Phrases You Should Avoid Saying In Interviews

Preparing for interviews can be a challenge. Overprepare, and you’ll come across as stilted and robotic. Underprepare, and you’ll look foolish and flounder. You can’t go wrong, however, with taking the time to understand what you shouldn’t say. Here are ten words and phrases that really turn interviewers off:

‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’

Who isn’t? Claiming to be a perfectionist, especially when asked for areas where you can improve, is cliched and cringeworthy – which is a pain for us real perfectionists out there! If you’re asked for one of your weaknesses, be honest, and explain what you’ve been doing to improve. For example, you might mention that you have a poor long-term memory, but that you’ve started to address this issue by carrying a notepad with you when you’re at work.


You want to sound eloquent and thoughtful, but that’s hard to achieve if every sentence starts with an ‘um’ or a ‘like’. We all use fillers, even more so when we’re nervous, so this isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, but you may want to practice speaking without them to friends and family so that you know that you can when the situation demands it. Speaking slowly often helps.


Using ‘actually’, as in ‘Actually, I speak two languages’, distances you from your interviewer by implying that they were somehow wrong or mistaken – don’t forget that you want your interviewer to like you! Often, people use ‘actually’ unnecessarily, but if your interviewer really does make a mistake, find a gentler way to correct them.


If you spill your glass of water all over the table, definitely apologise, but don’t preface each sentence with an apology. Saying ‘sorry’ over and over again will make your interviewer uncomfortable, and no one wants to hire someone who makes them feel uncomfortable. More than that, apologising before speaking reveals a lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take responsibility for your own thoughts and opinions.

‘I don’t know’

At some point in the interview you’re bound to be asked a question you just don’t know the answer to. Don’t panic. Rather than saying ‘I don’t know’, take a breath and ask for a minute to think. This shows that you don’t give up at the first hurdle. Whatever you do, don’t try to buy time by complimenting the interviewer for their question – it’s transparent and often comes across as patronising. If it’s possible, take an educated guess, and if the worst comes to the worst, tell them you’ll have to get back to them.


Even if you think a relaxed attitude to swearing is part of the company’s culture, it’s best not to test that theory during the interview. Even if your interviewer is foul-mouthed, that doesn’t mean you should be. Just don’t take the risk.

‘I’m a problem-solver’

Show, don’t tell. Anyone can say they’re a problem-solver, so what you need is evidence. Give an example of when you and your team faced a challenge and talk your interviewer through how you found a solution. There’s no need to blow your own trumpet – the evidence will speak for itself.

‘I’m a dedicated team-player’

Another meaningless platitude which doesn’t tell your interviewer anything substantive. Buzz words won’t impress, so don’t use them. Instead, show them you’re a team player by giving them an example of occasions when you worked well with a group.

‘I can’t’

Telling an interviewer that you can’t do something can sound pretty negative. You want to show that you’re open to new tasks, even if they take you out of your comfort zone. If you’re really being asked to do something beyond your competence, make it clear that you would be prepared to learn the necessary skills. You should even enquire about any training that the company can provide.


Don’t hate anything. Not your job, not your colleagues, and certainly not your boss. When interviewers hear the word ‘hate’ they immediately think ‘high risk candidate’. Be sure to adopt a positive attitude toward everything and everyone for as long as you’re in the interview.

  Read our top ten interview tips.

Oliver Hurcum writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs.