Job seekers spend so much time figuring out what to say during the job hunt, it's easy to forget how important it is to know what not to say. Unfortunately, in this competitive job-search environment, one poor response or casual reference can mean an employer will decide not to hire you.
The most important thing you can do as a job seeker is focus on the employer's needs before your own and recognize that hiring managers will evaluate you at every opportunity. Companies put a lot of time and effort into trying to evaluate and hire candidates who are good fits. They look for every opportunity to qualify or disqualify you, and use every interaction to assess a good fit beyond specific skills needed.
Employers want to know: Is the person able to communicate efficiently and succinctly? Does he or she appear prepared and informed about the position, which might indicate the candidate's general approach to preparing for important meetings? Is the candidate someone who would be pleasant to have in the office, or does he or she bring a negative attitude?
Since it's tough to learn these specifics from a resume, your conversations and casual interactions will speak volumes. Be aware and prepared, and consider the following so you don't botch your chances for the job inadvertently.
Don't be desperate. If you say, "I really need this job; or any job," the employer is likely to run the other way. Another no-no: "I'm really flexible, I can do anything."
Why is it bad to be so available? Confidence, not desperation, is the skill most employers want in a new hire. Usually, they don't go hand-in-hand; so one whiff of "I can be anything you want me to be" or "I need this job to pay my bills" may send the employer racing in the opposite direction.
Don't complain. Employers are sensitive to subtle signs and clues when they talk to you. Don't say anything that may make it appear you are excessively negative or whiny. If you had a bad night, are really tired, hate the heat, couldn't find a parking place, or broke your heel on the way to the interview, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you risk leaving the impression it will be unpleasant to work with you. No one likes spending time with someone who always sees the cup half empty, so smile, and don't let on that anything is bothering you.
Another topic to avoid: Don't mention how hard it is to find a job. For example, don't say, "I've been having a hard time getting a job because of my age." This may or may not be true, but the potential employer doesn't care, and you're wasting your time discussing your job hunt with someone who won't hire you.
Don't be rude. Mind your manners. If you're at a lunch interview at a restaurant, and you are rude to the waiter, expect the interviewer to take notice. Say "please" and "thank you," be considerate, and don't do anything that leaves the impression that you missed important lessons about how to treat people. Similarly, employers monitor your interactions with assistants and receptionists. If you are unkind or snippy with anyone during your interactions, assume it will be held against you. For example, if you've been kept waiting a long time, don't complain to the front desk person, "I have better things to do than wait here all day." Instead, politely ask when someone will see you, and then make a decision if you want to work for someone who keeps you waiting at the interview.
Don't be a blabbermouth. The minute you badmouth your previous boss or employer, you tell the new employer you lack common sense. Even if your previous boss or company has a bad reputation, it is not wise to add your two cents on the matter. Be discrete; who wants to hire a known gossip? The hiring manager will assume you would spread negative information about the new company, and will probably not want to take a risk by hiring you.
Don't ramble on and on. When the interviewer asks, "Tell me about yourself," and you start with, "I was born…," you can pretty much assume you just lost your listener's attention—and probably your chance to impress the employer. Do yourself a big favor by keeping everything you say focused on information you know the employer wants to hear.
Don't make it "all about you." It can be a real turn-off when you start asking about salary and benefits before you've sold yourself as the best candidate for the job. Asking how much vacation time you'll have, mentioning your need to secure childcare, or asking about perks like a company car, computer, or cell phone will make the employer think you are more worried about your needs than those of the organization. This is not a selling point for you.
Don't ask anything you could have easily found out already. If you're applying for a job, the onus is on you to research the company. Don't ask questions if the answers are on the organization's website. It makes you look lazy and unprepared, two "qualities" most employers hope to avoid when hiring.
Don't let it all hang out online. There are many stories about candidates who shared details about their personal lives or opinions about companies where they are interviewing online and lost the opportunity as a result. Assume anything you post online is accessible to employers and avoid commenting on the interviewer's ugly tie, bad breath, or lack of preparedness. Do not say you will take the job until something better comes along. Do not post details about your illegal drug use, and do not let everyone know how often you come to work hung over. This information, when it is part of the public record about you, will come into play when the employer is choosing candidates, and it will hurt you.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.