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How Not to Shoot Yourself in the Foot in Job Interviews

by THEA kelley | November 18, 2021

There are many things you should never say in a job interview. I’m not going to list them all, but here’s a simple guideline to remember: never volunteer a negative.

Don’t be your own worst enemy!

If an interviewer brings up a negative issue on their own, then you usually need to address it. They may ask about your weaknesses, or your lack of a certain qualification. There are effective ways to directly answer interview questions about negative issues. (Sometimes it’s even possible to deflect a question by asking one of your own.)

But it’s surprising how often I hear job seekers bring up something that doesn’t reflect well on them, when they really didn’t have to go there.

Here are a few examples:

Tacking an unhappy ending onto a success story.

An interview coaching client of mine told me a story about a product he helped to develop, then ended with, “Unfortunately, the product was never launched.” It wasn’t his fault—there was a reorganization or acquisition—but he was putting a sad ending on an otherwise upbeat, successful story. He could have just stopped with “We completed it on time, within budget and with great features like X and Y.”

Stop your stories at a point where there’s a happy ending. Of course, the interviewer may ask follow-up questions, so be prepared to answer those, or just pick a different story that doesn’t have unfortunate complications.

A problem you solved … but.

Here’s another example. Often during mock interviews I ask job seekers to “tell me about a difficult problem you solved.” Sometimes they tell me about solving a problem that they themselves created by making a mistake. I tell them, “That’s a great story if they say ‘Tell me about a mistake you made.’ Otherwise, you’d be better off telling a different story.”

“I should point out …”

Think twice before helpfully pointing out experience and skills you don’t have. As long as you’re confident you can do the job, why confess to a lack? Don’t be deceptive, but if a skill isn’t on your resume and they’re interviewing you anyway, it’s probably because they don’t think that skill is essential, or they assume you can learn it later.

Never say never?

Now, I’ve used the word “never” a few times in this post, but of course there’s wisdom in the expression, “Never say never.” It’s conceivable that bringing up a negative could be a wise choice in some situation. But I’m having a hard time thinking of an example!

Now that you know some of the things you should never say in a job interview, you may want to read my post “3 Interview Mistakes Smart People Make.” Or if you’re tired of reading about mistakes, test yourself by reading “12 Tips for Winning Interviews” and see if you know all twelve!

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