Filed in HIRING ARTICLES, MUNICIPALITY by on July 2, 2017

image001An interview is your best, and likely your only chance to tell your prospective boss why you—more than any other person that will be interviewed—are the right person for the job. You want to make it known that you have the right set of skills, a great personality, and the drive to really make things happen in your new role.

As important as it is that you prepare good answers in advance, it’s equally important to know what the “red flags” are for the interviewer. After all, if you mess up on the answers to a few questions, it won’t matter that you really are very good at what you do!

Here are 16 things to avoid saying that will help to make sure your skills, abilities and accomplishments – and not a totally avoidable misstep – will be what your interviewer remembers.

  1. “What, exactly do you do here?”

image002Rule #1: Do your homework. Never walk into an interview unprepared, knowing next to nothing about the position or the municipality! You want to show that you’re excited enough that you’ve done some research and thought about what would make you a “FIT”. Unless you have been on another planet for the past 20 years, you’ll easily be able to find a wealth of information about the municipality, the issues and the key players, by spending an hour or so on Google.

  1. “I just hated my last municipality.”

No matter how bad your job is/was, you never, never, never want to disparage your previous employer during an interview. If you can’t say something positive, take a neutral approach. Remember what your mom told you: “If you can’t say something nice, better to say nothing!” Focus on what the experience taught you. Talk about what you hope to do in the future. This rule REALLY applies doubly when you’re talking about why you’re leaving – or thinking of leaving.

  1. “The guy I work for is the worst boss ever.”

image004Likewise, you don’t want to say bad things about anyone you’ve worked with or for in the past. Even if your previous manager could put Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) to shame, how would you expect your interviewer to know that? Trash talking your former boss will only leave the person sitting across from you wondering whether it might just be YOU who are the difficult one to work with!

  1. “Interviews make me nervous.”

You’re in the hot seat … sweaty palms, shaky voice, flushed face and dry mouth! Maybe you’re bouncing your knees and talking too fast. Perhaps your heart is racing or your stomach is churning. Even if you ARE more nervous than you should be, no municipality wants to hire someone who isn’t confident in their abilities. So, no matter how nervous you are, DO NOT admit it to your interviewer. Nothing positive can come of it.

  1. “I’ll do anything you want me to do!”

image006While saying you’ll “do anything” might, in your mind, demonstrate your eagerness, it doesn’t make you seem very focused or committed. Most hiring managers are looking for people who are incredibly passionate about the role they’re taking on. So, when you say something to the effect that, “I don’t care what jobs you have available—I’ll do anything!” that’s a big red flag. Instead, target your search to a specific role at each municipality and be ready to explain why it’s exactly what you’re looking for.

  1. “I don’t have all the experience you’re looking for, but…”

(Let the interviewer figure out if you’re qualified … you should focus on the skills that you do have.)

This mistake is easy to make, especially if you are just starting out or changing careers. The problem is, when you start out an interview by apologizing for experience you don’t have, you’re really saying, “I’m not a great hire, not quite the right fit for the role,” or, “With me, you would be starting from square one!” And that’s just not the case! So don’t use your beginner status as an excuse in the interview. Instead, emphasize what skills and knowledge you CAN bring to the job, and how excited you are to start working on those new skills. Focus on your strengths.

  1. “It’s on my resume.”

image008Yes, it is, but the interviewer wants to hear it from you. When she is asking you about a particular job or experience, she wants you to explain what you have written in your own words. She is actually evaluating your communication and social skills. She wants to know if you’re articulate. Should you be at the front counter dealing with citizens, or should we keep you hidden in the basement next to the archives? One Employment Branding executive put it this way: “If a recruiter is asking you about a certain skill, don’t reference your resume, and instead use it as your moment to shine.”

  1. “I’m glad you asked that, because I have a great answer.”

Confucius said — ‘He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.’ Look, the interviewer knows you prepared for this. In fact, everyone knows you prepared for this … even Confucius knew you were going to prepare for this, but you don’t have to advertise the fact that you’re reciting a script. While it’s great to have some things you are ready to talk about, you also need to be able to play it by ear and have a genuine conversation with the interviewer.

Practiced your answers to some interview questions? Great. But don’t memorize them word for word. When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions for which you’ve prepared, you will likely have a very hard time engaging in genuine conversation with the interviewer. And interviewers don’t tend to hire detached people who can’t have a genuine conversation. Certainly, walk in prepared, but force yourself to not memorize or over-rehearse the practice questions.

  1. “Perfectionism is my greatest weakness.”

image010Here’s the thing: Chances are, telling a hiring manager that perfectionism is your greatest weakness won’t surprise him or her—and it might come off as sounding a bit rehearsed. Why on earth would you want the hiring manager to think that you’re a perfectionist, anyway? Take a moment, and think about some of the more negative characteristics of a perfectionist: annoying, impatient, obsessive, and irritating to work with. Do you remember the last time you worked with a perfectionist? Was it fun? Likely not. The statement itself doesn’t offer much of a true insight into your work style or personality (especially if half the other candidates are giving the same response). Try a more genuine response. “If I were perfect, I’d be sitting in your place right now!”

  1. “I’m the type of person who can think outside the box.”

Resume buzzwords make hiring managers’ eyes glaze over, and similarly, using clichés in an interview won’t get you very far. Skip these overused business phrases, and describe your skills and abilities using succinct stories about things you’ve actually done. Stories, it turns out, are more powerful than you may know. Apparently, stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone, according to one marketing professor. Our brains are just more active when we’re listening to a story. In fact, if you can tell a good story, you can actually get your listener onside with your thinking. You can literally “share” your experiences with someone else. Talk about making a connection!

  1. “I, like, increased our Facebook followers, like, 25%!”

image011Filler words can reduce your credibility when you are speaking, and hurt your chances in a job interview.

What are filler words? They’re tics of speech such as “um,” “ahh,” “so,” “like” and “you know” … all of those sounds and words that we use to fill gaps and pauses in our speech. Most of us use too many of them, and they can reduce your credibility as a speaker and hurt your chances in a job interview!

  1. “I built a synergistic network of strategic alliances…”

If your interview answers sound a little too high-end, you’re probably not going to be the most memorable candidate. It turns out, listening to abstract words like “strategic alliances” and “cutting-edge technology” are simply not effective in an interview. Alternatively, power words, like MEASUREABLE are good because hiring managers like hard numbers as opposed to abstract qualities. Another power word is RESULTS, because hiring managers want to get results – a ROI from hiring you. Then there is RESPONSIBILITY, because municipalities like people who take responsibility. How about INITIATIVE? Who doesn’t appreciate “self-starters”? Finally, the power word that may be the MOST important is EXAMPLE – here are some actual examples of things I have accomplished. With power words, you’ll be remembered positively rather than for being a jargon bot.

  1. “I pulled together the STF Reports”

image013Unless they’re absolutely recognizable industry-standard terms, don’t use acronyms or jargon when you’re describing your responsibilities. You’ll be much more compelling (not to mention interesting) using language that everyone understands right off the bat.

  1. “Um … I don’t know!”

Even if you really know your stuff, you could get a question that stumps you. Saying, “I don’t know!” is rarely the right approach. Then again, be careful not to make stuff up, because your interviewer can see right through that. Maybe it’s the question you don’t understand. Ask your interviewer to clarify what she said. Go deeper into the question to see if you can get more details that will help you figure it out. If you do have some knowledge of the question, then take the time to tell your interviewer what you do know of the situation. Saying everything out loud can start you on the process of figuring out the problem. Although not admitting to the interviewer that you don’t know the answer is not often the right approach, there is an exception to this rule. If the answer is something you REALLY don’t know, then it’s probably best to admit it.

  1. “How many weeks off would I get?”

image014When you lead with a litany of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) questions, you will sound arrogant and unappealing. D        o you know what interviewers want to hear? First and foremost, they want to know what you can do for them. What can you do to help make the municipality successful, improve processes, develop customer service, and, importantly, make their lives easier? Making you happy will be important, BUT ONLY IF THEY WANT YOU … you won’t even get to “first base” if you make your list of demands your starting point.

  1. “Nope—no questions.”

Having no questions prepared screams that you’re not interested in the job; and unless you’re the only candidate that meets the requirements, you’re not getting the job! It basically says that you’re not interested enough to want to learn more about the municipality and the position you’ve applied for. On the other hand, asking bad questions may be worse. Bad questions put you in a bad light. They convey that you haven’t done your homework, that you don’t have what it takes, or that you lack motivation. Questions such as, “If this doesn’t work out can I transfer to another department?” are a definite no-no.

Focus on the positive it will ensure that you end the interview on a good note. If you do your homework, you can turn almost any legitimate interview question into a positive, engaging, and rapport-building answer.

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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