Advice, Interview Tips

10 Unacceptable Responses That You Should Not Give at a Job Interview

What you should avoid saying in order to increase your chances of progressing to the next round

We’ve all heard of the old cliche that interviewers usually say, “There is no right or wrong answer. We just want to get to know you better.” Let me tell you this: Don’t take this advice too literally. In other words, don’t fall for it. There are indeed things that you should never say at job interviews if you want to increase your chances of getting through to the next round.

I have interviewed more than 100 candidates in the past year alone, and I have seen my fair share of bad interviews. Bad interviews are the ones where the candidate knows immediately that they didn’t do well and the interviewer also knows it. In fact, there’s nothing special about it. What’s interesting is when the interview itself wasn’t too bad, but the interviewer was reluctant to put the candidate forward due to one or two things that the interviewee said. Interviewers usually refer to them as yellow or red flags. When a candidate had such flags, even if they passed other questions with flying colours, interviewers had reservations about putting the interviewees forward and hiring them.

In this article, I’m going to share with you ten things that you should never say at job interviews and why you shouldn’t say them.

Team-Related Interview Questions

On helping a low performer on the team

“Some people are just incompetent and they cannot be helped.”

The reality of working on a team is that you are working with those who are better than you and those who are not as good as you. What the interviewer would like to understand here is how you tried to help a low performer on your team. It’s not the time to make an ignorant comment. The statement makes it seem like you’ve just dismissed somebody without giving them a second chance.

On helping team members

“As an individual contributor, it’s not my responsibility to help others.”

The purpose of this question is similar to that of the previous question: The interviewer wants to understand how you work as a member of a team. Individual contributors are also part of a team. In fact, there is nothing “individual” about the term “individual contributor” and I actually find this term misleading. As an interviewee, giving an answer that implies you think you can be successful as a lone wolf isn’t wise.

On providing constructive feedback to peers

“I only ever give positive feedback. I don’t like to make people feel uncomfortable. I’m a good team player.”

Constructive feedback does not just mean negative feedback. The University of Tasmania has a very good definition of what constructive feedback is:

“Constructive feedback is providing useful comments and suggestions that contribute to a positive outcome, a better process or improved behaviours. It provides encouragement, support, corrective measures and direction to the person receiving it. Knowing how to give constructive feedback is a valuable skill.

Constructive feedback can be positive (letting someone know they’re doing well), negative (letting people know about ways in which things could be improved), or neutral (just an objective observation).”

Constructive feedback is a gift because it’s given with the intent to direct you towards a positive outcome. Those who provide constructive feedback are those who are real team players because they have the best interest of others in mind and the willingness to elevate others for success — even if the process of giving such feedback can be uncomfortable.

Skill-Related Interview Questions

On learning something new on the job

“I don’t really have time to learn new things. It’d be good if you could just migrate to tool X that I am already familiar with.”

Learning new skills is a part of the job in today’s business environment. Gone are the days when you didn’t need to learn new skills because you had been working in the industry and performing a similar job for a few years. Instead, as an interviewee, you could provide a more thoughtful answer on your learning style:
How you’ve previously learned a new skill.

– What learning approach you used.
– What the main takeaways of applying that approach were.
– How you’d approach learning a new tool or whatever it is you need to learn in order to be successful in the role that you’re interviewing for.

On making mistakes and learning from failure

“Funnily enough, I can’t remember the last time I did something wrong.”

As an interviewer, I’d say “OK” and move on. However, in my interview notes, there would be something about a lack of self-reflection.

On dealing with conflicting opinions on a solution

“I escalate it to my manager and let them handle it. I don’t like to get involved in conflicts.”

The problem with this answer is not the fact that you’re involving your manager. Getting a third person’s opinion, whether it’s your manager or not, can be a good thing to do in resolving conflict. The real problem with the answer is that there is a lack of ownership here and perhaps a lack of care for your own craft. We’re in the 21st century, and employers do not want people who just do what they’re told. They want employees who are passionate about what they do, and as a result, they’re willing to resolve conflicts head-on.

Big Picture-Related Interview Questions

On meeting deadlines and company goals

“I don’t think we should ever have deadlines. Good software development is a craft. Development work will take as long as they need and software will be ready whenever dev work is finished.”

Yes, it’s true. I fell out of my chair when I heard this in person. When you’re asked about deadlines, my advice is to broaden your perspective and understand how your work relates back to the company’s goals.

On the contributions you make to the company

“I am just a developer. I come to work and I write code. What else could I possibly do?”

I refer to such developers as “Tunnel-Vision Coders” in my article The 7 Types of People You’ll Meet in Your Career as an Engineering Manager. While this answer is not a red flag for a junior developer, it shows a lack of experience and exposure to the bigger picture and could be a dealbreaker for a senior role that requires thinking big and influencing others.

Motivation-Related Interview Questions

On reasons for looking for a new role

“I am leaving my current company because they are not paying me enough.”

This may be true, but without any other supporting information, it makes you look like someone who just cares about the money.

On why they are interested in the job

“I can’t answer this question because I didn’t actually apply for the job. My friend/recruiter/family member/etc. did it on my behalf and here I am!”

While it may be true that you didn’t apply for the role (I didn’t apply for the last three roles that I held), it’s not an excuse to have not done any research on the company and the role you’re applying for. Do not waste your time and other people’s time on something that you have no interest in.

Make the Most of the Time You Have

Interviews are a two-way street. As much as you’re evaluating the interviewers and this potential employer, they’re evaluating you. While a one- or two-hour session with someone doesn’t give a complete picture of a person, in this case, that’s all you have. So make the most of the time you’ve got when you’re in an interview, show the best version of yourself, prepare, practice, and only apply for roles that you’re interested in.

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