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What to Say in a Job Interview (+11 Things to Always Avoid)

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Read Time: 12 min

Job interviews sometimes feel like essay tests. You’re not sure if you’re explaining yourself well or just spouting random nonsense.

While you can prepare for a job interview by researching the common and behavioral questions, and then rehearsing answers for them, this type of preparation gives you no guarantee that you’ll survive the ordeal.  

The right things to say in an interviewThe right things to say in an interviewThe right things to say in an interview
It can be hard to know the right things to say in an interview. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

What if most of the questions you’ve rehearsed don’t come up? What if the interviewer only asks weird or fantastical questions rumored to be asked in the likes of Google and Facebook? That’s where these basic guidelines and phrases come in. Knowing the basics of what to say in an interview should guide you, regardless of the questions you get.

The Right Things to Say in an Interview                 

1. Mention Who Referred You for the Role

Data from the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 analysis of over 600,000 interviews showed that over 30% of hires come from referrals. So, it’s worth mentioning if someone from the inside vouched for you. Say it casually though, you don’t want the interviewer to think you’re assuming the role is already yours.

What to say in an interview if you were referred by someone:

“I got so excited after (Your Contact’s Name) mentioned this job opening to me.”

2. Thank the Interviewer

Referral or not, showing gratitude for the interviewer’s consideration will go a long way. It shows that you’re polite and humble enough to accept that the interviewer could just as easily picked someone else for the interview.

What to say in an interview to show appreciation:

“Thank you for considering my application”


“Thanks for taking the time to see me”

3. Use the Company’s Lingo

You should've read the company’s website and other marketing materials in preparation for the interview. If you did, that should’ve given you some clues about the type of people they want for the company.

For instance, you might’ve read words like “fairness,” “leadership,” “growth” or “customer focus” multiple times on their website. These words reveal the type of employee they’re looking for, even if they weren’t specifically used in a job advertisement.

Subtly incorporate these words into your interview answers to show that you understand the organization’s values and are a good fit for them, personality-wise.

4. “I’m Flexible”

Saying that you’re flexible is one of the right things to say in an interview because it shows that you’re willing to accommodate the interviewer, whether it’s about the schedule of the next interview, potential job responsibilities, or the start date of the job. It gives the impression that you’ll be easy to work with, once hired.

5. Show You’re Enthusiastic and Did Your Homework

This is related to step three, but more in-line with the company’s work and goals instead of their people. Given the chance, mention what you know about the company’s products, services, market goals, and current challenges and then tie this knowledge to what you experienced in a previous role. If a previous job allowed you access to a product similar to what they have, talk about that. If the company you’re interviewing for is undergoing an overseas expansion and you've got experience with that, mention it too.

In some cases, you don’t even need to tie your knowledge of the company to your work history. You can just talk about recent industry events related to the job. Doing so proves that you’re enthusiastic about the job and the industry itself.

6. Talk About Accomplishments With a Similar Range

The “Presenter’s Paradox” is a psychological phenomenon that explains how our mind tends to find the average or see the big picture among the information presented to us.

For instance, if you tell the interviewer that you've got a Cisco Certification, a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification, and also took a short course on cyber security, they will average the impressiveness of these achievements. So, even if the cyber security course was relevant to your role, the fact that it’s not an industry-recognized license or certification diminishes the wow factor of your other credentials.

Your interviewer won’t see it as a bonus, so it’s better if you hold out on mentioning some of your achievements if they can’t be classified within the same level of difficulty. Find another time to bring up these outliers instead.

It’s the same thing when you buy a new house. A high-end property with great views, spacious bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, and a Jacuzzi won’t benefit from the mention of faucet fixtures.

7. Explain Why You’re a Great Match for the Job

Don’t stop at mentioning your skills and achievements, also explain why these qualifications matter for the job. Tell stories about your previous interactions at work, challenges you’ve encountered, and other accomplishments that match the criteria on the job description.

You don’t have to wait for the interviewer to ask you a behavioral interview question to weave these anecdotes into your answer. Just tell a brief story when the interviewer asks about a skill or job entry listed on your resume. Here's a tutorial that can help you with behavioral interviews:

8. Engage the Five Senses with Concrete Words

Abstract words like “diversity,” “viability,” “synergy,” and “methodology” only activate the language processing part of our brain. It doesn’t engage the other senses. Can you quickly picture what “synergy” or “methodology” look like? Is there an image in your brain that represents these words? Probably not.

Simpler or concrete phrases such as “lead a team,” “negotiate a better price” “deliver an app on budget” or even a simple word such as “teach” are far easier for anyone to picture in their own minds. Big words may sound impressive, but it’s the simpler ones that can make any sentence and job applicant more memorable.

9. You’re Eager to Learn

Interviewers want to know that you’re knowledgeable about your job—that’s a given. More importantly, they want to see that you’re not complacent in what you know.

Show them that you’re open to adapting new methods and skills to improve your work. Mention the ongoing courses you’re taking or the books and podcasts you listen to on the way to the office. Specify what you’re studying and where your materials are coming from, as this specificity can go a long way to proving that you’re really keen to improve yourself and not just claiming it for the sake of looking studious.

“I like learning new skills, and I’ve recently started on (the course, book, subject or podcast), which I think gives me a competitive advantage as a (your job title).”

10. Say “Thank You”

Some applicants end their interview abruptly or awkwardly, either because their interviewer was in a hurry or they’re just so nervous they want to get it over with. Whatever the case, it’s important to shake the interviewer’s hand and thank them for seeing you. If you don’t, you'll leave a bad impression and all the great answers you gave during the interview will be tainted by that one negative experience.  

What Not to Say in an Interview If You Want to Get Hired

You might get too comfortable if your interviewer is nice to you. You can be yourself. So that’s good, right? That relief can also lead you to say things you might regret.

There are just some things best kept to yourself in an interview, even if they’re true and even if you’re actually thinking about them. Let's take a closer look at a list of some specific things not to say on an interview.

10+ Things Not to Say in an Interview

1. "I've got a flight already booked and it’s in two months"

Personal, vacation, and sick leaves rank number one in the list of top 10 things not to say in an interview, because asking for time off before you’re even hired shows the job you’re applying for isn’t your number one priority.

Don’t mention this even if you’re already talking to your potential boss.

2. “My last boss was a raving lunatic”

Don’t gripe about your previous employer, salary, benefits, or manager. Your reasons for leaving may be understandable and may even earn you some sympathy. But that won’t last long once the interviewer stops to think about the other side of the story.

Besides, complaining also shows lack of coping mechanisms and communication skills. The interviewer will wonder why you didn’t talk to your boss or co-workers about the problem.

3. “I’m nervous” 

The interviewer expects you to come prepared. Admitting that you’re nervous shows lack of preparation. Yes, interview jitters are normal, but you don’t have to say it out loud because that will make the interviewer think you’re not confident about your skills. Worse, admitting you’re nervous might make you feel edgier.

If you really need to say something, say “I’m excited” instead, because nervousness or fidgeting and excitement share similar symptoms.

4. “I don’t have all the skills required for the job”

 Don’t voluntarily disclose your weakness or anything that shows you lack all the credentials required for the job. It’s the interviewer’s job to decide whether you’re a good fit for the role. Since you got an interview, there’s a good chance you are, even if you lack some qualifications.

Similarly, don’t talk about any of your previous mistakes at work, unless you were asked to talk about how you handled failure.

Find out how you can answer questions about failures and weaknesses here:

5. “Can I work from home?”

Asking about alternative working arrangements is a big turn-off until you receive a job offer. A job’s location and schedule are often posted at the bottom of a job advertisement, but if it’s not stated you can ask in a way that won’t make you look like a diva. For example:

“What are the hours for this job?”
“What is the typical schedule for this team?”

Ask about the work arrangement and other important details found in the article below once you've got a job offer:

6. “What does the company do?”

Asking about the company’s business proceedings shows lack of initiative. The interviewer may think that you’re not invested in the job you’re applying for and that you’re wasting their time.

Don’t ask this question unless the company is new and has no online footprint. And in the rare situation that this is actually the case, you should emphasize how you researched the company, but couldn’t find much information on them. Here's some guidance on preparing answers for interview questions:

7. “I don’t have a babysitter”

Sharing your family and logistics problems with the interviewer won’t end well. Some interviewers may understand your predicament, but what if you encounter someone who will label these challenges as conflicting priorities with the company? After all, you won’t be able to concentrate at work if you don’t have a reliable babysitter or whatever it is you need to focus at work. 

8. “This job is a great stepping stone for my dream job”

Saying this gives the impression that you won’t stay long in the position you’re applying for. Even if this is truly the case, you don’t want the interviewer to think that you’re not committed to the long-term growth of the company.

Ask about career advancement or learning opportunities instead to show that you’re not just committed to advancing your own interests, but are also willing let the company benefit from your professional growth.   

9. “That’s a nice tie/watch/necklace”

Attempts to sweet talk your interviewer will always feel fake for them, no matter how genuinely intended. Don’t do it.

Research the interviewer beforehand to see if you share a common alma mater, hometown, or hobbies, and then use this information if you really want to break the ice.

10. “I’m not really looking for a job”

A corporate headhunter may have convinced you to go to a job interview, even if you’re happily employed. That won’t matter anymore once you meet the interviewer. If you come to the interview that means you’re open to new opportunities, so don’t say you’re not looking for a job. The interviewer might think you’re just arrogant or are wasting their time. Either way, those are not the kind of impressions you want to make.  

11. “I don’t have any questions”

Saying this makes you look sloppy. A well-prepared and confident applicant will always have some questions at the end of the interview. The quality and quantity of the questions you ask shows how well you paid attention during the interview. The tutorial below can help you think of the right questions to ask:

Perfect the Basics

Whether you’re interviewing for an entry-level, executive, or technical role, these basic phrases and guidelines won’t change. Commit these to memory so you can mention all the must-say phrases and anecdotes while steering clear from the interview-ending phrases on all your future job interviews. 

Speaking of basics, your job interview will be affected by what's on your resume. If you don't supply the interviewer with interesting information about your career, you may not get the chance to show them how great you can be for their team. 

For some examples of great resume templates, take a look at this article:

Why not freshen up your resume today with one of these templates or write a new one with the help of our ultimate guide on this subject?

So, now you know what to say (and what not to say) in an interview. These guidelines will serve you well in a variety of job hunting situations. Good luck on your job hunt!

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