10 Words to Never Use in a Job Interview

by Paul Michael on 7 May 2014 1 comment

Job interviews are tough, if you're lucky enough to get one. A recent study found that 80% of the available jobs in the US are never advertised. And only 20% of people who apply for any given job actually get an interview.

So, if you do have an interview lined up, congratulations; you've already beaten the odds. Now, you have to get through the interview, and once again the odds are stacked against you. First impressions count, and doing your homework on the company you want to work for is a given. But what else can you do, or not do, to improve your odds of getting the job?

Below are 10 words that you should never use in an interview. Read on to learn these words, and understand why you shouldn't be using them. Whether the employer is conscious of these words or not, by avoiding them, you raise your chances of being hired. Of course, we're excluding blatant curse words, racial slurs, and other obvious words to avoid. If you're using them in an interview, you'll need more than a little luck. (See also: The Interview Technique That Will Get You Hired)

1. Um

You may have other variations of it: erm, hmm, or urh, for instance. Whatever your go-to "I need to think about this but keep making a sound" phrase is, don't use it. It will kill a presentation, and your job interview is a presentation about yourself.

Sure, this is not as formal as public speaking, and one or two uses of the um word may go by unnoticed. But if you are answering every question with um, the interviewer knows you are using a filler word to give yourself more time to answer. Why? Are you having trouble coming up with something? Are you about to lie? Are you not knowledgeable on the subject? If you need time to think, simply pause and say nothing. It is way better than thinking aloud.

2. Try

A very wise fellow once said, "Do, or do not; there is no try." That was Yoda, and how right he was.

You can try your hardest to do something, but saying "I try" in an interview is both vague and non-committal. For instance "I try to do about three hours of studying every night." What does that mean? I could try to lift a dump truck with my little finger; it doesn't mean I will ever succeed. Similarly "I try to make the best of a bad situation," or "I try to get in early every day" is just as bad. It means nothing and gives the interviewer a reason to question your response. Cut it out.

3. Hate

It's a strong word. Actually, it's a very strong word. And when people do use it in an interview, it's usually about a previous job (or current employer).

If you are asked about your current boss and you say "I hate him" or "I hate working for her" you are entering a world of pain. Similarly, if you start saying "I hate this about the industry" or "I hate the way…" then you're really piling on the negatives. It's OK to dislike the way certain people do things, or the kinds of systems that are put in place. But to bring out a heavy hitter like hate? That's not a good idea. Hate is a word that should be reserved for your personal life, not your professional life.

4. Honestly

There is a difference between being honest and specifying that you're being honest. If someone asks you your opinion on something, and you begin with honestly or to be honest there are four possible outcomes. First, they'll think nothing of it, which is doubtful. Second, they'll overlook it. Third, they'll think you are actually trying to hide insincerity. Or fourth, they'll think you're lying every other time you open your mouth. Don't fall into this trap. Be honest, without being blunt or rude, but don't say you're being honest. It's a red flag.

5. Perfectionist

This word is loaded, and for all the wrong reasons. Very few people in this world are actually true perfectionists. The word itself means "a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards." So if you're taken literally, the interviewer now knows you will be unhappy 99% of the time because perfection is almost impossible to achieve in any job. Usually, this word comes about when asked for a weakness. People refuse to give one, and so say something like "if anything, I think I'm a bit of a perfectionist." No, you're not. Put this word in the mental trashcan.

6. Amazing

In 2012, the word amazing topped a list of words that should be banned. As someone who has interviewed many people over the years, the word amazing is one that continues to stick in my craw. In fact, only once has that word lived up to the hype; the advertising campaign they presented to me really did get amazing results.

Usually, amazing is interchangeable with nice, good, interesting, or noteworthy. But as the definition of amazing is "causing great surprise or wonder," it should be used sparingly. You were not an amazing supervisor. You did not do an amazing job. You did not work for an amazing boss.

7. Basically

What does basically mean? Well, basically, it…ah, I almost fell into the trap.

Basically is a way of teeing up events that are complex, and breaking them down to something more easy to understand. The explanation should be quick, and brief. So when a mechanic says, "Basically, you need some new parts for your engine" he or she is saving you the trouble of going into detail about the pistons, valve guides, counter-shift balancers and a whole host of other stuff most people don't understand. But when someone says "Basically, I was in charge of a team of four graphic designers, and we oversaw the creation and production of a vast array of print projects including, but not limited to, magazine ads, newspaper articles, logos, brand identities, corporate stationery, signage systems, typographic solutions, page layouts, point of sale terminals, and annual reports," they are not being basic at all. Just drop it, and explain what you did without using it.

8. Irregardless

A small red wiggly line has just appeared under the word irregardless as I write this; that means my copy of Microsoft Word does not believe this is a real word. It does appear in many dictionaries though, and it has been in conversation since the late 19th century. But that doesn't make it acceptable.

The word irregardless is a melding of two words — regardless and irrespective. They both mean exactly the same thing. So using this is word shows a lack of respect, or understanding, of language; that's not a great idea during an interview. It also makes some people go nuts, and you don't want to risk your interviewer being one of those people. Just use regardless, and drop the pointless prefix.

9. Whatever

So let's be clear on this. If you use it in the "whatever project was put in front of me, I approached it with vigor" kind of way, you'll probably be OK. It's the dismissive whatever that should be struck from your lexicon. If you're using it to say you didn't care about the outcome of something, you should find another word…and quickly. A few years ago, whatever ranked as one of the most annoying words used by Americans. "They overlooked me for a pay raise. Hey, whatever." That will not stand you in good stead. If you want to say it was no problem, say it and justify it. But don't sound like a facetious valley girl.

10. I

You know what they say — there is no I in TEAM. If you use I a lot, you're focusing everything on yourself and not on the job or the employer. While you should certainly be promoting yourself, you really need to be careful with the use of I. Use it too often, and you will begin to come across as some self-centered egomaniac that has only one subject to talk about — yourself. Instead of using I, find ways to turn the sentences around. Instead of saying "I am a hard worker" say "My work ethic is strong, and greatly benefited my last employer." Instead of "I am a great with budgets" try "Budget management was very important to me in my last position." You're saying the same things without turning it into a "look at me, look at me" party. (See also: Things You did Wrong at Your Last Job Interview)

Are you an employer who has specific words and phrases that really bug you? Let us know what they are and how interviewees can avoid them.

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Good tips. However, the use of "I" could be off the mark for some companies. For example, I interview new grads for entry hire into our company. It's an arduous process for them, complete with online exercises, group activities and multiple individual interviews. On the "professional" portion of the interview, we ask them about experiences they've had in certain focus areas. We WANT them to say "I did...". We want them to have a "look at me, look at me party". When they DON'T, we push them harder to find out specifically what they did. We don't want to hire someone who just rides on the coattails of their team, but actually has input, takes action, and is accountable for the results.