No matter how much work experience you have, landing a job interview can be nerve-wracking. You want to impress, after all, and a good interview can make or break the interviewer’s impression of you.
To give a good interview, some things are imperative – doing your homework about the company, being ready with your accomplishments and achievements, and following interview etiquette to the T. But what if I told you that these things mean little if you aren’t using the right words to express yourself?
Your words are your most prized tool during an interview. Even if you have something unconventional to say, how you say it makes all the difference. If you’re not using the right words and phrases, you may not make the cut, even if you’re trying to say something nice!
Here are a few commonly used words and phrases that you should avoid using during interviews if you’re looking to make a grand impression.
Saying ‘no’ outright during an interview gives the impression that you’re not willing to budge.
‘No’ is a very final word, and it can make you come across as uncompromising.
This doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes’ to questions where ‘no’ is an acceptable answer; it just means that you shouldn’t just end it there.
What to say: If asked a question like, “do you know how to use XYZ software?”, instead of saying ‘no’, say, “I don’t know how to use it, but I think I’ll be able to pick it up on the job.”
Or if asked, “ Would you be willing to relocate to XYZ location for this role?”, say, “Not at this point, but I am willing to work with you to figure out if this role can be done remotely, or if we could manage with travel.”
You don’t know what options are available unless you express your willingness to make things work.
I know that an interview is all about showing off your skills and achievements, but there’s a thin, blurry line between knowing when to attribute all the accomplishments of a project to yourself and when to include the assistance, support, and mentorship of others on the said project in conversation.
Don’t be shy to narrate the impact of your work towards your previous company’s growth, but remember that companies are also looking for team players who know where credit is due.
So it’s important to come across as someone who knows the individual role you can play in delivering for the company while also acknowledging the team’s work.
What to say: Get into the specifics of how your individual contribution helped the larger team goal. Instead of saying “I was responsible for the company’s sales to increase by 25%”, say, “I was responsible for doing XYZ in the team that was responsible for the increase in sales by 25%.” You can then go on to elaborate on your role, no matter how extensive.
Resume or business jargon
This won’t give you any brownie points; in fact, it may end up doing the opposite.
Your hiring manager has mostly likely heard them all – dedicated, motivated, team-player, synergy – and thinks these words are empty and overused.
Your heart may be in the right place with the usage of these words, but if you have no way of demonstrating the qualities you’ve mentioned, they won’t impress.
What to say: As opposed to business or employee-specific words, use words that can be interchangeably associated with a likeable and agreeable person – respect, opportunity, passion, skill, etc. You wouldn’t look for a romantic partner who is ‘motivated’ – why would an employer look for one?
Any slang term
Given our use of internet language on a daily basis, it’s very natural for it to bleed into formal conversations. Try not to let that happen.
Words such as like, stuff, whatever, cool, kind of roll off the tongue easily, but they can compromise your impression on the interviewer. Using internet slang continuously throughout the conversation can make you look unprofessional and less articulate.
What to say: A good way to avoid using internet slang is to stop for a few seconds before responding to the interviewer. Take some time to think about the answer in your mind and then say it. It will also make you come across as introspective.
Whether you use it during an interview or not, ‘hate’ is a strong word that should not be used simply. Just like ‘no’, ‘hate’ has a tone of finality to it, which can make you look uncompromising and unprofessional. Its negative connotations can make you seem less approachable as well as immature if you use it when talking about something relatively frivolous.
What to say: If you really must say something that expresses dislike, using adjacent terms like unsatisfactory, dissatisfied, and not up to the mark would be a better idea. In an ideal scenario, try changing the sentence to make it sound less negative overall. For example, instead of saying, “I hated the new campaign”, say, “I think the campaign lost the plot because [insert critique here]”.
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Any kind of ultimatum or negatives
Saying “That’s not my working style” or “It isn’t what I’m looking for”, and using negatives such as can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc. tend not to leave a good impression and can make you come across as wary of change.
Besides, you’re only being sussed out by your hiring manager – you cannot be in a position to decide how you are going to work in the company without knowing how the company functions. Think of it that way.
What to say: Replace the negatives with something that can be negotiated. Using words such as may not, probably, may, and possibility will make you look like you’re willing to change if you’re shown another perspective or if a compromise can be reached.
This word is contextual. Every job is inevitably going to teach you something, but don’t make that the whole reason behind your desire to land that job. Do not say that you’re taking up the job to ‘learn’ because your hiring manager is looking for someone who has enough experience to give results quickly, not after a particular period of time.
What to say: ‘Learning’ should not be the first reason why you’ve applied for the job. Avoid using this reasoning completely. Fashion your reasons around the job description and how you consider yourself a fit.
While this word may not in itself be a problem, using it often can reduce the magnitude of your accomplishments. “Basically my job was to…” can make you seem like you don’t think much of the work you’ve done, or that you aren’t taking your accomplishments seriously.
What to say: You may use this to give an overview of your contribution in a project or such, but don’t begin your sentence with it.
Aamir Khan may have popularised the word after his penchant for method acting, but the word now has lost its sheen, especially when used ironically.
Saying “I’m a perfectionist” when asked to list weaknesses may not leave the impression you’re hoping it will – in fact, it may cause your hiring manager to doubt which of your weaknesses you’re actually hiding.
Using the term generally is not a good idea because no one is perfect; a lot of people work harder than others to strive for perfection.
What to say: Instead of sticking to absolutes, try using terms that are equivalent to perfectionism – stickler for details, detail-oriented, hands-on, etc. Alternatively, you can craft an actual weakness and make it work for you.
“If I’m being honest…”
This one may make it seem like you haven’t been entirely honest about your answers up until now. It’s a filler phrase that you don’t necessarily need because the idea is to show your hiring manager that you are honest and full of integrity.
What to say: You can start a sentence with an I think instead. That will make you come across as assertive and honest.
Interviews can be tricky, but they can also be a learning experience. Try applying these words and phrases the next time you’re giving an interview – it will change how you approach a subject altogether! Do you think I missed out on a word or phrase? Let me know in the comments!
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