Picture it: You're on a job interview meeting the hiring manager and upper management. It couldn't go any better. You're hitting the ball out of the park with specific anecdotes to illustrate your skills and relevant experience as a spot-on match for the position you're pursuing. And then, suddenly out of nowhere, things take a turn. You blurt out one or two keywords that curtail the momentum and makes them wonder, and then you have to back track only to realize the best way to handle the situation is to not murmur another word relevant to that topic.
That's right, we're talking about several words to avoid at all costs during any stage of interviews.
1. "Obsessed." Yes, obsessed can connote an intense, passionate emotion, but when you say it in a prospective job situation, hiring managers might immediately think about "Fatal Attraction." Considering the word technically means to talk or think about something too much, there's another angle to it, too. Most hiring managers want to feel like they can hang out with the candidate in a job situation, that you fit well with the team and have something to shoot the breeze about aside from work. If you only live, breathe, eat and sleep work, you're not a very well-rounded individual.
Words to use instead: You can get the message across by saying you're passionate, captivated by, immersed in or hooked by the industry.
2. "And whatnot." Here's the thing about fillers like "whatnot" and "you know" -- they're just that. They don't explain anything further and don't demonstrate anything of substance. They merely add empty words. Hiring managers want to see that you're articulate in a meaningful way, which sometimes means less is more. Think of some sentences as a tweet. Do you need to articulate what you're saying in more than 140 characters aloud? Instead of saying, "I was responsible for leading a team of 10 people during year-end accruals and whatnot." Simply delete the last two words and you'll sound a lot more intelligent.
Words to use instead: Nothing. Silence is your friend. Try to visualize the sentence and simply cut out unnecessary words; this is particularly simple to do at the end of a sentence. Don't stop there -- try eliminating fillers when you're immersed in casual conversations with family and friends. Ask yourself if those words help illustrate your point. Get into the habit of doing this casually and it will feel normal to no longer rely on fillers in interviews.
3. Curse words. What's a little F-bomb here and there, right? Just say no! Even if the interviewer is casual and speaks with a dirty mouth, you shouldn't go there whatever you do. It may be tempting if you're caught up in the moment and accustomed to dropping a less obscene word here and there -- it may even seem innocent. But there are certainly enough words in the English language to get your point across without having to swear. Again, practice reducing your swearing, even if it sounds corny: "When travel schedules got rearranged at the last minute and it was incredibly stressful, I remember thinking, 'Fudge, how is this going to get done?' I came up with a plan overnight and implemented it with my team."
Words to use instead: Sometimes you can simply eliminate the profane word altogether; in other instances, feel free to go with a squeaky-clean substitute since it still gets the point across. That's right -- the rated G-version. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with your seven-year-old niece hearing the words you're saying, or if you'd feel comfortable with a transcript of your interview being published on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Keep it clean, just like you wouldn't necessarily swear in a work-related email.
4. "No." Any form of this word just comes across as closed off. Even using a phrase like, "That wasn't my job but it was hard to say no ..." can be dangerous, as the hiring manager may lose sight of what you're saying and just hear the word "no." And sure, in some instances you may need to describe where you pushed back or had to stand up for yourself by using the word, but you always want to turn the situation into a positive.
Words to use instead: You can often turn negative situations and descriptions into more optimistic, positive ones. If you're explaining how something couldn't be done because you were inundated with work, or that it wasn't your job yet it was difficult to say no, you can say, "I really wanted to take on the additional work and say yes to a colleague, but I had to remain fixated on my main priorities so I had a discussion with my manager. We decided the solution was to hire a temp to help out for the season so I could get the top priorities accomplished for the department while the temp was able to handle paperwork and answer phone calls."
5. Describing a victim mentality. If you're tempted to dwell on the recession or the tight job market or the abundance of competition or the temperature of the weather outside as a reason why you haven't been working for a while or why you haven't gotten ahead, think again. Employers don't want to hear excuses even though they may valid. Sure, you can say something like, "I graduated from college in the middle of the recession and as you can imagine, competition for few jobs was fierce." You're stating a fact and then coming up with a solution.
Words to use instead: "I decided that was the ideal time to pursue a graduate degree and now that I've completed it and worked in retail for two years just to make ends meet, I'm ready to put my knowledge to good use." Don't play victim to your circumstances; employers want to see how you thought outside the box and took initiative even when economic situations or external factors may have played a role in telling your employment story.
Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job. This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading.
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