You may be well versed in interview skills, but it’s easy to let drop a phrase or a comment that inadvertently signals you may not “fit in.” Nobody will tell you that’s why you didn’t get the job. Yet, an apparent lack of interpersonal skills is often the underlying reason candidates get passed over.
People skills are in fact one of the top requirements of most jobs today–and interviewers listen hard for any telltale sign that you may not work well with people.
To avoid ruining your chances of getting that second interview or coveted job, be careful not to use the following six expressions that may betray a poor relationship with others.
1. “My talents were not being put to good use”
When talking about your last job, beware of dissing your employer by saying your talents were not fully used. It’s easy to fall into this trap, because you’ll want to give a reason for your departure. But saying your employer didn’t put your skills to good use signals more than a touch of resentment.
In the same vein, avoid saying your contribution was not recognized, or your skills were not a good fit with the job. Even saying nothing about your last job but simply that you are “looking for a company that can make use of your talents” conveys the impression that your last company let you down. So avoid the undertow of such comparisons.
2. “I didn’t feel challenged by my last job”
You won’t impress a future employer, either, by saying your last job was boring. If you weren’t challenged, it’s your fault.
Employers expect candidates to take the initiative and create opportunities for themselves. Saying you didn’t feel “challenged” essentially puts the onus on your last employer to provide you with a stimulating, fully curated experience. That’s not realistic. Any recruiter will see such a comment as reflecting an “attitude” and poor people skills.
3. “I’m looking for a different experience”
It may be true that you want your next job to offer you something “different” than your previous job had provided, but making a statement like this will send up red flares. The interviewer may think, “Wow, this candidate was miserable where she worked, that doesn’t bode well for hiring her.”
Instead of making such an implicit comparison that casts a shadow on your previous job, tell the interviewer in positive terms what you are looking for in your future role.
4. “I liked my manager, but . . .”
You might think you’re being generous by offering up this positive comment about your boss. The only problem is that the rest of the sentence beginning with “but” will undercut anything positive you’ve said.
The “but” may be followed by “we didn’t see eye to eye,” or “the job was less than satisfying,” or “management didn’t show the kind of leadership an organization should have.” Whatever the next part of the sentence is, it won’t work for you. It’s a negative that shows you didn’t fit in for some reason.
So stick to positives by avoiding the word “but” altogether.
5. “I’m a hard worker who gets things done”
This may seem like a positive self-affirming statement, but if you use these words, your interviewer will likely see you as a loner who focuses on work rather than on people. The “worker” syndrome is no longer an asset, because in today’s companies, things get done by teams, by collaboration, by shared goals.
So don’t focus on yourself as a good worker, or your interviewer will hear your comment as a self-revelation that does not suggest an ability or comfort with people. Instead, you might say that you lead a team or are part of a team that has done great things in your specific area.
6. “I’m ambitious: I’d like your job one day”
Recently, I’ve been told by a few VPs of HR that they are hearing this expression more frequently from job candidates, and they don’t like it. Imagine a 20-something newly minted graduate who gets a coveted interview with a senior executive, and when the executive asks where the candidate sees himself in 10 years, the young person replies, “I want your job.”
Whew! It may seem to be a statement that smacks of confidence or boldness. But unfortunately, it shows a lack of people skills, because the comment implies that the young person thinks he is capable of taking on the senior leader’s role and knows what that executive does. A senior vice president I know responds to such statements with, “What is it that I do?” And rarely does the job candidate know. Save such showmanship for less critical conversations, and instead provide an answer that is more realistic, and yes, humble.
These six expressions are frequently used in interview situations and should be avoided if you want to present a positive profile of yourself as someone who works well with people. After all, jobs will increasingly go to those who have strong people skills.