8 things you should never say to a job interviewer

Make sure you don’t blow your interview by letting one of these eight interview-killing statements slip during your interview.

1. “Sorry I’m late; it’s hard to find a reliable babysitter.” First, you shouldn’t be late. But beyond that, don’t make statements that will make employers worry that you’ll have trouble keeping your family commitments from impacting your reliability at work. Employers do understand that people have families, but if family interferes with your ability to show up on time for an interview, they’ll assume you’ll frequently be late or absent from work too.

2. “I’m planning a month-long trip around the holidays.” If you have pre-planned vacation time, the time to raise it is once you have a job offer—at which point you can make it part of your negotiations. But announcing you’ll be gone from work for a month while an interviewer is still making up her mind about you is a good way to having your name crossed off the list.

3. “I hate Republicans/Democrats/Libertarians.” Unless you’re interviewing for a job in politics, statements about your political beliefs don’t belong in a job interview. No matter what clues you might think you’re getting about your interviewer’s political affiliation, you can’t know for sure, and you risk alienating her. Or you might simply come across as someone who doesn’t have the sense to avoid hot-button topics in a business conversation.

4. “My dream job is to work on a cruise ship, teaching pottery.” Unless you’re applying to work on a cruise ship or to teach pottery, this answer will set off alarm bells for employers. Interviewers want to know that the job you’re applying for fits in with your longer-term career goals. Otherwise, they worry that you won’t be satisfied with the work and/or will leave as soon as a path to your dream job comes along.

5. “I’m pregnant.” Although it’s illegal for most employers to discriminate based on pregnancy, plenty of interviewers are still going to think, “We have an important event right when she’ll be out on maternity leave, and candidate B, who is not pregnant, would be able to be there for it.” Don’t risk that happening. Wait until you have a job offer before you mention your pregnancy.

6. “My last boss was crazy.” You last boss might have been utterly insane, but the business convention is that you don’t speak badly of previous employers in a job interview. No matter how correct your assessment of your old boss might be, you’ll raise a red flag for your interviewer if you badmouth her.

7. “Wow—your receptionist is really cute.” You might as well just announce, “I’m going to sexually harass your staff if I get this job, because I don’t understand professional boundaries.”

8. “No, I don’t have any questions for you.” You’ll be spending at least 40 hours a week in this job, and there’s nothing you want to know? If you don’t have questions for your interviewer—about the work, the team, the culture, and so forth—you’ll signal that you’re either not very interested or not very thoughtful.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Very interesting.

    #5 – Pregnancy. This is true until she’s showing.

    #8 – Yup. I learned that lesson when I first started out.

    1. Karen*

      I had the same issue with #5. I don’t think I have to tell an interviewer – they’re going to notice immediately. And unfortunately, I’ll have no way to know whether they’re illegally crossing me off of the list because of it.

  2. Bridgette*

    #7 – I chuckled at this one, but it is indeed a serious matter. I would be really bothered if someone said that to me during an interview.

    #8 – Should you always have questions to ask during a phone screening? Background: A couple weeks ago I had a surprise phone screening – I got a call from a hiring manager over a month after I had put in an application for a job, and I had pretty much written it off by that point. The phone screen consisted of “Are you still interested in this job?” and two questions about my application, where I basically reiterated what I had said on the app. The hiring manager asked me if I had any questions, and at the time I did not, because she told me that she would call me back to schedule a formal interview, and so I figured my questions could wait until then – and indeed, they were questions that would require a significant amount of a dialogue (and I wanted to ask them in person). I did not get a call back for an interview.

    1. Ivy*

      Re: #8
      Would it be better to say something like “I have a few questions, but I’d like to save them for the formal interview where we have a chance to talk in person.”? This way you can show that you have questions without having to go through the process of asking them right there. Thoughts?

      1. Bridgette*

        I like that phrasing. Thanks for the suggestion! (There was probably a lot I could have worded differently, I’m not very good at phone interviews any way, much less surprise ones. Gotta be prepared for anything!)

        1. Long Time Admin*

          Bridgette, if you need to, make a cheat sheet and keep it by your phone. I found that it would immediately calm me down, give me some “good words” to say, and help the interview process. You don’t have to read it verbatim, but just getting the reminder of what you want to say will help.

          When I worked as a temp, one thing I always did was write down what I was supposed to say when I answered the phone. It was too easy to use the phrase from the last assignment if I was immersed in work. Then I had a confused caller to contend with.

          1. Ivy*

            I do this too… Though sometimes I find it backfires on me. I plan out something so much that I make myself even more nervous while rehearsing, and then I mess it up when it comes time to shine. For some reason I only get this with phones…

            One thing I find has helped me is to use the speaker phone option. It makes me feel like I’m talking in-person and calms me down a bit. (Yay for irrational phone jitters!)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If you do that, make sure you have a REALLY good quality speaker phone. I find that it’s sometimes hard to hear someone clearly when they’re talking on speaker phone — it often affects the sound quality.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Please make sure you ask before you put someone on speaker, and don’t initiate calls while on it. I used to get people who called on speaker and as soon as I picked up, they would switch it off, and the first thing I heard was a loud *CLUNK* sound that always made me wince. >_<

            3. Ivy*

              Not to worry! I have a solid speaker phone system (as a result of persistent phone nerves). I have it down to an art form :P

        2. Ivy*

          I 100% agree… Phones and I do not get along. I make a much better in-person impression. Also, I hate when I have a surprise interview. I feel like interviewers sometimes forget that a quick “get to know you chat” for them is nerve wracking for us. :(

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        I actually would not, personally, say that. To me, it seems presumptuous, because it shows that you already think you’re getting an in-person interview. Plus, I tend to think that there is no inherent value to speaking in person instead of over the phone, especially when you’re talking about the very preliminary parts of the process. In practice, I think this would actually sound a bit like those pushy sales-type “tactics,” even if that’s not how its intended.

        1. Bridgette*

          I can see how it might come across as sales-pushy. I would certainly evaluate the tactic for each situation. In this one, she said, “I am going to call you by this date after I check other people’s schedules for openings” (the other interviewers), so I assumed I would be having an interview. Of course, I should never assume anything when it comes to jobs.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You can always simply say, “Can you tell me a bit more about the work?” or “What are the key things you’re looking for for this role?” or pretty basic questions like that that will apply to any job but will also (presumably) be things that you’ll actually want to know every time. I’d probably do that rather than just deferring any questions to the in-person interview, since they do generally want to get the sense that you’re being thoughtful about whether this is the right job for you. If you say that you’ll wait for the interview, then you’re basically saying that you’ll come to the interview without having asked anything to determine if it’s even a job that you’re interested in.

    3. Janet*

      Other questions I almost always ask (and they usually never pop up during the phone interview):
      -Is this a newly formed position or a replacement for someone who has left the department recently? (I ask this because if it’s a new position, I really like to make sure that they have a clear idea of what this person will be doing and that they have enough job duties in mind for the position).

      -Would you be able to tell me a bit about how the department is structured? (Surprisingly this is almost never shared unless I ask and it’s a good way to see how well-staffed the group is).

      1. Ivy*

        Ooo both of those are great questions that I never thought of…. I’ll have to keep them in mind!

        AAM you should do a post about questions to ask in an interview. I’ve always struggled with the “do you have any questions for me” part :(

  3. ChristineH*

    #1 – What about being late due to commuting/transportation problems? I can’t drive, so I would have to get to interviews by other means. I always map out my route and estimate how much time I’ll need; I sometimes even do a “recon” to see the exact location and landmarks around it. However, things can and do happen when you’re at the mercy of public transportation! Of course I always try to make sure I have some wiggle room, but any suggestions for when even my best efforts fall short? (This is one reason why I try to apply for jobs close to home).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would leave yourself more of a buffer if you’re finding that you’re sometimes late. Fairly or not, it really can be the kiss of death. Better to kill an hour at a coffee shop beforehand than to be 10 minutes late.

      1. class factotum*

        Sort of – sort of related.

        And if you show up an hour early for an alumni party to send off the new freshmen and decide to go to the party instead of driving around Memphis, seeing the sights, then don’t expect to be entertained while the hostesses are setting up. Offer to help! Honestly.

        And if you show up early the first year, when you come back the second year for the same event, you shouldn’t show up an hour early. Because by now you should know how long it takes to drive from Arkansas to Memphis. But if you do show up early, then by God, offer to help.

      2. ChristineH*

        *sigh* you’re right. My husband always says that to me, but I tend to balk at the suggestion because I’m so bad at “killing time”. I guess I could always just bring along my Kindle or just sit and quickly review any pre-interview notes (although that might just make the nerves worse lol).

        1. KellyK*

          Bringing the Kindle sounds like a good idea. Because public transit is *so* iffy, you might end up with an hour or more to kill, and there’s no way reviewing your notes should take that long. And yeah, it seems like it would make the nerves worse.

    2. FormerManager*

      I’ve been in your shoes lots of times and I echo the other posters who say to scope out a coffee shop. I used to take my interview notes and fanatically review them but after a while I just got a cup of coffee and read either a book or newspaper.

      (I recommend choosing reading material that’s not “embarassing” professionally, in case a potential co-worker, manager or even the interviewer stops by. So I’d leave 50 Shades of Gray at home. Ideally, try to have a trade magazine or other publication relating to the field available to read.)

      Having hired before, late arrivals are a pain, especially since we were a short office with two conference rooms, one of which was constantly being used. So late arrivals really disrupted everyone’s schedule to the point that if someone told me they would be significantly late, I would just (politely) tell them not to bother coming in.

    3. Anonymous*

      I always do a recon and scope out places to hang out/fix clothes/stash backpack, etc. I know it’s a pain, but I consider “testing out” the commute to be part of my interview of this prospective employer.

      1. ChristineH*

        Oooh I actually didn’t even think about using the recon to scope out the hang-out places! Another time-saver :)

        Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

  4. Anonymous*

    I would make sure you get there early, even if it means you have to walk around outside for 30 minutes. Take the earlier train/bus.

    If you are showing up late to interviews because of public transportation, it is an indication you might also show up late to work because of public transportation.

      1. Bridgette*

        Are they stuck in the 60s?? I now want to query all my friends to see if they’ve had interviewees comment on their receptionists or other coworkers.

  5. anonymous*

    #5 (Pregnancy) I’m curious on how it should be handled once you are showing. I once interviewed for a position with a different division in my company when I was 7 months pregnant. I didn’t get the job (which turned out to be a good thing, as the requirements ended up being very different than originally presented to me), but I did get offered another,similar and more suitable, position by that hiring manager a year later. I had been advised by my local HR before going to interview not to mention being pregnant, even though it was quite visibly obvious. I felt so awkward not mentioning the elephant in the room, and I still wonder to this day what would have been the best way to handle it.

    1. fposte*

      I vote for don’t. Just because it’s visible doesn’t mean it’s a required or even appropriate topic in an interview.

      1. Bridgette*

        Also, if the interviewers have a shred of sense, they know that it’s bad form to ask even if it looks like you’re pregnant – some people may look like it, but are not pregnant. So even at 7 months I wouldn’t mention anything.

    2. Joey*

      Don’t mention it until you get the job. It has no impact on your qualifications. It’s only relevant once you have the job and need to plan for being out.

    3. AgilePhalanges*

      I see that everyone is saying not to mention it, but agree with anonymous that it would be awkward to avoid the obvious elephant in the room (so to speak!).

      Would acknowledging it then pointing out how it would NOT be a problem be okay, similar to any other “weakness” (real or perceived)?

      For example, “As you can see, I’m pregnant. However, I want to assure you that I have child care and emergency back-up childcare lined up (or my spouse works at home or stays home or whatever is true).” They can point out that their last pregnancy was super-smooth, if true, etc. and so on.

      I would guess that you would NOT want to bring up the timing of your due date, length of maternity leave you’re hoping to take, potential work-from-home opportunities, etc., unless pressed very hard, and only to the extent necessary to assure them that you’re dedicated and won’t be taking advantage of anyone or anything.

      I don’t know–I’ve only been pregnant once, and since I was planning to be a stay-at-home mom, and moved a couple months prior to my due date, I was specifically looking for temporary work, and therefore the (very obvious) pregnancy wasn’t an issue. Ironically, though, the company I ended up temping at kept me on past the intial term, until *I* chose to leave prior to my due date, and later re-hired me after the baby was born and I decided to go back to work after all. So it all worked out for me, but I don’t know much about interviewing for a permanent job when pregnant.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The tough thing about this is that it’s likely to make the interviewer slightly uncomfortable because they can’t really ask questions or comment on it without worrying that they’re going to enter risky legal territory.

        1. ChristineH*

          Good point. I’d say that can also go for other “elephant” situations besides obvious pregnancy, such as a visible deformity, a cane or even obesity.

      2. fposte*

        In general, I’m uneasy with getting into anything they’re not allowed to consider; I think assuring people it won’t be a problem makes them think it would be a problem, and I think I would view information on a candidate’s last childbirth as way TMI. I’m seeing this as akin to wearing a hijab–people can see it, but it’s not relevant to the hire and thus doesn’t need to be talked about. There’s no reason for it to make people awkward–silence on it is probably stranger for the expectant parent, who’s used to talking about it a lot, than it will be for the interviewer.

        On the other hand, it occurs to me that if it’s mentioned then they can’t defend themselves against a discrimination charge by saying they didn’t know. I don’t think that’s enough to change my first thought, but it’s an interesting topic.

        1. AgilePhalanges*

          Good points and good discussion. I don’t plan to have any more kids, so I don’t tend to think about the issue much, so this is interesting.

  6. the gold digger*

    #3: The main reason I was looking for a job this summer was so that my husband could take an unpaid leave of absence from his engineering job to run for state-level office.

    I was very careful about how I addressed why I was looking for a job after six years of unemployment – I did not want to bring up politics at all. It’s a very divisive subject in this state! So I just said that my husband was making a career change that would have a financial impact on us. That seemed to be satisfactory.

    (Actually, I’m surprised it didn’t generate more questions – I am as nosy as heck and would want to know, “What kind of career change? What does he do now? What does he want to do?” I’m glad, though, because I really did not want to get into the details.)

    1. some1*

      I would think you could say, “My husband’s running for State Legislature/Senate/Assembly”, too. I would hope the interviewer wouldn’t ask about the political party. Although I might wonder if you’d need a lot of time off for campaign events

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think you’d probably get “Oh, who’s your husband?” from some people — not because it’s appropriate to ask in an interview, but because it might just slip out through natural curiosity.

      2. the gold digger*

        I would hope, as well! But things in this state have been really polarized over the past year and a half. I thought it better just not to get into it.

        As far as needing time off – fortunately, this is not a position where the spouse is a factor. Nobody is asking for my favorite recipes! But I am doing a lot of the back-end work at home in the evenings and on the weekends. I am definitely ready for Nov 7!

        (Plus that’s when I can start publishing the blog I’ve been writing about it. I have been posting almost every day since April, but publishing nothing. Better to wait until after the election.)

  7. Mike*

    I interviewed for a internal job where I met with some people who were already in the role so I learned a lot about what the position involves. At the start of the interview the hiring manager explained that it’s hard to desribe the day to day work becuase it vaires so much, but gave me some details. The manager then asked if I had any questions about the job description and I said no becuase one, I had learned so much from talking with others, and two, she basically said she couldn’t describe it any better than she just did. I of course asked three questions at the end of the interview.

    Did I shoot myself in the foot by not asking questions at the start?

    1. Natalie*

      A phrasing I’ve seen suggested and used before is “All of my questions have already been covered”.

      1. Vicki*

        I try to use something like “I was going to ask about how you manage the chocolate flow, but you covered that.”

        When it’s the in-house recruiter doing the phone screen, I really don;t know what to ask. My usual list of manager or co-worker questions won’t fit, and he’s covered my background, availability to interview, and rate.

        Suggestions for good questions to ask someone who probably doesn’t really know that much about the job itself?

        1. Mike*

          Yeah, when I’ve talked to recruiters they seem annoyed by the job specific questions as they admit that the hiring manager knows more than they do.

          I guess you could ask questions about the company, but then again you are supposed to research the company before you interview . . .

          I don’t think the asking questions thing is as simple as it’s made to sound.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I tend to think that people always have questions; it’s just a matter of whether they’ve thought them through yet or not. After all, this is a job you could be working in 40+ hours a week — surely you do have more questions about the work, the team, the culture, the manager …. I’m skeptical when people don’t, and I usually think it’s because they haven’t thought things through yet.

      1. Mike*

        Update: I got the promotion! Yay! So I guess I asked enough questions to let them know I’m interested, among other things.

  8. Ellie H.*

    Re. #3 – I had a very weird job interview a while ago (an internal position at the same place I work) where it was a very aggressive interviewing style with questions like “If you were in charge of the world, what would you change?” and “What kind of music do you like?” The former question devolved into a point where I said something about not believing in free market economics, which I really regretted because of the political element, even though it wasn’t me who had brought it up. I was moved on to the second stage of interviewing anyway but decided to remain in my current position (which I love, so all’s well that ends well).

    1. Anonymous*

      I think that your interviewer was a bit crazy and probably wanted an opportunity to talk about her own opinions more than she wanted to hear about your qualifications. Could be a roundabout ideological litmus test, but I’d go with crazy and high-maintenance boss.

      The only ways I could consider the “What music do you like?” question appropriate are: (1) You’re being interviewed for a job in the music industry, perhaps as a radio DJ. (2) The question is being used as an ice-breaker to try to get you more relaxed.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yes, he definitely shared his own feelings on the matter (I refused to answer what I would change about the world). It was a pretty combative interview style in which he was deliberately trying to unnerve me (which had no relevance to anything I would have performed in the job) and I was really turned off by that, as well as by the fact that the job posting turned out to be fake, the job I would be filling didn’t really exist and I would have had to invent/define my position myself, which I really didn’t want.

    2. Bridgette*

      I experienced an interview like that once! It was so strange. I think the interviewer was trying to get a sense of my soft skills and personality but it ended up being really awkward and I said some dumb stuff. Thank goodness I didn’t end up in his department (it was part of a day-long interview marathon at a university).

  9. Jennifer*

    We were once hiring for a temp job that started in November and ran through the winter. It was starting later in the month rather than earlier. We had 2 candidates to interview, one of which was quite spectacular, but…she had a 2 week long planned vacation in December, and I think she didn’t get the job ONLY because of that. Too bad, because the one we hired turned out to be not too great. But if someone wants you to start any time near to your December vacation, I think you’d either have to quit the vacation or realize that you’re not getting the job. Though in this girl’s case, I bet even if she’d kept quiet, she would have had the offer retracted had she waited until the offer was made to say that–only manager-types get that kind of leverage.

  10. some1*

    I like to ask why the position is open, & what’s the employee retention like in the dept and the entire org. Of course, you may not get 100% honest answers but I like to know that most employees are satisfied with the org in general.

      1. Kelly O*

        Elizabeth is so right – sometimes it’s not necessarily about what they say, but how they say it. You can sometimes tell a lot by changes in posture or tone of voice, especially when you ask about the culture/team.

  11. Molly*

    I just interviewed someone this morning who was 15 minutes late for the interview because the train was late. Very disappointing because he was an great candidate and did well in the interview. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but there’s a nagging feeling in my gut that if he’s hired he’ll be chronically late. If our other two candidates are excellent, the tardiness will definitely reflect negatively.

    1. Vicki*

      Please give him the benefit of the doubt.
      I was over an hour late to work one morning because a car failed to completely cross the tracks at one point and the entire train system shut down. Usually, the trains run on time. But “usually” is not “always”.
      Some things cannot be planned for. “Ordinary traffic” yes. “Gas truck overturned and on-fire, pavement melted, freeways closed for 3 hours”, no.

      1. Lisa*

        Well, those kinds of extreme examples are things that would show up in the news anyway. As someone who lives in the DC Metro area, there are always web/radio updates about something catastrophic like that…just yesterday there was a vehicle fire on one of the major interstates that shut down two lanes, and every ten minutes there was an update on the radio about traffic being backed up for miles and miles.

        In those situations, a good candidate would have called ahead and said “I’m stuck on I-95 in that overturned tanker truck debacle. Should I still come in or should we reschedule?”

      2. V*

        Yep, plain old lateness. “The train was late”? I’m in Boston, and the train is always “late”. Knowing that, if I had to take the MBTA to an interview I’d be giving myself a minimum of 1 hour of buffer time. If the train was over an hour late, it’d probably be one of these news-worthy circumstances.

        Molly, not that it matters much, but how did he act about his lateness? Was he mortified, or nonchalant about it?

  12. AG*

    Re #5: Also applies to the newly engaged. I have seen young ladies wearing just an engagement ring turned away because they will likely spend at least some office hours on planning their weddings. A rare few have even explicitly mentioned it with a, “Don’t worry, we’re planning on staying in town” message. Alison, I’m not sure if you’ve addressed it in the past, but I know Corporette has had lengthy discussions about whether young women should even wear engagement or wedding rings to the interview because employers will assume they (a) will spend work hours planning a wedding, (b) are newlyweds and are trying for kids, or (c) have young kids at home and will require more flexibility than the culture allows. Thoughts?

  13. Victoria*

    How about not calling the interviewer fat? :)

    I had a forklift candidate once who started telling me a story about a previous coworker, and he said “Now, you’re big, but she was REALLY big.” Thanks, dude…

  14. Zahra*


    Ha! I have been telling and repeating to my husband and my family that if I ever got an interview while pregnant, I would absolutely not mention it. My reasons are exactly the ones you mention, with an emphasis on “most employers will discriminate just in case”. Their reasoning is that it is unethical not to tell an employer that you may need a leave of absence 3,6,8 months into a new job. To which my answer is: “If it is so important that I be there at Specific period, they can ask if I will be at work then. Then it’s not about pregnancy, it’s about being there at an important time. After all, I could have planned an important trip, if I was a guy, I might decide to take a 6-months parental leave (where I live, parental leave is a cumulative 50 weeks, to be split between the parents), etc.”

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