Career Planning

24 Off-Limits Job Interview Words

Nail your next job interview by avoiding these overused and unimpressive words.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

March 16, 2021

24 Off-Limits Job Interview Words
Words matter during the job interview. Here are just a few to avoid.
An interview’s tone can be changed with the mere usage of one or more words. Certain words set the scene; and, unfortunately, using the wrong vocabulary can make the difference between you getting the job or being cut from the application process altogether. Remember interview candidates are first judged by their answers, but an interviewer will also “read between the lines” in order to get an idea of personality. While you’re articulating your responses to job interview questions, try your best to avoid the following words. They can sound superficial, generic or rude – even if you’re not meaning to come across that way. Take a look at these job interview tips for alternatives to these over-used words:

1. Amazing

You’re amazing, I’m amazing, isn’t everything a-maz-ing? You see the point – it’s an overused adjective that can be replaced with more unique words and phrases. Try to alter your responses to say what you actually mean. For example, instead of saying that the job seems “amazing” to you, replace it with something that sounds a little more meaningful like: This is “an opportunity suited to my skills and knowledge.”

2. Actually

If you think about it, saying “actually” is, in fact, correcting a person. This isn’t something you want to come across as doing within an interview, even if that’s not what you meant to do. Saying this word can put the person you’re speaking with on the defensive, even subconsciously.

3. Basically

We often use this word as a prelude while we’re thinking of our follow-up, but it can come across as a way to diminish your accomplishments and reduces your worth.

4. Benefits (Perks, Vacation Time, PTO, etc.)

This is an instance where you don’t want to put the cart before the horse, so to speak. An interview isn’t an appropriate time to bring up words like benefits, perks, compensation or any other similar word. It makes you come across as someone that’s only interested in the perks, not in the actual work involved. You can discuss details like that once you have a job offer, not before you even have a position.

5. Curse/Swear Words

While this should be a given, sometimes people get nervous or, even too comfortable within an interview and let one slip. Steer clear of any four-letter words (even if they use them) because you never know what an interviewer’s reaction will be to your usage. You and the boss can swear up a storm at the company holiday party– once you have a job there. Seriously, it’s not worth risking while you’re still in the interview stages.

6. Dedicated

Rather than simply saying you’re “dedicated,” make it your goal to demonstrate how dedicated you are with examples of your accomplishments. Try to show dedication, rather than claiming it without basis. It’s pretty much guaranteed that one or, more likely, all of the potential candidates will use this word, which renders this a meaningless cliché.

7. Fired

This is a word you never want to be associated with, especially in an interview setting. No matter what context, don’t use this word because hiring managers know it’s one of the biggest red flags out there. If you must communicate that you were fired, use terms like “laid off” or “let go” instead. Avoid this specific word at all costs - unless you’re talking about a story where you actually caught fire trying to rescue a kitten from a burning building. In that case, proceed. Who wouldn’t want to hire a hero?

8. Hate

Obviously, this is a negative word. But, say you’re describing what you disliked at your old job (be careful of doing this all together). Saying you “dislike” something doesn’t come across quite as negatively since “hate” is a much stronger action. Remember, you don’t hate anyone or any job you’ve ever had (even if you feel like you do). It comes across as immature and petty and those are qualities you’d hate to give the impression you possess.

9. Just

If you’re not on the defensive (and you shouldn’t be in an interview setting) don’t use this word, because that’s how it comes across. You may be concerned you’re coming across a certain way, but inserting “just” as a filler word isn’t the answer.

10. Kinda

Not only is this NOT a word, but even conversationally, makes you come across as uncertain of your answer. If you mean “yes,” say yes – or if you mean “no,” say no, with an explanation of how your skills can relate to the given task. You want to come across as a confident, capable applicant and don’t want an interviewer to have to guess whether or not you can handle making decisions.

11. Learn

Steer clear of saying that you’re applying to the job to “learn,” because you want to be seen as the only applicant that can handle the position and tasks at hand. While the ability to grow and learn are good things employees possess, you want to be viewed as someone who can get the job done – today, not after a learning period.

12. Like

When did “like” become the new “um?” Valley girls everywhere may sing your praises each time you, like, say what you like, are thinking or whatever. Hiring managers, however, do not.

13. Me, Myself & I

Yes, of course you can refer to yourself, but ensure that when you do so you’re always bringing back your accomplishments to the task at hand and how it impacted whichever company you worked for and your team’s goals. Modern work environments are highly focused on collaborative team efforts, and you likely did not accomplish a huge project on your own. Focus your responses so you’re not viewed as an individual who takes all of the credit for a team’s accomplishments. Rather than saying, “I did [this],” try for something more along the lines of, “I was responsible for [doing this] on a team that collaborated to accomplish [this] and here’s how we succeeded [result].”

14. Motivated

Like other buzz words you’ll find on interview lists, you should steer clear of general terms that are used too often within the interview process. Rather than saying you’re “motivated,” “dedicated”, “enthusiastic” and a “go-getter,” speak to these qualities by discussing your actual accomplishments.

15. Negatives

Can’t, don’t, hate, no, etc. fall under the blanket category of negative words to avoid. You want the entire interview experience to be viewed upon positively, and the use of positive words, expressions and tones will help you to accomplish that.

16. Nervous

Of course you’re nervous, it’s an interview! But saying how nervous you are won’t help – it’ll actually come across as you lacking in confidence. If there’s one thing hiring managers want to see, it’s confidence.

17. Perfectionist

This is another one of those words that is used too often; and, because of this will not help with interviewers. It’s either going to be taken with a grain of salt – “I’m a perfectionist” – because most people exaggerate their qualities. Or, it can also be taken negatively, because it’s such a common interview retort. Using this word as a replacement for your “weaknesses” will likely leave any hiring manager wondering, “What are they NOT saying here?” Both scenarios aren’t what you want – so avoid this word all together.

18. So

Another filler word, “so,” isn’t adding anything to your experience or credentials. Don’t use it to fill the void in conversations or before an adjective – it’s just unnecessary.

19. Sorry

Did you do something you should be apologizing for, or are you just saying “sorry” during an attempt to avoid an awkward moment? Think about it: what are you apologizing for? Say what you really mean, instead of using the word, “sorry.” Take your time to articulate whatever it is you’re really trying to say. “Sorry” makes you sound hesitant and lacks confidence, so don’t use this word unless you have something you’re actually apologizing for.

20. Stuff

Details are what set you apart from other interview candidates. What does “stuff” really mean in this context? That’s what you need to be asking yourself before throwing out this ambiguous word. Rather than saying you worked on “stuff” or accomplished “stuff,” replace the word with more descriptive words detailing what you actually worked on or accomplished.

21. Sure

It’s important to keep in mind that most interview questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” response, they’re looking for you to elaborate on your experiences. Also, sure sounds rather, unsure – if you’re trying to say yes, go with a stronger word like “absolutely.”

22. Um

“Um” is another one of those filler words we likely don’t intend on using, but it happens. We use it to fill a void in our thoughts, as a response when we’re thinking of the right word to say, or sometimes to fill the awkward silence when we’re nervous. While it’s a tough habit to break, it’s worth it because it comes across as anxious and uneasy – neither of which are qualities most hiring managers look for in a potential job candidate.

23. Weakness

Don’t bring up your weaknesses, unless an interviewer does. There’s no reason to discuss any negative qualities you may have, unless asked a question about them. In general, it’s best to stay focused on all positive aspects and qualities, unless explicitly asked otherwise.

24. Whatever

It’s one of the most dismissive words we use, making us sound withdrawn and like we don’t care. If that’s the impression you’re trying to give off (it shouldn’t be) then nix this word all together.

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