Even the most confident and experienced candidates can get tongue-tied in high-stakes interviews—especially protracted ones. Maybe you've reached the end of the process, and after many rounds and multiple conversations, you've grown both comfortable and exhausted.
It's usually at this stage that you're most liable to drop innocuous-seeming phrases that can still hurt your chances even after coming so far. Here are a few of them to guard against all the way up until the finish line.
Responding to a question with a one-word answer can give the impression that you’re closed off. Sometimes, of course, answering a question in the negative is the only honest way to answer it—but in those cases, always make sure you elaborate.
For example, if you were asked if you've ever used a certain software system of piece of technology and replied "no," you’re not giving yourself a chance to describe why you haven’t or to show you're interested in learning more about it. Instead, say "I had a chance to get acquainted with that, but I'd be interested in learning more about how you use it and can't wait to get started."
When the bills start piling up, and you needed that new job yesterday, you sometimes put yourself in a corner by telling your potential employer that you’re willing to do anything at the company or that you can start immediately. While you want to show you're eager, flexible, and willing to wear multiple hats, these types of phrases can make you seem impatient or desperate.
To be sure, interview processes can drag on for absurd lengths of time. But there are subtler ways to put pressure on a prospective employer to make you an offer before someone else does. What you don't want to do is demonstrate that you’re willing to accept positions beneath your skill level under any circumstances.
That can erode a hiring manager's confidence in you, which you worked so hard to build up. Just as bad, it can eat into your leverage when it comes to negotiating a salary.
Now, most savvy interviewees know better than to say something quite this direct. But if you're far along in the hiring process, you may feel empowered to be a bit more aggressive—after all, they're clearly interested in you, right? Plus, many job seekers are (wisely) coached to size up an employer for fit; it isn't just a one-way conversation.
All this being true, it's still important not to seem overeager to negotiate perks and compensation until the company has indicated it's ready to do that. That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask about benefits or candidly discuss salary expectations (you should!), but simply because a hiring process has dragged on longer than you'd have liked is no excuse to jump the gun. Compensation, vacation time, bonuses, the option to work from home every now and then—these are all things to bring up at the very end of the interview (or interviews), after pretty much everything else has been covered.
Remember, the organization that you’re interviewing for has a need to fill. Your singular focus, until actively prodded to do otherwise, should be to show how you can improve their business and why you'd be a great asset. Everything else should come later, once the company has shown it's ready.
When you’re asked how you’re doing, don’t respond with this one-word answer. "In any situation where you're describing a state of being or your emotions, the word 'fine' is vague, overused, and colloquial," Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, tells Business Insider. In fact, "the word may even be perceived by others as dishonest and dismissive."
Toward the end of an intensive interview process, when you're asked to meet with the sixth or seventh or even twelfth person on staff, you're likely to become more casual. Each successive conversation may even feel less important than the last. Still, you need to treat each one like the very first interaction you're having—and each new individual as the key decision-maker. There's no room for bland, terse language.
The second-person plural has been censured by interviewing experts before—and for good reason. Explaining your past accomplishments in a way that sounds humble and tells a compelling story is an absolute must. But you can take it too far.
If you keep using "we" as opposed to "I" when discussing your previous and duties and achievements, the interviewer may start to question if was you or your colleague who was really responsible. So leave no room for doubt. As consultant James Sudakow recently told Fast Company, "Most interviewers want to know what you accomplished, even as part of a team." The challenge for candidates, he says, is to "talk about the team's accomplishments, but focus on your specific individual contribution that helped the team achieve what it did."
Listen, there will come a time, especially after a long interview process, when you truthfully will have no more questions about the employer or opportunity. But there's a way to wind things down without giving the impression that you've had enough and are just ready to get out of there.
If you're meeting with a new person for the first time after already having spoken with several others, it's perfectly fine to whip out the same question: "I had a chance to ask Carmen's thoughts on this when we spoke earlier, but I'd be really curious for your take as well before I go."
Don't feel you need to prepare an inexhaustible list of questions, but keep the most thoughtful of them in your back pocket and deploy them as needed, even if you need to recycle a few. Have at least a couple smart follow-up questions prepared in advance shows that you’ve done your research, have been paying attention, and are capable of thinking critically. And if you need to ask the same thing to more than one person, no sweat—that shows you value multiple perspectives.