Making it to the interview stage of a job search is definitely something to be proud of. You put so much effort into fine-tuning your resume and cover letter, and clearly it was worth it! But hold off on any premature celebrations, since the upcoming interview is an even bigger hurdle to jump over. The interview is your opportunity to let your personality shine, so don’t let yourself down!
There are clear blunders you want to avoid, like arriving late or pronouncing the employer’s name wrong, but there’s something else that can easily trip you up: delivering the same old, empty phrases everyone’s heard before. We talked with two career counseling experts about these phrases and how you should fix them, so take note and you’ll be on the road to landing the job!
1. “I’m a hard worker.”
You probably have good intentions if you use this phrase, but ultimately, it falls flat unless you back it up.
“Rather than use a really common phrase like this, give specific examples of instances that show you worked hard,” says Patricia Antonelli, the associate director of career counseling and programs at Boston University’s Center for Career Development.
When you bring in a past example, be sure to pick one that will really impress the employer. “You don’t want to mention how you are good at following directions and getting things done on time, because being a hard worker doesn’t mean you just got done what was expected of you,” says Suzanne Dagger, director of career development and assessment at Hofstra University’s Career Center. “It means you’ve gone above and beyond to do something greater than what you were asked.”
This would be the perfect opportunity to bring up how you climbed your way up to the position of editor at your school newspaper by spending that extra time to thoroughly report your stories. Similarly, you could bring up those few weeks at your summer internship when you arrived early every day in order to get a project done quicker so you could take on extra tasks.
2. “I’m very flexible.”
You’re flexible—like you’re an ace at gymnastics? Really though, a vague statement like this won’t do you much good. This type of statement could cause a misunderstanding between you and the employer: Maybe you’re referring to your willingness to take on new tasks, and the employer is thinking you’re flexible about your potential salary or hours. Be specific about what you mean!
Antonelli suggests bringing up a past instance to back up this statement. “Maybe during an internship, you were asked to stay late and work on a project they needed extra hands with,” Antonelli says. “An example like this is the perfect type to bring up if you want to prove your adaptability.”
Aside from showing your flexibility in terms of taking on extra work hours, you might also want to mention an instance when you were given a new task that you were unfamiliar with but eager to learn about. Employers will be delighted by your willingness to try new things.
3. “I’m highly qualified for this position.”
While you may in fact be highly qualified for the position, it’s really up to the employer to decide how good of a fit you are, so try not to come off as if you’re doing the employer’s job for him or her. Rather than definitively saying that you’re qualified, prove it by explaining why you want the job and what skills you can bring to the table.
Dagger says the best way to prove your qualifications is by bringing up past work experiences and explaining why they’re relevant. “Before you go in to the interview, ask yourself, ‘If I were the hiring manager, what skills would I be looking for?’ and make a list of them,” Dagger says. “Then, take that list and ask yourself how you got those skills, and think of anecdotes to use as proof.”
If the job description lists being a quick learner as a required qualification, think back to a moment that best demonstrates how fast you can take on new tasks. Perhaps at an internship you were asked to fill the position of someone else at the very last minute, and you had to quickly learn the ropes in order to successfully complete his or her tasks.
4. “Like” and “um”
Okay, so these aren’t exactly phrases that relate to the skills you want to show off, but they’re words you want to avoid repeating over and over. Naturally, many of us feel extremely nervous during interviews, and that can lead to us injecting filler language into the conversation. Repeating words like these may not necessarily ruin your chances of getting the job, but they sure can be distracting.
Antonelli says you may always be nervous, but you can “try your best to avoid using words like ‘um’ by practicing beforehand, since you can never have too much interview practice.” Many schools’ career centers offer mock interviews, and you can even find free tools online that simulate an interview. If the tool involves recording what you say, you can listen to your responses and see what words you’re repeating too often.
Even just practicing with a friend and recording your voice on your cell phone can help, according to Dagger, who also believes practice is the best solution to reducing filler language. “If your awareness of potential interview questions is high, then you should have a high awareness of what you want to say,” she says. “So if you have an idea in your mind of how to answer, you won’t be grasping as hard for ideas in the interview.”
5. “I really admire (company name).”
By the time you’ve made it to the interview, it should be a given that you show interest in the company—otherwise, why are you applying? Of course it’s important to praise the company, but you don’t need to say it in such a formulaic way that employers can see right through it.
“You need to be able to give some concrete examples if you want the employer to truly see that you’re interested in the company,” Antonelli says. “You want to do your research beforehand and find something unique you like about the organization without regurgitating all of the latest company news.”
Once you set your interview date, take some time to thoroughly research the company, which entails more than just reading the “About” page of its website. Take a look at the company’s social media pages to find out not only what the brand is all about, but also to see what the latest news may be. Who knows? The employer may even ask you if there’s a recent project you’re especially interested in.
While you want to mention anything about the company that caught your eye, refrain from making any criticisms. You want to praise the company, not bash it! To make yourself stand out even more, research other industry competitors and bring up something this company does that the others don’t.
6. “Awesome” or “you know?”
Casual language can impact how an employer perceives you. Antonelli says that words like “awesome” almost naturally come out because we use them so often with our friends in a casual environment. “Even if the employer is more laid-back and might even be using slang, you still want to stick with the more professional side,” Antonelli says.
When an employer is doing the talking, perhaps when she’s describing the position more in-depth, and there’s a brief pause in the conversation, you may feel the need to respond. This is where you might subconsciously pipe in with a “sweet” or “nice!” Instead, Dagger advises using full sentences and saying something more along the lines of, “That sounds great to me.”
When it comes to using statements like, “you know?” the question-like tone makes it seem as though you’re unsure of yourself. “A lot of us have a tendency to end statements with ‘you know?’ and it makes you come off as unconfident, which is something you never want to happen in an interview,” Dagger says. Again, practicing being interviewed is a great way to see if you have this tendency and be mindful of it when the real thing happens.
Just the thought of having to talk about yourself to potential employers may make you cringe, but don’t get too anxious! Use our tips to steer clear of these dreaded phrases, and you’ll be able to prove to the employer how amazing you really are.