A job interview can be a verbal ballet with lots of nuance. But there are phrases that are the equivalent of dropping one's ballet partner into the orchestra pit.

Interviewers generally do not go looking for these phrases, but they know them when they hear them.

Here they are -- by no means a complete list:

  • "I wouldn't mind doing that." I once stopped an interview when someone told me this. He was talking about sports writing. "Wait," I said. "I thought you would love to write sports." "I would," he said. "I just didn't want to seem like that's all I wanted to do." His understatement about his passion almost cost him the interview.
  • "Would I have to work weekends?" Any questions about hours -- weekends, nights or the amount of them -- are red flags, especially if asked more than once.
  • "I'm not really familiar with the product." Bzzzzt -- interview over. I worked with one editor whose litmus test was to ask the candidate what they liked in that day's paper. If they hadn't read it, they were in a deep hole.
  • "This job would be fine until a better one opens." We hate to hire people who will be looking immediately for the next thing, and we seldom promise they can get it.
  • "I'll do anything -- even sweep the floors. Just give me a chance." This sincerity and earnestness seldom works. We don't like to hire people at levels below their skill grade or just because they will come cheaply. This usually leads to disaster.

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.