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Job Interview Language – What to Say and What to Avoid

Job interview language – the words you use to demonstrate your experience, expertise and career goals during an interview can make the difference between getting the offer or hearing “no thanks.” Follow these guidelines to note words to use and words to avoid during your job interview.

Definitely use these:

“How did I do?”

This just might be one of the most important questions to ask. It sets you apart as most people will shy away from addressing it. Asking how you did shows interest, and candidates who genuinely come across as interested in the job are always well received. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to mitigate any concerns the interviewer might have right there on the spot. The longer a concern “festers” the bigger an issue it can become. It can also clear up any miscommunication that may have arisen during the interview, and gives you one last chance to reiterate why you are the best fit for the job.

“I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you….”

Professional background information is easily attainable these days. Be sure to do your homework and familiarize yourself with the people you are interviewing with. Look for areas of common ground. Did you go to the same school? Live in the same town? Do you have the same hobbies? Finding parallels between your interviewer and yourself is a great way to establish a connection – it shows you came prepared and allows you to add a “human touch” to the interview which is a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition.

“My references will tell you that I am {insert positive attribute here….}”

Having strong references from past employers is critical in a competitive market. Mentioning them in the interview shows that you have already lined up a list of people who will vouch for you. References are very important when it comes to not only verifying specific skills, but more importantly, validating “subjective” skills that you can’t put on a resume like being a team player, self-motivated, flexible, take constructive criticism well, have a strong work ethic, etc.

“May I have your business card?”

It may seem old school, but sending well-written thank you notes is still a way to score major points with your prospective employer and also a way to reiterate why you are the best candidate for the job. Both handwritten and email formats are acceptable (don’t forget to spell check!). Be sure to make the note specific to the person you met with, and add points from your conversation. Reiterate your interest in the job and reinforce key points that are relevant to what the company is looking for in this hire.

Definitely avoid these:

“I want to be a CIO/CFO/Director in five years.”

When asked “Where do you want to be in five years?” one of the worst responses a candidate can give is to name a specific position, especially if it is overly ambitious or unrealistic. While ambition isn’t a bad thing, being unrealistic is, and you might be perceived as someone who doesn’t have a good handle on the market. Additionally, talking about a specific role might lock you into a path that is not attainable at the company and might make you look less open-minded. A better response to this common question is: “When I look back in five years on my time in this organization, I want to know that I made a real difference in the organization/department/technical landscape” – whatever description best applies to your chosen field.

“I am looking for a 20% increase in salary and a signing bonus.”

The salary question is one of the most important questions asked during an interview, and one of the biggest areas where candidates can knock themselves out of the running. The danger comes in two forms: aiming too high and aiming too low. If you aim too high, thinking it will give you more leverage to negotiate a higher offer, most of the time the perception is that your decision to change jobs is all about money and less about the opportunity. No one wants to hire the person who is only in it for the money.

If you aim too low, you might do yourself a disservice and undercut your value. The best way to handle this question, especially early on in the interview process is to say, “I am looking for a fair and reasonable offer based on market value for my skills.” This way you leave the door open to negotiate, you send the message that you are most interested in making sure you are accepting the job for the right reasons, and most importantly, this is an honest answer for most people out there. At the end of the process, you might find out the position you interviewed for is the “dream job” and just might be worth accepting at a lesser salary than you originally had in mind.

“My last boss was a real jerk.”

While this may be true, speaking in a negative way about past employers is never, ever, a good idea. In the end, you only make yourself look bad. Find ways to put a positive spin on your reasons for leaving a past company, and keep them fact-based vs. emotion-based. For example, did your last employer report poor financial results for several quarters in a row? Was the commute too long for you? Did funding get cut for a major project? Had your position reached a peak and there was no room to grow in your career? Keeping your answers logical will make sense to a prospective employer. Bashing your last employer will make the employer question whether or not you might be a “problem child” and be difficult to manage.

“No, I don’t have any questions for you.”

This is by far the biggest kiss of death at the end of an interview. Even if you got all of your major questions answered during the course of the interview, find other job related questions to ask: “What would be the first project I would work on if I were to be hired?” or “What do you consider to be the biggest challenges this hire will face in the first 30 days on the job?” Asking smart questions shows interest and intelligence. Asking no questions will guarantee you do not get invited to the next step in the interview process.

When preparing for your interview, think carefully about the words and phrases you will use and avoid. Job interview language is key in landing you a new opportunity or getting shown the door.

Photo credit: Unsplash

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