Things you should never ever say in a job interview

Over the years I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for jobs in my organization, and as you might expect, there are some things that some candidates say, that really tick me off. Chances are that if you say one or more of the following, I won’t hire you, and there is a good chance that others won’t either.

Stating a strength disguised as a weakness

The question may be asked in many ways – “What are your weaknesses? What do you need to improve upon? In your last performance review, what did your manager ask you to work on?”. The worst answer is to state a strength disguised as a weakness. Here are some examples:

My weakness is that I can’t stand office politics and that gets me in trouble.

My weakness is that I can’t deal with incompetent people

If the interviewer is stupid, you can perhaps get away with these answers, but that is usually not the case. All you achieve with this approach is that the interviewer now suspects you of being a phoney. A great way to answer this question is to talk about a situation where you failed, and discuss what you learned from the experience. Employers appreciate honesty.

Overstating skills

This is a common practice, and to some degree interviewers understand. However, remember that an experienced interviewer can smoke out the exaggerations with a few pointed questions. Therefore be careful what you are exaggerating, and how much. Being found out to be lying about your skills and experience is a sure way to be knocked out of contention.

Agreeing to ditch your current employer

I have seen this happen all the time in India, particularly in the IT industry. The hiring company wants you to come on board quickly, and is willing to pay for buying out the notice period of your existing employer. Candidates usually jump at this opportunity, and ditch their current employer, violating the spirit of their employment agreement.

The ethical thing to do is to tell your prospective employer that you cannot break your current contract. Fulfill your current obligations before starting with the new employer. Employers respect this kind of honesty and ethical conduct. They understand that you will not ditch them either. If you lose the opportunity because you are not willing to break your current contract, don’t worry about it. In the long run you’d rather establish a reputation of being an ethical professional, rather than an opportunist.

Stating “better prospects” as a reason to change jobs

This lame answer drives me nuts. It tells me that the candidate is no longer valued in the current organization, or that they are just fishing around to see if they can get more money elsewhere. They have no clear short or long term objective.

My suggestion is to do some deep thinking about your career plans before you start looking for a change. This will enable you to frame your desire for a change in the context of what you want to accomplish, which is a very powerful message for the interviewer. It tells them that you have the discipline to plan and execute, and that you are true to your motives.

Saying disparaging things about your current employer and manager

The easiest way to shirk responsibility is to blame others around you. Criticizing your current manager and employer demonstrates that you are a complainer and are likely to get into the same mode in the new organization. Stay away from this trap.

Sharing confidential information about your current employer

This is a complete no-no for me, and I always ask some questions to test a candidate. Confidential information could be anything that is not in the public domain, and could potentially hurt the company in some way if made public. New deals in the pipeline, new product plans, key personnel changes, insider financial information, and other information of this nature should not be discussed with a prospective employer. If asked, tell them politely that this is confidential information that you cannot share with outsiders.

Often candidates get tempted to brag by sharing such information, and hope to impress the interviewer. The result is likely to be exactly the opposite.


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