Interview with confidence: Five things not to say in a job interview

November 8, 2015, 7:48am

By Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Forbes

In my acting days, a casting director gave this great piece of advice: Stop thinking of the casting director as the enemy. The casting director wants nothing more than that next audition to feature THE ONE, so the project can get casted and everyone can move on….If you replace “casting director” with “recruiter” and “audition” with “job interview”, then the sentiment holds true for non-acting jobs as well.

When I recruited, I always wanted candidates to do well in job interviews because then my searches would be done faster! Yet, candidates get all worked up over job interviews and sabotage themselves with self-denigrating remarks and weak statements.

The recruiter wants to like you. Help them like you! Here are five confidence-killers to avoid:

I’m nervous

I once interviewed a candidate for an administrative position whose experience included working full-time while finishing college full-time, supporting multiple executive-level people in a demanding industry, and other accomplishments which clearly demonstrated a track record for grit and achievement-orientation. I can’t even remember my question (it wasn’t tricky), but she paused for what I thought was a moment to reflect and then burst out, “I’m nervous.”

Why would you say that even if it’s true? A moment ago, this candidate was unflappable in my eyes, but now she’s a self-described bundle of nerves. Keep your anxiety to yourself. Don’t say you’re nervous, don’t say sheepishly that it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed, don’t apologize or forewarn the interviewer about anything. You don’t want the interviewer to pity you.

I shouldn’t say this but…

There is no way to complete this statement with something that should ever be said in a job interview. I’ve heard this introductory phrase only used with things you actually shouldn’t say – I shouldn’t say this but I don’t like my role/ department/ boss/ industry; I shouldn’t say this but I never intended to end up in accounting; I shouldn’t say this but I was attracted to the prestige/ money/ glamour.

Keep negative statements or bad decisions to yourself. A good interviewer will probe anyway to find difficult situations and how you overcome them. Prepare for this line of questioning, but don’t volunteer it.

I know I don’t have _________

Just as you don’t volunteer negative stories, don’t volunteer missing skills or prerequisites. If the interviewer asks you for a skill you don’t have, mention what you do have:

Interviewer: Have you worked on email marketing campaigns?

Candidate: I have put together internal employee communications that have used multiple autoresponders and other features similar to email marketing campaigns.

The above is a paraphrase of an actual interview exchange I had when I was recruiting for a senior marketing role. I pushed the candidate on his response to confirm that he had indeed not done email marketing, but I appreciated how he led with what he had done. It gave me confidence he could figure things out as he went along.

I have to confess…

“I have to confess I’m a bit of a geek,” said the candidate I was interviewing for a special projects role, who then preceded to share her knowledge of productivity hacks.

Why make something a confession? It sets up your statement to be something bad or at least secretive, rather than a selling point you would want to shout from the rafters. I’ve only heard this phrase in a job interview precede something that is clearly a selling point – I have to confess I’ve been following your company for years; I have to confess I’ve always been a news junkie; I have to confess I love diving into the details.

This is the job interview equivalent of a humblebrag – I’m so bad I’m good! Sell your unique value without apology – I’m a geek and here are some tools I recommend, I’ve been following your company for years and here’s what’s so impressive…Build on your expertise; don’t water it down.

I’m a quick learner

Being a quick learner is a good thing. But the only time I’ve heard this otherwise positive attribute raised in a job interview is to address an area the candidate doesn’t know. So essentially the candidate is admitting, “Hey, I haven’t bothered to learn it yet, so I’m going to emphasize how fast I could learn it if I had bothered.”

If there is something in the job description you don’t have direct experience in, you need to demonstrate something you’ve already done or learned to compensate, not just your intention.

For example, I coached a senior communications executive who didn’t have much social media experience. She didn’t offer to learn it; she came into the interview with her assessment of the company’s social media activity, as well as an assessment of their competitors. She showed them she knew social, not an empty promise that she could learn.

**The author covers tips for career changers on how to interview with confidence in Step 9 her new book, Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career, part of the Forbes Signature Series.