Word Choice: How to Avoid Saying the Wrong Thing in Job Interviews

word choiceHave you ever been the unwitting victim to the word “moist”? Or had the displeasure of sitting through cringe-worthy phrases such as “firstly,” “funner,” or the always dreaded “irregardless”? If so, you know the impact a poor word choice can have on the average listener.

Hearing certain words in social settings can conjure up a regrettable but forgettable reaction. But imagine what kind of impact the wrong turn of phrase can have when uttered during an interview. Word choice during the job interview is a bit more complicated than sayings that are socially undesirable or grammatically poor.

For prospective employers, certain words can trigger real concerns. Specifically, issues regarding a candidate’s commitment, skills, professionalism or a host of other issues. Yes, this type of critique may seem a bit unfair to candidates. But it’s important to realize interviewers only have a limited amount of time to get to know their potential employees.  And buzzwords, key phrases or other red flags play a big role in the all-important gut feeling.

With that in mind, here are a few words you should avoid using during a job interview…


Compensation, salary, dollars, bonus, moolah and cash.

All words that are pretty much all words to avoid like the plague during a job interview. I mean, we get it, we really do. One of the primary but often hush-hushed motivations behind a candidate switching jobs is money. However, you should generally avoid talking dollars and cents until after you’ve received an offer. A good recruiter can often help you navigate the compensation conversation minefield. They can also cue  you into the appropriate target salary long before you make a commitment.

Try, Maybe, Possibility, and Potentially

The reasoning behind leaving out this broad swath of grammatically correct terms has to do with commitment, tenacity and drive. Using noncommittal terms to describe past or anticipated work can make you seem like a bit of a flake. A better word choice takes a firm stance on your skills, abilities. They would also show the desire to move forward with the position you’re interviewing.


We’ve all most likely been in the position where we’ve left, vacated or otherwise been ex-nayed from a job. Sure, everyone else may call this scenario “fired”. But we prefer to think of it as a parting of ways with a less than desirable position. You should never attempt to hide the fact that you were terminated from a prior place of employment. However, avoid offering the information up freely. Unless, of course, you are specifically asked by either your interviewer or in the job application.

Colorful Language

Recalling the days when it wasn’t considered child abuse to apply a hearty dose of soap to cleanse the mouths of young would-be curse word users might seem funny. But it is also a bit too colorful for most people during a job interview. No matter the work environment, curse words are always a bad word choice. Want to send the wrong signals to a potential employer? Use even a single swear word during a job interview.

Terrible, Awful, or Horrible

We all have that one negative nancy in our lives. The person who constantly complains, opines and offers up their opinion about all things they consider the worst. When it comes to your job interview, though, avoid being THAT person. Leave the negativity outside the conference room door. Words such as terrible, worst, awful and hate leave strong negative impressions with your potential employer. In addition, candidates use these terms to describe prior job roles or co-workers, another interview no-no. To ensure the interview moves in your direction, keep things positive, hopeful and upbeat.

So, Ummmm, and Like

Last but certainly not least on our list of words to avoid during the job interview? The ever-overused conversation fillers. So, ummm, like, and similar sentence gap-fillers like “you know” are often signs of nervousness. After all, less-than-confident speakers use them as a crutch to avoid awkward pauses. So practice interview questions with a friend, family member or even a mirror. Your goal: increase your comfortable level with answers. And at the same time, minimize the use of these painfully evident conversational crutches.

While none of these phrases are necessarily deal breakers, eliminating problematic terms from your interview lingo can go a long way towards setting your candidacy apart from the crowd.

Remember that even with word choice, practice makes perfect. And the right choices increase your chances of getting that callback or job offer.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Simply Hired.


Simply Hired



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