9 Things You Should Never Say In a Job Interview

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 7, 2014

Don't Make It Any Harder on Yourself

Is it any wonder job interviews are such fertile ground for disaster?

Just think about it for a second. The hiring manager has to fill the position quickly and with the right person, and has to choose from a pool of candidates who are more than likely desperate to find employment and pay bills. Applicants have an hour or so to present themselves in the best possible light, and if you believe some experts it only takes a few seconds following a first impression for people to make their final judgments. Finally, throw in a hefty portion of self-doubt and amped up nerves, and it becomes pretty clear why there are so many job interview horror stories.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can keep your anxiety in check and avoid these major landmines, you stand a much better chance of being hired.

9. "Sorry I'm late."

Let’s start with the basics – show up on time.

If the first thing you do is to apologize because you’ve already failed the first and most basic requirement, the rest of the interview might not matter. If you can’t even bother to show up to the interview on time, why should your interviewer expect you to be prompt if you actually get the job? Even if you have a good excuse, it’s still the worst possible way to set the right tone.

Take a dry run the night before and get there early. Sit in the parking lot and bone up on your interview questions. Just be there on time.

8. "So how much does this job pay?"

Look, we all know salary is usually the most important factor when deciding whether or not you’ll take the job. But despite the old saying “honesty is the best policy,” in this case it’s usually wise to pretend that’s not the case and hold off on talk of compensation.

When you lead with the salary question, you’re basically screaming “SO WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?!” at your interviewer. And you’re making it perfectly clear your top priority is a paycheck, which could be a red flag for many employers.

Do your research on Salary.com prior to the interview so you’ll know the general salary range even if they don’t disclose it up front. Then, take their temperature on the salary discussion. Make sure they want you and you want them before you talk turkey.

7. "What's your vacation policy, because I have this trip I'm taking next month..."

This one is similar to the salary discussion, except the other extreme.

Again, this isn’t a bad question to ask – down the road a bit! But if the first question you have for them is whether you can get extra time off for a job that you don’t even have yet, that’s going to be seen as a deterrent.

Once you get into the interview process a little bit more and determine whether they are seriously considering hiring you (and whether you want to work there), then you should start talking about specifics. Don’t forget to use things like vacation time as leverage if the company won’t budge on salary. But whatever you do, just don’t jump the gun and cost yourself a good opportunity.

6. "I browsed your website a little..."

Most hiring managers will ask you if you’re familiar with the company and what your role will require. And contrary to popular belief, saying “Well I browsed the website a little” is not good enough.

Do your homework. Dig into the company’s history, find out who makes up the executive suite. Google the company name for recent news so you’re not blindsided by any recent headlines you should be aware of at the interview. But whatever you do, don’t let them see you’re the kind of person who only gives the minimum effort.

5. "My biggest weakness? Sometimes I just work too hard."

Being asked “What do you think is your biggest weakness?” is just one of those interview questions you’re going to face at one point or another. Is it trite, pointless, and overused? Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.

What’s important is that you don’t answer it with something obnoxious like “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I’m always so focused on my work I forget to relax.”

The most practical answer you can give is slightly coached truth. Think of a skill that isn’t vital to the job to which you’re applying, and use that as your example. But don’t leave it at that. Make sure you talk about specific ways you’ve improved on that weakness so it shows your interviewer you’re interested in making progress and bettering yourself.

4. "My last boss was a jerk."

Let’s be perfectly clear – it is never a good idea to badmouth your former boss or employer.

Your old company might have been truly horrible and your old boss a true nightmare in every sense of the word. But it doesn’t matter. When you openly talk trash about your old employer in your first meeting with your potential new employer, that leaves the hiring manager with the impression you won’t hesitate to do the same to him/her.

Highlight some positives about your past place of employment, and just stress the importance of finding a company that suits your needs now. Employers are much more interested in the future and what you can do for them going forward.

3. "I just wasn't challenged enough at my last job."

This is related to the previous item but no less important to remember.

It might seem like a good idea to tell your prospective employee you left your job because you weren’t being utilized to your fullest extent. But at the same time, you also risk sending the message that you weren’t properly advocating for yourself or opening yourself up for new challenges and added responsibility.

Again, just focus on what you can bring to the company if you’re hired. That’s what they really care about anyway.

2. "When are you making a final decision, because I've got several interviews lined up."

I get it, you want to show them you’re a hot commodity with lots of options. Unfortunately, employing this strategy might mean burning yourself.

Maybe, if you’re the best candidate, this could work. But if not, you’re simply coming off as arrogant and doing very little to help your cause. Depending on the size of the company, the hiring process simply might take awhile. If you make it seem like you’re going to take another offer if they don’t move fast enough, you might just find yourself scratched off the short list.

It’s not a terrible idea to ask when you can follow up if you haven’t heard back, but that’s about as far as you should take it.

1. "I just need a job."

If you eliminate one thing from your job interview repertoire, make it this phrase.

When someone asks you why you applied for a certain position, never say “because I just need a job.” For starters, desperation is an ugly scent. Many people REALLY need a job as the still sluggish economy supposedly recovers and hiring returns to better levels. But when you say you “just need a job,” it sounds to the hiring manager like you’re willing to take any job that comes along. And if that’s the case, what’s to say you won’t jump ship at the first sign of a potentially better job? Hiring is expensive and turnover costs have to be kept to a minimum, which means finding the right candidate – not just someone who will take anything – is of the utmost important.

They want to hear that you’ve done some research and know what to expect if you’re hired. So show them you’re prepared and a viable candidate.

Nail the Interview, Slam Dunk the Negotiation

First you've got to impress in the job interview and avoid certain landmines. But after that, if they make you an offer, it'll be time to negotiate. And Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.