On the list of “things we dread,” job interviews are right between scrubbing bathtub grout and going to the dentist. Whether we’re applying for our dream role or the job that’s going to pay the bills right now, it can be easy to psych ourselves out and fumble through the interview. What if we ask a well-intentioned question the wrong way? What if we make a bad impression? What if we have spinach in our teeth?
1. Don’t say: “I don’t have any questions.”
Even if you’re applying for a company you’re familiar with—you buy all their products, you get their newsletters, etc.—you should be prepared with a few queries on deck, so the interviewer knows you’re as engaged as you say you are. “Saying ‘I don’t have any questions’ demonstrates to the interviewer that either you don’t really care about the job, you’re lazy or most importantly, you did not prepare,” Salemi explains.
What to do instead: Conduct research prior to the interview
You don’t have to go all Sherlock Holmes and come in with the company’s full business records. You do, however, have to be prepared with enough knowledge about the brand to demonstrate interest.
“Look at the social media feeds of the companies you’re interviewing with,” advises Salemi. “Do a quick Google search, look at the newsroom on their website and create at least two to three questions about the role, the company or something that you read. The whole point of asking questions for you as the job seeker is to get more information, because you’re evaluating them as much as they’re evaluating you.”
2. Don’t say: “My last boss was toxic.”
You may not be entirely happy with your current or former employer, but saying anything negative about them to your potential boss sends red flags about your level of professionalism. “It just shows bad form,” says Salemi. “The employer that’s interviewing you may start to wonder if you’ll eventually bad mouth them or their company.”
What to do instead: Remain factual and don’t call anyone out
Salemi states, “If you’re asked a behavioral question like, ‘Name a situation when you dealt with a difficult [person],’ focus more on how you’re selling yourself and how you rose to the occasion. You don’t have to say that it was your boss. If you’re asked why you want to leave the company, don’t reveal it’s because you have a toxic boss. You can just say, ‘I’ve learned everything there is to learn in this role, I’m growth orientated and that’s why I’m interested in your opportunity.’” In other words, pivot without pointing the finger.
3. Don’t say: “How did I do?”
Look, most of us will never leave an interview feeling like we completely aced it. However, asking for instant feedback may indicate a lack of confidence. “The person interviewing you—who may be your potential boss—may assume you’re always going to look for instant feedback on the job,” says Salemi. Translation: No one wants to hire someone they think is going to need constant handholding.
What to say instead: “What are the next steps?”
Essentially, what you’re looking to hear when you ask, “How did I do?” is whether or not they see you as a viable candidate. Instead of positioning yourself as needy, the better thing to do is ask for next steps, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly. “Leave it open-ended and assume you did well,” urges Salemi. “It’s common to leave an interview wondering how you did, but always stay in the moment. Focus on the next step rather than something that you may have missed.”
Oh, and it’s okay to ask for feedback after you’ve been rejected. Sometimes it’s not necessarily about your qualifications, but other circumstances (the company may have decided to hire from within, for example, or the position may have been put on hold). In that case, you can ask the interviewer to keep in touch and consider you for similar positions in the future.
4. Don’t say: “This is a great stepping stone for my next job.”
New grads, listen up. It’s great to be career orientated and most entry-level jobs will help you get your foot in the door of whatever field you’d like to pursue. But a potential employer will be wary about hiring someone who has their sights set elsewhere. They need to know you’re going to perform at the highest level for their company.
“You want to convince the employer that this is a role you’re looking to build longevity with,” explained Salemi. “You don’t want to say, ‘I’m only going to stay here for a year because I want this on my resume.’”
What to say instead: “What’s the growth opportunity within this role?”
Employers want to know that they can depend on you to give your all to the company, so it’s important to leave that impression. Stay focused on the role at hand and ask instead about opportunities for promotions as well as the skills and experiences necessary to succeed in the role.
5. Don’t say: “How much time will I have off?”
This one is all about timing and how you frame the question. In the wake of the pandemic, a lot of employers are trying to figure out the optimum balance between working from home and going into the office. There is also a bigger focus on mental health. So, it’s not that you can’t ask about PTO, but be strategic about it. “If you ask the person who is going to be your boss [about PTO] in your first interaction, it may come across that you’re not serious about working,” Salemi explains.
What to say instead: “Do you have a benefits sheet?”
The topic of PTO will likely come up as the hiring process unfolds. However, if you happen to be working with a recruiter, it’s okay to ask them for the company’s benefits sheet. It’ll also inform you about health insurance, flexible WFH arrangements and other perks the company might offer.
6. Don’t say: “How much does this job pay?”
Of course, you want to make sure that you’re getting paid your worth, but just like PTO, asking about salary is all about tact. “People want to be cognizant of each other’s time. So, an employer doesn’t want to go to the end of the interview process only to be told the salary is too low from the job seeker’s perspective.”
What to say instead: “My salary range is X. What is the range for this position?”
Again, it’s important to bring up the salary conversation sooner than later, but instead of giving a hard number, give the potential employer a range. “When you have that initial salary conversation, keep it high level, keep it broad and try to get the employer to say an amount first,” advises Salemi. “An employer wants to make sure you’re not going over theirs because they don’t want to spend the time on one candidate when you’re both not on the same page.”
7. Don’t say: “What role is this for? What does this company do?”
It may seem like an obvious faux pas to avoid, but sometimes a big company contacts you and asks for an interview at the last minute. The first inclination is to, of course, say yes. But unless you’re already at home and are in the right head space for an interview, it’s best to hold off until a more convenient time.
What to say instead: “I’d love to speak with you, but I’m in the middle of something right now. Can we schedule time to speak about the role?”
“You always want to be prepared—whether it’s that first interview or it’s the last—and that includes your mental [state]. You don’t want to be caught off guard,” stated Salemi.
There may also be instances where you’ve applied to different positions within one company and if you’re not sure which one they’re reaching out to you for, ask in a way that doesn’t make you seem clueless. Something like, “I’m really interested in your company, and if I recall correctly, I applied for a job more than once. Which job title is this for?”
Salemi suggests creating a Word document with the job descriptions for the roles you have applied for. That way, if the employer removes the posting off their website prior to your interview, you’ll still have access to it. Having a running document is also helpful because you can rearrange your resume according to what a potential employer is looking for. Hiring managers typically list their desired skills and experiences in order of what’s most important to them. This way, even if they don’t reach out until months later, you’ll have that initial job description handy and still feel prepared.