Five phrases that derail job interviews

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.

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  • Judy Stark

    Joe, how about these five comments FROM A RECRUITER that quickly derail an interview from the candidate’s viewpoint: (1) “I’ve got your paperwork here somewhere” while rummaging through stacks on the desk — clearly having never even glanced at the candidate’s materials. (2) “Where do you work now?” Uh, duh, see my resume. (3) “I haven’t had a chance to look at your stuff yet” — it’s only been here for a month, but at least the interviewer’s honest. (4) “Excuse me while I take this call.” We know you’re busy and getting a paper out today, but still, the courtesy of your full attention tells us a lot. (5) To someone leaning in the office: “I’ll be done here in just a minute.” Oh. So my interview with you is worth only, what, four minutes and 33 seconds? Sorry to take up so much of your time. Courtesy, preparation and professional respect are as important on the interviewer’s side of the desk as they are on the interviewee’s.

  • Leslie Perales

    No one gets nights or weekends off in the news business. Fact of life. I’ve had a couple people recently ask if they can write under pen names. Um, no.