Job hunters greatly outnumber openings these days, so even a seemingly minor slip of the tongue can cut short your employment opportunities. The five words that can undermine your job chances...
Job applicants often trumpet their ability to respond calmly and intelligently to workplace challenges. Trouble is, when they use the word "crisis" to describe a past professional challenge, they send exactly the opposite message. Epidemics and hostage standoffs are crises -- an employer’s budget crunch or public relations headache is not. Calling an ordinary workplace situation a crisis will make you seem like an alarmist -- the sort of employee who will blow problems out of proportion and infect those around you with panic. You’ll seem more poised and reliable if you instead use words such as "challenge" or "problem" to describe these situations.
Interviewers often cringe inside when applicants describe themselves as "people-oriented" or "a people person." This is like saying that your worst flaw is that you work too hard -- it’s such a cliché that it will make you seem uninteresting or evasive to an experienced interviewer. Worse, "I’m a people person" is so general and unverifiable that it tends to be offered up by applicants who have no real skills or accomplishments to discuss. Saying something similar could cause the interviewer to subconsciously associate you with this group even if you have an impressive résumé.
If interpersonal skills are an important part of what you have to offer, find a more specific, less clichéd way to convey this. You could identify your talent as "conflict mediation," "coordinating teams" or "soothing upset customers." Cite specific examples of the times that you have used this skill successfully.
Using negative words and phrases such as "can’t," "there’s no way" or "impossible" during an interview could make you seem like a negative person. Few qualities turn off potential employers faster than negativity. If you must tell an interviewer that what he/she wants is impossible or that you need a larger salary or budget than he is proposing, find a way to phrase this in a positive way.
Example: The interviewer says that the company is looking for someone to expand its Web site, but your experience tells you that the budget or time frame being discussed is insufficient. Rather than say, "It can’t be done," or "That’s not going to work," you might say, "Let’s discuss some of the options we would have for getting that done." Mention outsourcing certain functions... or focusing initially on only the most important elements of the project.
It isn’t really a word at all. The correct word is regardless. If the interviewer is a stickler for grammar, using this nonword might create the impression that you are ignorant. Another frequently misused word that could hurt your chances is "literally," which often is used by people who mean figuratively.
Example: "I was literally putting out fires all year." No, you weren’t -- unless you were a firefighter.
Interviewers often ask applicants why they left their previous jobs. It’s fine to say your position was eliminated in a workforce reduction or that you were laid off, but never say that you were "fired." Though you might consider "fired" and "laid off" synonymous, the former has a much more negative connotation -- that you messed up -- in most people’s minds.
Source: Paul Powers, EdD, a management psychologist based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, who has more than 25 years of experience in career counseling. He is former chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Psychologists and was the original "answer man" for job seekers on the job search site Monster.com. He is author of Winning Job Interviews (Career). www.drpaulpowers.com