Interview Angst? Here’s What Not to Say in an Interview

Interview Angst? Here’s What Not to Say in an Interview was originally published on Forage.

As someone who’s been on both sides of an interview, I’ve heard a lot of things that were better left unsaid. I’m sure the speaker meant well (usually), but nerves just got in the way (guilty as charged!). But sometimes silence makes us uncomfortable, and in a rush to say something — anything — we blurt words out, and they’re exactly what not to say in an interview.

If you’re wondering what not to say in a job interview or think you’ve said something in a past interview you shouldn’t have, this article is for you. We’ve got a list of things you shouldn’t say in an interview, what to say instead, and true stories from when I was on the other side of the interview table.

17 Examples of What Not to Say in a Job Interview

Here are 17 things you probably shouldn’t say in a job interview. It’s not an exhaustive list because that could be a book! Think of this as a checklist of things you shouldn’t say in an interview to guide you as you prep and to help you remember what to (and not to) say during the real deal!

1. It’s on my resume (or in my cover letter).

Resumes and cover letters are summaries of your skills, abilities, and achievements. But even if you have a two-page resume (or longer!), it’s unlikely the exact information the interviewer is looking for is there. Telling someone to look at your resume can come across as flippant or arrogant.

What to say instead: Take advantage of the opportunity to talk up your skills and accomplishments. This is your chance to give the interviewer more details about your experience than what’s on your resume.

>>MORE: How to Write a Resume 

2. I don’t know.

To be clear, sometimes “I don’t know” has a place in the interview. For example, if you happen to have a connection in common and the interviewer asks how so-and-so is doing, you can say, “I don’t know,” if you don’t know or don’t feel it’s appropriate to say anything.

But you don’t want to say “I don’t know” when the interview asks “What do you think about the role?” This will make you seem disinterested in the job or distracted (like you weren’t listening to a word the interviewer said).

What to say instead: Honesty is generally the best policy, but it’s OK to soften things. For example, if you’ve never used Excel you could say, “I’ve never used Excel, but I’m currently in a Forage virtual job simulation and am teaching myself the basics.” Or you could say, “I don’t have a lot of experience with Excel, but I used Google Sheets extensively during my internship.”

Both of these answers are honest in that you don’t have experience with Excel but are also demonstrating how you’re learning more about it or have transferable skills that will make the transition to using Excel easier.

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3. I’m so unprepared.

Time got away from you, and you didn’t practice your answers to common interview questions or do as much research about the company as you wanted. It happens. But this is not what you should say in an interview.

Since so many interview tips are out there (for free!) and lots of companies give advice on how to prepare for an interview at that company, the recruiter or hiring manager expects you to be somewhat prepared for the interview. Saying you’re not tells them you didn’t take this interview seriously, which could mean you won’t take the job seriously.

What to say instead: Nothing. Do your best to answer the questions using the STAR method, and rely on your active listening skills and notes to help you engage with the interview.

>>MORE: What to Bring to a Job Interview in 2024 

4. What does the company do?

Even if you didn’t research the company before applying for the role, you should research it before the interview to learn more about the company’s culture, its mission, and what it does. While there are some cases where there won’t be much information (like a startup coming out of stealth), most places have an “about” page that gives you relevant information. And if you can’t find any information on its website or through the news, that’s probably a red flag.

What to say instead: Instead of asking about the company, ask what the company’s one or five-year strategic plan looks like. That can give you a lot of information about what the company does and how it plans to get there.

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5. My professor said I should apply.

Your professor probably encouraged you to apply because they thought the job was a good opportunity for you. And while your professor may think that, do you? When an interviewer asks why you’re applying for the position, you don’t want to talk about the outside forces that may have influenced you. You want to talk about the reasons why you applied.

What to say instead: A better answer can include anything from loving the company’s mission to wanting to challenge yourself in a new role.

6. I have zero experience.

The first thing I’m going to think is, “If you don’t have any experience, then why did you apply?” Then I’m going to wonder why you mentioned this at all, even if it’s in direct response to my question since you probably have far more experience than you realize.

What to say instead: Internships count, as does part-time work, summer jobs, and volunteering. You can even mention your participation in a virtual job simulation or work on a group project to demonstrate you have some experience with the duties and tasks of the role. Talking about your relevant and transferable skills demonstrates you’re not as inexperienced as it might seem.

>>MORE: How to Get a Job With No Experience: 7 Tips 

7. In five years, I’ll be running this place.

When the employer asks you where you see yourself in five years, this is not the answer you want to give in an interview. Neither is “In your chair,” “In the corner office,” or “On a beach drinking margaritas.” These may be your life goals, but they won’t go over very well in an interview, even if you invite me along for beachfront margaritas. You may be trying to be funny, but I’m going to think you’re arrogant or unrealistic.

What to say instead: If you want to be in a leadership role in five years, that’s cool. But instead of telling me you’ll be my boss, tell me how you plan on learning new skills, mastering the role you’re interviewing for, and how the job will help you achieve your long-term career goals.

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8. Here’s what my current/former employer does wrong.

True story. I once interviewed someone who spent 20 minutes of our 30-minute interview talking about everything his current employer was doing wrong. While it was fascinating gossip, the “issues” were common across our industry, and I had no doubt he was going to run into the same things working for me — not to mention keeping things confidential was a key part of the role, something I wasn’t sure he could do.

What to say instead: It’s OK to say that you’re leaving your current employer because you’re not happy. But the right way to explain it is to say the company is going in a new direction and it doesn’t fit your career plans anymore or that you’ve outgrown the role and are looking for new challenges you can’t find there.

9. I want more money.

The truth is most, if not all, of us work for money. We may love our jobs (I do!) and companies and our coworkers, but without jobs and money, we probably wouldn’t have a roof over our heads and struggle with basic necessities. When I’m interviewing you, I know that money matters. A lot.

What to say instead: If salary isn’t a deal-breaker, don’t bring it up until you have an offer. But if salary is a deal-breaker, you should bring it up sooner rather than later, so we both aren’t wasting time. But do so carefully, so it doesn’t sound like money is the only reason you’re applying.

I know you’re probably looking for more than your current wage, but if it seems like the only reason you want the role is because of money, I may wonder how quickly you’ll leave if you don’t like your raise or bonus.

>>MORE: Should You Ask About Salary in an Interview? 

10. I really need this job.

There may be a ton of reasons why you really need this job, but don’t say this in an interview (or interview thank you email or when you’re following up after a job interview). If nothing else, you’re giving up some of your power. It’s unfortunate but true that some employers will take advantage of your desperation by offering you lower pay.

What to say instead: You can talk about why you’re excited about the job, your passion for the industry, or why you’d love to work there.

11. I don’t have any questions for you.

At the end of an interview, you’ll usually get the chance to ask the hiring manager some questions. And while I’ve done my best to explain the job, the company, and my expectations, there’s no way I’ve answered all of them, right? Hopefully, you’ve been using your active listening skills and taking notes, so now’s the time to refer back to that and ask me anything you want about the job. However, if you don’t ask me anything, I’m going to think you’re not interested in the job and weren’t listening to me.

What to say instead: You should always come into an interview with a few prepared questions. If I answer them all, that’s great. Then look at your notes and use them to formulate a few questions. Pro tip: It’s OK to pause while you review your notes. Just say, “Let me look over my notes first,” and I’ll wait.

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12. I want the job for the resume boost.

Working at some companies can be like winning a golden ticket. Put a flashy or buzzy company name on your LinkedIn profile, and it can open doors. Even if it’s not a well-known company, some people take a job (like consulting) knowing they’ll only do it for a few years so they can get the experience. But you shouldn’t be so straightforward about this in an interview. It’s likely to make the interviewer question how long you’ll stay in the role and whether or not it’s worth it to hire you in the first place.

What to say instead: Talk about why you want to work at the company in terms of what you’ll learn and contribute while you’re there, even if you don’t see yourself there long-term.

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13. My greatest weakness is I work too hard/I care too much about the job.

Some people have a weakness for work but saying work is your greatest weakness is going to fall flat in an interview. For starters, I’m probably not going to believe you, but even if I do, I’m going to have concerns. Burnout is real and can happen before you know it. I want to know what work-life balance is for you and that you know it’s important for your performance.

What to say instead: Talk about a real weakness you have, then explain what you’re doing to work on it. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of “good” weaknesses you can talk about in a job interview. And if work really is your weakness, you can say that you work too hard but then mention something you do to disconnect from it.

>>MORE: The Best Cities for Young Professionals for Work-Life Balance

14. Getting fired wasn’t my fault.

It’s possible that being fired wasn’t your fault. Someone else may have messed up, and you got blamed, or perhaps someone had more political capital than you, so you got the boot. It’s rare, but it happens. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the interviewer will believe you if you use the interview to redirect blame.

What to say instead: If you were fired, it’s better to own up to it. Keep your answer brief and explain what you learned from the experience.

15. Ummm…

Sometimes, the interviewer asks a question, and you need a few moments to formulate your answer. That’s fine. You should take a second (or two or more) to do that. But, saying “um” and “er” and “uh” while you’re thinking can make you look unprepared, unprofessional, or scared — which may impact your chances if the role involves communication.

What to say instead: If you need a few seconds to formulate your answer, say so! I’d rather hear, “I need a moment to think about that,” than “um.” If that doesn’t feel natural to you, repeat the question back to me. So, if I ask you, “What is your greatest strength?” you would say, “What is my greatest strength…” before you answer. 

Also, a brief moment or two of silence is OK while you think it over. Most interviewers know what you’re doing and don’t mind, so don’t feel you have to fill the silence quickly. You could end up giving a terrible answer, which is worse than a few moments of silence.

16. Your application process is terrible.

Between an applicant tracking system that asks you to enter all of your work history after you’ve uploaded your resume, completing a one-way interview, then participating in a panel interview (and who knows what else!), going from job applicant to new employee can be a long and frustrating process. But this is one of the things you shouldn’t say in an interview. First, the person you’re meeting with may have nothing to do with the process. Second, criticizing the company’s hiring process while you’re going through it makes it seem like you jump to conclusions. There may be very valid reasons why things are as they are, you just don’t know why yet!

What to say instead: Don’t say anything during the interview process. After you’re hired, you can ask about it and offer some feedback on how to improve it.

17. I already answered that.

Most job interviews consist of several interviews over the course of a few hours, days, or weeks. You often meet with several people, and by the third or fourth interview, you may have asked and answered the same question over and over and over. It’s tempting to say “I already answered that,” but remember that not everyone has heard your answer yet.

What to say instead: Provide the same answer you’ve already given. Even if some of the people you’re interviewing with have heard your answer to “Tell me about yourself,” repeat it. It’s just part of the process! 

6 Other Things You Shouldn’t Say in an Interview

While we’ve discussed some of the very specific things not to say in a job interview,  there’s more to omit. Here’s what not to say in an interview in more general terms.

1. Swear Words

Some people don’t mind swear words at work and may pepper their conversations with “colorful words.” But swear words have no place in an interview. You’re trying to present the best, most professional version of yourself, and that means clean language. You probably have no idea what the company’s stance on swearing is, and even if it’s the norm, the person you’re speaking with may not be OK with it.

As someone with a terrible potty mouth, I don’t mind swearing in most cases. But if someone I’m interviewing used foul language — even something like “hell” or “damn” — I’d question their professionalism and judgment.

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2. Stories Where You Got in Serious Trouble

Telling a story is often a great way to answer interview questions, particularly behavioral interview questions. And telling a personal story is a good way to connect with the interviewer. However, choose your stories wisely and stay away from ones that include phrases like, “Then I had to go to the Dean’s office, and I got suspended for a month,” or, “I woke up in a jail cell.”

Clearly, you made a mistake, and that’s OK. We all do. But making a mistake that big could make the interviewer question your decision-making skills and wonder if your actions would negatively impact the company.

3. Corporate Buzzwords

Incorporating corporate lingo in your answer is a fantastic way to demonstrate your industry knowledge, as long as your answer makes sense! For example, saying you know how to use VLOOKUP is great, especially if you can talk about a time you used VLOOKUP to improve your workflow. 

But stringing together a bunch of corporate jargon could make you look foolish and unprepared, like if you say, “My bias for action allows me to think outside the box and see the big picture. I enjoy being in the weeds and collaborating with others because of the synergy and outcomes it provides.”

That’s a whole lot of words that say absolutely nothing!

>>MORE: Not sure which corporate buzzwords mean what? Learn what’s what in Corporate Jargon Gen Z Should Know

4. Memorized Answers

When it comes to some interview questions, I know you’ll give me a prepared answer. I mean, sometimes people ask those kinds of questions just to see what your response is!

So, giving a prepared answer is fine as long as it doesn’t sound too memorized or rehearsed. You don’t want to sound like a robot reading off a script!

5. Overly Personal Anecdotes

While sharing a personal anecdote is a great way to connect with the interviewer and give more insight into who you are, just like you don’t want to share stories where you were in serious trouble, you don’t want to get too personal.

Here’s another true story. I helped with a mock interview, and the interviewer asked the student to tell him more about the full-ride scholarship she got. She proceeded to explain it was the best and worst day of her life because the same day she got a full ride to her dream school, her best friend died in a car accident.


This is a little too personal, and she would have been better off saying she was thrilled to get a full-ride scholarship to her dream school and leave it at that. Why? The mock interviewer and I were so stunned our jaws dropped, and there was no smooth way to ask the next question.

6. Anything That Downplays Your Abilities, Accomplishments, or Contributions

Arrogance, conceit, and overconfidence are all things you should avoid during an interview. But in service of that, people often downplay their achievements, which you also don’t want to do. You have to find the balance between taking credit for something you didn’t do and not highlighting your abilities.

So, instead of saying you helped on a project, talk about how you contributed to it by doing X, Y, and Z. Try to avoid words and phrases that minimize those contributions, including just, a little, some, and a bit.

Don’t Panic, and Take Your Time

Having been an interviewer, I know that staying calm and thinking about what you say before you speak is the best strategy to ensure you say the right things in an interview. And, having been an interviewee, I also know how hard it is to do that!

But being confident in your abilities and fit for the role is the single best way to ensure you position yourself as the best candidate and, ultimately, get hired for the role.

One way to build that confidence is completing a free Forage virtual job simulation. They can help you build real-world, practical skills you’ll use on the job, and you can experience a day in the life of a banker, cybersecurity expert, or engineer (just to name a few). What’s more, when you complete one, you’ll unlock a free resume snippet and interview talking points you can customize for your job search. Try one today!

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The post Interview Angst? Here’s What Not to Say in an Interview appeared first on Forage.