What You Should–and Should Not–Say in a Job Interview

By Paula Santonocito

business-people-shaking-handsAn interview gives a hiring company a chance to learn more about you, and it provides you with an opportunity to find out more about a potential employer. Although it should be a two-way conversation, it’s important to remember that the job interview is ultimately about one thing: the job.

Why it’s called small talk. For many people, the first few minutes of an interview are the most difficult.

Is it okay to make small talk? The short answer is yes, provided it’s relevant and comes across as genuine.

Example No. 1:  The city in which you’re interviewing is in the midst of a snowstorm. To remark on the weather is appropriate, with something neutral or upbeat like, “It looks like we’re finally getting our first big snowstorm of the season.” This may lead to questions about how much snow has fallen, whether you like winter, and so forth. In addition to generating small talk, your comment could give you some insight into the interviewer’s personality and preferences. If she says she never pays attention to anything going on outside her office, you immediately have an idea about what kind of person she is.

Example No. 2:  You enter the interviewer’s office, which offers an incredible view of the Statue of Liberty. To comment on it is normal. Obviously, you don’t want to jump up and down, but to remark, “What a great view” is absolutely fine. Here again, the interviewer’s response might give a clue as to her personality. “Yes, I never tire of looking at it” suggests one type of individual, while, “Who cares? I never have time to stare out the window anyway” indicates you might be dealing with someone altogether different.

What you shouldn’t say. Don’t fish for conversation starters. If something doesn’t come naturally, it’s best to stick with a basic, “Hello, nice to meet you.”

Also, don’t comment on photos of the interviewer’s family, even if it feels natural and you think it may help establish a connection. The reason? The interviewer may reply, “Yes, I have two young sons.” However, what happens if she replies with, “Yes I had two young sons, and one died three months ago” or “Yes, those are my sons and the courts will not let me visit them”? Steer clear of anything family related.

Tell me a little about yourself. Avoiding conversations about family applies to your life as well. The interviewer is asking about work experience, skills, ability, and other matters related to the job, like education.

Should you mention location? Although some experts advise against it, using location can have advantages.

Here are two examples:

Example No. 1, job involving relocation: “I’m interested in relocating to Houston. I’m originally from Texas, and I’ve been looking for the right opportunity that will allow me to move back to my home state.”

Example No. 2, job in hometown: “I’ve always lived in Westborough, and I have strong ties to the community.”

Both examples suggest commitment and stability.

Interview coaches strongly recommend that you provide a succinct summary of your work experience, skills, education, and other background information. Remember, “Tell me a little about yourself.” Even if the word “little” is omitted, it’s implied.

What you shouldn’t say. For an entertaining look at how not to respond, check out the Interview Dos and Don’ts video from Vault, a leading source for insider career information, available at YouTube.

Why are you seeking a new job? If employed, you are seeking a better opportunity or an opportunity to better use your skills. If you are unemployed, you are seeking an opportunity or you’re looking to make a contribution to a company that can benefit from your skills and experience.

What you shouldn’t say. Your current job may indeed be the job from hell, but this isn’t the correct answer. Similarly, if you’re unemployed, the answer isn’t, “because I need a job.”

Do not badmouth your current employer. Likewise, do not appear desperate, even if out of work.

You’ll want to also avoid talking about the new job in the context of promotion, salary, and benefits. Doing so can make it seem as though you’re not interested in the job for the right reasons. Remind yourself: You are looking for the right job opportunity. Then convey this to the interviewer.

What about this job appeals to you? Again, focus on the opportunity to use your skills and experience. Mention the fact that there seems to be opportunity for growth (if indeed there is) at XYZ Company. Show you’ve done your homework by talking about the company’s success in a key area or the company’s reputation in the industry.

What you shouldn’t say. Don’t say things like, “the high starting salary” or “onsite daycare,” even if both are important draws. Instead, talk about the company’s culture, and how management seems to value employees.

What are your strengths? You know your strengths, and you think your resume articulates them, but here’s your chance to really shine. For some people, this is difficult to do. For others, it’s difficult to hold back.

What you shouldn’t say. Even if your response is, “No, I think we’ve covered everything,” don’t ignore the opportunity to ask for the job–provided of course you want it. Remember, interviews are two-sided.Also, now is your chance to find out when you might hear back. Don’t let it pass you by.

What should you say? “It was a pleasure to meet you. The job sounds like the opportunity I’ve been looking for. Do you know when you might be making a decision?”

The interviewer’s response will offer insight into the company’s timetable. Her response will also likely tell you where you stand.

You did it; you aced the interview. Congratulations, but it’s important to recognize that acing the interview doesn’t guarantee you the job. A hiring decision is based on a number of variables you can’t control, including the qualifications of job candidates with whom you’re competing.

Still, a successful interview can go a long toward letting a company in on what you already know: The organization that hires you will get one great employee.

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