9 things you should never say in an interview

After scouring your network about career opportunities, sending what feels like hundreds of personalized cover letters and going through a couple of phone screens, you finally have a job interview. Now the prep work begins. You might research the role and company, stalk a few key team members on LinkedIn and put careful thought into your outfit. After so much effort, the last thing you’d want is to end up putting your foot in your mouth on the big day, which happens more often than you think.

During my time leading operations at a digital media startup, I conducted dozens of interviews. I quickly found out that conversations can take strange turns and even seemingly promising candidates with amazing applications end up self-sabotaging by saying concerning things in person. To help you maximize your chances of success, I’ve rounded up nine things you should never say in a job interview — as well as what to focus on instead.

1. “What do you guys do exactly?”

I’ve seen several candidates use this question as an ice-breaker. While a successful interview does look more like an engaging conversation than a robotic interrogation process — and yes, using conversation starters, in the beginning, helps warm things up, asking your interviewers a very basic question about the company sends the message you’ve come completely unprepared. It can also make them feel that you are looking for any job and have no enthusiasm for the role or mission of the company. Not a great start.

2. “No questions, it’s all pretty clear.”

Employers are looking for team players with traits such as critical thinking, sound judgment, and curiosity. Not having any questions rings alarm bells around both your level of interest and potential for meaningful contributions. To come up with thoughtful questions, start by thinking of things you’d genuinely want to know (stuff that can’t be found through a quick Google search). For example, you could seek insights about the company culture by asking your interviewer what she loves most about her role or ask a question about high-level goals to understand how the role you’re applying for relates to the larger context.

3. “So, where’s my desk going to be?”

This actually happened at the end of an interview. And no, the candidate didn’t get the role. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and you definitely don’t want to make assumptions about getting the job — even if the conversation went amazingly well. Stick to conversation finishers such as thanking your interviewers for their time or asking about the next steps in the hiring process.

4. Cynical talk about previous employers

Being your authentic self in an interview is key. So is presenting the best version of yourself. When you badmouth your former boss, teammates or employer, you’re sending the message that you might end up being difficult to work with — or, worse, plain petty. Interviewers do understand that there are toxic cultures out there. They are cognizant of the fact terrible management practices exist, and that you might have had bad experiences. But they also pay attention to language that might demonstrate an inability to take responsibility or a tendency to blame and point fingers. There is just no need to go there during an interview, and it only ends up reflecting badly on you.

5. Questions around vacation policy and employee perks

There is nothing wrong with wanting more information about benefits further down the road of the application process — right before accepting an offer. But asking about things such as vacations in the earlier interview stages can imply you are more eager to take than to contribute. A job interview is a time for demonstrating the value you’ll be bringing to the organization and discussing what your contributions could look like. Besides, employers will most likely end up bringing the topic up themselves.

6. “Sorry, I have to take this call.”

Interrupting an interview to answer a call comes across as rude and unprofessional. Unless there is an extreme emergency, your phone should be on mute and stored away.

7. Phrases and words with negative connotations

Do you talk about problems or challenges? Do you focus on failures or learning opportunities? Your language says a lot about your mindset, values and the way you tackle difficult situations. Interviewers are always paying attention to the subtext of the conversation and they will pick up on phrases and words with negative connotations, potentially flagging them as concerns.

8. “I’m a perfectionist.”

This answer is as predictable as the question “What is your greatest weakness?” It has been used to such an extent that it now has the potential of sending the message that you are disingenuous, lack creative thinking and are just regurgitating information you found online. To prepare for this frequently asked interview question, think of your actual weaknesses and pick one that does not paint you in a disastrous light (for example, discussing your anger issues might not be a great idea). Then, reflect on ways in which that weakness actually carries hidden strengths, and how you’ve worked on improving it and using it to your advantage.

9. “What other roles do you have?”

Being ambitious and eager to grow fast can be an amazing quality. But when you’re interviewing for a specific role and you’re already asking about other available roles or promotion opportunities, it can make it sound like you wouldn’t be happy in the position you’re applying for. Keep in mind that employers want to avoid high turnover rates and while great companies are always looking to develop their talent and not have their top performers plateau, they are also thinking about the interview process as a way to determine whether a candidate would thrive in a given position. If you want to avoid sabotaging your chances of getting the job, look for more constructive ways to get intel about opportunities for growth.