your goal as a job candidate is to leave a lasting impression. Make sure it's the right one.
Off-topic tangents, credit-stealing and oversharing will not leave a good lasting impression.
filadendron via Getty Images
Off-topic tangents, credit-stealing and oversharing will not leave a good lasting impression.

While you are interviewing for a job, it’s important to sell your qualifications and previous experience for the role.

But while doing so, be careful about what you choose to disclose – it can reveal more about you than you would like. Here are some of the subtle turnoffs and the big mistakes that can take you out of the running for a job, according to interviewers and career experts:

1. “I did all the work.”

Not giving credit where it’s due can be a red flag for recruiters.

“The reason why people may play up their own role [is because] they are trying to sell themselves in the interview, but there’s a way of selling yourself while still being humble and fair about it,” says Jocelyn S. Lai, global head of talent acquisition at Duolingo.

And if you do attempt to take all the credit, it’s easy to get caught. Lai says she has seen people be found out through reference checks or probing follow-up interview questions, like “What was your specific role [in the project] that no one else can claim?”

“We want people who know how to collaborate and give credit where it’s due,” especially if they’re applying to be a leader or a people manager, Lai says.

But don’t undersell yourself, either. Lai says job candidates who only use “we” statements when explaining their work can prompt recruiters to think, “Well, what did they do? Did they have a part in this?”

2. “I just need a job.”

Lots of people job-hunt for financial and stability purposes, but telling this to a recruiter directly will make it seem like you are only interested in any kind of job, not the specific role you are applying for.

“Not only is desperation obvious, but the recruiter may believe the candidate has no genuine interest in the company and position,” says career strategist and CV writer Tammeca Riley.

3. “What does this company do exactly? What’s the title again?”

When you are job-searching, you may have multiple opportunities in the mix. But it’s important to do your due diligence for each. Asking basic questions about the company and the job description that you could have easily researched beforehand demonstrates a lack of preparation that can be a major turnoff to hiring managers.

Ana Laura Falcon, a career strategist with talent acquisition experience, says she has observed candidates who don’t remember which job or title they are applying for ask questions like “What company is this?”

Beyond showing a lack investment in the role, “To the interviewer, it shows they may not really know what they’re looking for,” Falcon says.

4. “I’m going to go off topic and get personal here...”

With open-ended questions, it can be easy to start talking about your entire life and personal journey, but this can be a mistake if it’s not relevant to the job you want.

For example, take the job interview question of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” says Sarah Johnston, co-founder of Job Search Journey. “As a former corporate recruiter, I’ve seen job seekers misstep here by giving an answer that doesn’t have anything to do with the role that they are interviewing for.”

“Job seekers have shared that they wanted to open their own restaurant, go back to school or run for political office,” she added. “And while I can appreciate honesty, the hiring manager is not necessarily assessing if you’ll be in the exact role in five years, but ... if the position aligns with your personal growth plan.”

In other words, keep your answers tailored to the job at hand. “When candidates provide personal information that’s not relevant to the job or their qualifications, it doesn’t give them that opportunity to really prove their qualifications and stand out,” Falcon says.

5. “I hated my last boss.”

During a job interview, it behooves candidates to build a rapport with recruiters. But while getting chummy, keep in mind: They are not your friends or your therapist. They are evaluating you for a job.

Take the popular interview question of “Why are you looking for a job change?” Even if you are job-hunting mostly to escape a toxic work culture or unreasonable boss, don’t be too honest with your answer.

Lai says one reason this is tempting is because “a lot of these candidates haven’t had an outlet to share their grievances.” And if there’s a recruiter you have a strong connection with, “we almost become their therapist,” Lai says, adding, “There is that easy-to-fall-into-space of oversharing because they feel so comfortable. But remember, it’s still a professional setting.”

And above all, badmouthing your past employer shifts the spotlight away from where it matters. Pointing fingers at your boss and co-workers makes the interview about them, and it is supposed to be about you.