6 Things You Say That Could Cost You the Job

Things That CanCost You the Job

Things That CanCost You the Job

Sometimes it happens within five minutes of an interview. Someone says something that makes me immediately decide not to hire them. Then I have a problem. I have to pretend I’m still interested, still deciding whether to hire them. In fact, I know that I’m wasting both my time and the time of the candidate.

The practical thing would be to save time for both of us and say, “I’m sorry, we’re done here.” But that would be considered rude and unprofessional. So instead, I waste another half hour of our time in the name of being “polite.”

Over the course of my career, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. I’ve never decided to hire someone in the first five minutes. But I have decided not to hire someone in that short time.

I’ve never made that decision based on how they look. It’s always something they said – or the way they said it – that made me think they won’t be a good employee.

Here are six of those things that some people actually brag about that make me check them off the list before we’re even done talking.

I’m very competitive.

This has traditionally been an honorable trait. People like to win and people like winners. But we live in a different world. Collaboration is all the rage. And it’s not just a buzzword or a fad. Entire work environments are being transformed into open spaces where people work together, share ideas and cross the finish line together.

Blame it on the Millennials if you want, but collaboration is here to stay. And it’s hard to collaborate with competitive people. They may say they will compete as a team. But most competitive people find it hard to wait for others to collaborate.

In the words of SNL’s film critic Jebidiah Atkinson, Next!!

Yes (or No)

That seems like a rather benign reason to reject a candidate. But I’ll trade you a benign reason for a benign answer. If I ask you a yes or no question, I’m looking for more than a yes or no answer. For instance, if I ask, “Did you hold any leadership positions when you were a member of this club?” I’m looking for more than a simple yes or no.

When I ask a question like that, I’m not only looking specifically for that answer. I’m trying to learn something about the candidate’s communication skills.

Whether the candidate did or did not, I expect them to provide some reasoning on it and some description. If you didn’t hold a leadership position in that club I asked about, tell me what you did do. Tell me about other leadership positions you held. Or tell me about how you worked part-time to put yourself through school so you couldn’t dedicate the time.

But don’t just answer a question with one word.

Not on my watch

I’ve given scenarios to people and asked how they would react. One common question I often ask is, “Let’s say you have two team members with task assignments. One of them is behind on his tasks and one is ahead. So in a meeting, they announce to you that they transferred some of the tasks to balance the load. What would your reaction be?”

As I mentioned before, we live in a collaborative world. People work together to solve problems as a team. If I was managing in that situation, I would be perfectly fine with it. They solved a problem and informed me about it. If that team member’s falling behind becomes a trend, I’ll be aware of it and work with him.

Many people I interview give me the “Not on my watch!” response. That indicates to me that they feel the need to solve the team’s problems and want them to do as they’re told.

Command and control management is dead. And so are that person’s chances.

I maintained a 4.0 GPA

We grow up being told to get good grades. If you get good grades in middle school, you get placed in the advanced classes in high school. If you get good grades in high school, you get accepted by the better colleges. Sometimes you even get scholarships.

People who get good grades are considered smart. And when you get good grades in college, some companies hire you thinking you’re smart. But that’s not always how it works out.

Did you work your way through school? Were you active in any organizations? Did you get out and have some fun? Maybe even get in a little trouble? All of that is part of the educational process. You don’t go to school to get a degree. You go to school to get an education. If all you have is a 4.0 GPA, I’m going to assume that you’re a rule follower. You will faithfully execute orders and do what you’re told. But I wouldn’t expect you to think outside the box and be a problem solver.

If the best thing you got out of school was a 4.0 GPA, you got a degree, but probably not much of an education.

I don’t have any weaknesses

I will tell you that this may be, by far, the lamest interview question I’ve ever heard. I have never asked someone what their greatest weakness is. It’s a question reserved for poor interviewers who can’t think for themselves.

But interviewers ask the question so you might as well be prepared for it. Have something that is work related. A weakness of not being able to identify the butterflies in your garden is irrelevant to a business career.

If you are a poor speller, tell them and then tell them what you have done to overcome it. Perhaps you study the dictionary regularly or spend a few extra minutes proofreading any email you send.

If the interviewer put enough thought into having a purpose for this question, they will be looking for what you’re doing to overcome your weakness.

I’m a perfectionist

What could possibly be wrong with striving for perfection? Perfect is…well, perfect, right?

I would argue that perfect is impossible. At a minimum, it’s impractical. Jim Collins stated in his book Good to Great that perfect is the enemy of good.

Perfectionists spend excessive and unnecessary time and resources trying to perfect something that was good enough for production long ago. They will do and redo seeking the illusive perfection.

I’m all for doing it right, but perfection is usually impractical.


Every interviewer has their own set of guidelines. Something that sets one interviewer off may get you hired with another interviewer. But there are some statements that may expose the fact that you practice outdated or impractical approaches in the work place.

When you interview with a company, try to learn what type of management and work practices they use. Instead of customizing your answers to their practice, customize the company’s philosophy to yours. You may be able to fake it in the interview to get the job, but you will struggle in that environment on a day to day basis.

What statements have cost you the job in an interview?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Image courtesy of keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thought on “6 Things You Say That Could Cost You the Job

  1. Cathy Brunsting says:

    I’ve got one for you . I phone screened a candidate one time for a BA stole & asked if he had looked at our website. He hadn’t, but I wasn’t too concerned – he was up for a contract role & had a recruiter connect him with us. However, I talked to him about some our company values & told him he should look at our website for more info if we moved him to the next level.

    So,several days later another employee & I met him for a lunch interview. One of my first questions was – did you check out our website. He said ‘no’!! I wrote him off at that point. If he didn’t care enough to take my suggestions to prep for a face-to-face interview,why would I expect him to do good work & follow thru on project issues!!


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