What you should never say at an interview
In the midst of nervousness during a job interview, it’s so easy to put your foot in your mouth.
And you can never take back what you said. While you might think in advance about the correct response to a question, you don’t always think about what not to say.
Los Angeles executive coach Ronald Kaufman says that you should keep your comments geared toward the needs of the job during an interview, which satisfies the goals of the interviewer and lets them get to know you based on your skills, traits, education, training, experience and desire to do the work.
“Stay focused on how you can help them achieve their goals and prove your value so that you can get appropriate value in return,” Kaufman says.
Some common “don’ts” include never asking about career paths and promotions until after you get the job, if at all, since offers can be canceled.
Roy Cohen, a New York career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide” (Pearson PTR, 2010), says you should also defer questions about compensation for as long as possible. If you share salary information too early in the process, you risk being eliminated before they know your potential to add real and significant value.
“My recommendation is to convey that salary is not an important item for you, you've done your homework and know what these positions pay, and you know that they'll be fair,” he says.
Some other what-not-to-say pointers from Cohen and Kaufman:
ABOUT YOURSELF: Never tell a long-winded story, even if it’s epic, says Cohen. Make sure that whatever you share is relevant and makes sense given the job you're interviewing for. You might begin with a brief summary which explains who you are, the core themes that define your career and what you're positioning yourself for.
THE JOB SWITCH: Sometimes interviewees are honest when asked why they want to leave their job. One obvious response is that it’s time. Thought the answer seems benign, Cohen says it leaves the impression that the applicant is bored, his experience has grown stale and he was unmotivated as demonstrated by his willingness to stay far too long in a mediocre situation.
Instead, consider saying, “Given changes in management and direction, I feel like it’s the right time to move on.” Or maybe you and your family were looking to re-locate to address quality of life issues. Show that you have given careful thought to this major decision. When you have more reasons for making a move than just one, it suggests that the decision is multi-layered. Hopefully some of what you say will resonate with the interviewer.
INTEREST IN COMPANY: Should you say ,“It pays well,” “it offers job stability” or “my friends work here?” No, no, no, says Cohen. You must research the company to understand its needs, challenges and opportunities to sound and be smart, and to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
BIGGEST STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: Always provide a strength that is an asset to the job and a weakness that is genuine but not a liability, says Cohen.
SHORT-TERM GOAL: You might want to say that you need a job, but your real goal is to open your own company. Cohen advises against mentioning this. Always make sure that your short and long-term goals are aligned with the needs and direction of the company you’re interviewing for.
THE VACANCY: You might be tempted to ask what happened to the last person. Kaufman says don’t do it. This could bring up negative feelings that can get linked to you. What if the last person got promoted over the interviewer? What if the last person was fired and there’s bad blood between them, possibly a lawsuit? What if they really miss the last person and feel that they’re irreplaceable? You should also not ask about strengths and weaknesses of the last person who had the job. This could also put the interviewer on the defensive, and could make you look bad by comparison.
THE INTERVIEWER: Kaufman says you should not ask the hiring manager how she or he got started with the company. This question is too personal, none of your business and could make the interviewer feel defensive. What if they cheated to get the position? What if they married to get the position? What if they discredited someone else to get ahead? If they tell you, fine, but don’t initiate the topic.
ANY QUESTIONS?: Never pass on this. Always have questions prepared in advance, says Cohen. Good questions demonstrate motivation, interest and passion. It's also a good way to engage the interviewer. Ask about issues and challenges the company faces, how performance and success are measured, perhaps your interviewer's background. All serve as food for thought in your follow-up after the interview.
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