RockIt Careers

What Not to Talk About in an Interview

One of the fun things about being a Recruiter is that we often learn a lot about different lines of work, people’s twists and turns in their career path, and interesting facts. Sometimes, however, the interview can take a bizarre turn that I couldn’t have anticipated before dialing their phone number or walking into an interview room.

In fact, it wasn’t too long ago, that we were interviewing for a contract salesperson. He got a little too comfortable way too early in our conversation with him. He dropped the f-bomb three times and said a few other choice words in addition. At no point was he angry. It was just part of his regular, everyday, vocabulary. Now, I don’t have anything against profanity, per say. That said, there’s a time and place for it and a job interview is neither the time nor the place to start sounding like a drunken sailor.

As we wrapped up our interview and he collected his things, shook our hands, and started to turn toward the door. I said, “Have a great f—ing day!”

No, I didn’t actually say that, but it sure was at the tip of my tongue. Needless to say, he wasn’t chosen for the job.

Besides profanity, there are a lot of other things you shouldn’t say during an interview. Today we’re going to talk about a few of those topics you should not bring up.

Politics & Religion

Since the days in which we were all young lads and lasses, I’m guessing we were all told by our parents and teachers that polite conversations never get into politics or religion. This axiom is truer today than ever. Granted, political and religious differences have always existed, but from what I can tell, the dividing lines are getting bigger.

Although you might be lucky to be in an interview where both of you agree on everything, the chances of that are rare. So, it’s better just to stick to the basics. If you’re having a little small-talk on the way to the interview room, just talk about your drive in, the nice( or not so nice) weather outside, or complimenting him or her on the office aesthetics. As you start getting questions, stay on topic and answer them. Given that it’s illegal for them to ask you about your religion (unless the job is for a religious organization, where it’s job relevant), you shouldn’t have to worry about this one. Just avoid bringing up current political events and you should be fine.

Personal Failures

This one isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb. To get hired, you need to associate yourself with winning and success. Talking about your failures isn’t going to get you there, unless it comes with a story of how you overcame that failure or learned something so that, in long-run you came out ahead.

For example, if you dropped out of college because you partied too hard that first semester, you could talk about it by saying something like this:

I realized early on that academics wasn’t right for me. I discovered that I learn better when I work on something hands-on than I do from a book. So, I decided to get a job and learn some solid skills instead. That first job helped me develop my skills in sales and persuasion. This helped me get my next position, where I developed my leadership and presentation skills. And here I am today. I don’t regret the decision I made because it was the only logical one to make. That failure really served me well and set me up for my success.

That’s a whole lot better than, “I flunked out of three classes because I didn’t like studying.”

Every gray cloud has a silver lining. It’s your job to focus on the silver lining and not the gray cloud.

Family Disputes

Having issues with parents, siblings, spouses, or children, can have the power to take over your entire life. It becomes difficult to compartmentalize home life and work life, but it’s essential to do so.

Don’t let the emotions that come from a fight with your husband or wife that morning spill over into the interview that afternoon. Just as they advise you never to drive while you’re angry because you become more aggressive and erratic, the same thing will happen to you in an interview. We don’t want you to crash and burn!

Give yourself some time to calm down before walking into the office for the interview. If you absolutely can’t get yourself together, call the interviewer and ask to reschedule. It’s less than ideal to do this at late notice, but it beats the alternative. Just tell them that you have a personal issue you need to attend to, apologize profusely, and thank them for their flexibility. Coming from the Recruiter end of the conversation, I can assure you that we all understand that things come up. We’re not going to hold it against you the first time, but don’t make a habit of doing this. Then it becomes a pattern.

Bad Managers or Co-Workers

You might think that by talking about other people’s flaws, you’re making yourself look good. Well, you’re wrong. It makes you look petty and self-centered. It makes the interviewer question your judgement and wonder what you’ll say about their company after you work there.

Sure, we’ve all had bad bosses and co-workers, but that doesn’t mean we have to talk about it for any length. If you’re ever asked in an interview, “Tell me about a time when you had a bad boss” or “Give me an example of when you had to work with a difficult co-worker,” never go into specifics and never dwell on the person. Keep the conversation at a high level and focus your answer on how you worked through the situation or overcame the problem. I’d also preface your answer with the statement, “I get along with just about everyone” and then give your example of one time that was outside the norm. And whatever example you give, it should always have a positive outcome.

Too Many Demands or Preferences

A few months ago, we had a personal consultation with a younger client. When we got to the question of what type of job and environment she was looking for, it quickly became apparent that if she said something like what she was telling us in an interview, she’d be lucky to get an offer. Clearly it’s OK to be selective and know what you want, but I would strongly advise not to advertise your list in an interview. It’s a turn-off.

So what did this young lady tell us she wanted in a work environment and job? She said she wanted freedom because past employers didn’t like her using her cell phone or listening to music quietly. She also didn’t want to work anywhere further than 20 minutes from her home. Additionally, she wanted work that was “mentally stimulating” because she gets easily bored. Preferably, she would be working with people as she hated being stuck in a cubicle. And finally, she wanted a flexible schedule.

She was a nice girl, but do you know what she sounded like when she went through this list? She sounded a little bit self-entitled and lot like someone who would be difficult to work with. If I were the hiring manager, I would have given her a hard pass.

Instead of telling them everything you want or don’t want, giving them the wrong perception of you, give them big picture kind of answer. For example, say that you’re looking for opportunities to be challenged and that your looking for a job where you can grow your skill set. At the end of the interview, ask them questions about the company, it’s work environment and culture, communication style, etc. This avoids putting yourself in a poor light and also gives you the opportunity to make sure that the job and company is right for you.

PTO, Holidays, Pay, and Benefits

I know, Columbus Day is coming up and you’d really like to know if the company you’re interviewing with has that day off, but resist the temptation to ask the question in an interview. Likewise, you probably shouldn’t ask about how many days you’d get off if you’re hired. If you don’t heed my advice, the interviewer is going to be wondering, “Does this person actually want to work here or just take vacations?”

Pay and benefits are another topic that you shouldn’t bring up in the interview. It’s not considered polite and makes you out to be only interested in the money and not the job. Both topics can be freely discussed when an offer is on the table, however. If the person on the other side of the conversation happens to ask you about your salary history or expectations, you should avoid giving away too much information. For more information on how to do this, read this article.


Gossip is probably one of the worst things you could do in an interview. Sure, it’s fun to tell and fun to listen to, but it’s never going to get you a job. Why? Because, as an interviewer, I would think in the back of my mind, “If I hire this guy, what’s he going to say about me and my company while he works here? Worse, what’s he going to say when he leaves!?”

The other land mine you’re likely to step on is gossiping about someone that’s a friend of the interviewer. If you’re in a small job field, small industry, or small town, everyone in your profession knows one another. So, you just never know who you might offend or upset. Like your mother probably told you (but I believe Aesop said it first), “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Those are pretty good words to live by.

Stick to Talking About How You’re the Right Person for the Job

I realize that a lot of this seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many interviews I’ve had where at least one of these faux pas happen. This was just a good reminder of what to avoid. But I thought I’d end on what you should talk about instead.

At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple. Hiring Managers want to know how you’re going to contribute to their organization. They want to know how you’re going to make them money, save them money, save them time, and make things more productive. In other words, they want to know how you’re going to make them look good.

To do this, you need to think about what you’ve done, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve accomplished that you can translate into their company in that role. Write these things down in story-form. Add some details, include some characters, and provide the context. We’re not asking you to write an Academy Awarded script, but make it a little compelling by describing the situation leading up to the issue, talk about what you were supposed to do and how you acted on it, and then wrap it up with the result. Show how this ties into the job you’re interviewing for.

If you do this from the beginning of the interview to the end, avoiding everything else we just discussed, you’re going to be one of their top candidates.

About RockIt Career Consultation Services

At RockIt Career Consultation Services, our mission is to help you discover your true strengths and use these strengths to set your course to something more rewarding and exciting in your career.

We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.

We’d love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!