As a headhunter, I’ve heard hiring managers complain on what they don’t like hearing when they’re interviewing candidate. This applies at all levels, for all types of roles, and across all industries.
Here are a few key phrases that really turn employers off:
1. Work life balance is very important to me.
This would be fine to say for someone looking for service jobs, blue-collar roles, or low-level white-collar (admin, office roles) jobs. Essentially, jobs without career milestones, targets, or serious goal of upward mobility and career progression, don’t need to have highly engaged staff that are long-term oriented.
For a waitressing job, I would just need to specify my hours/days I’d like to work, and that would be that. My employer couldn’t care less about what I do with my free time or my degree of commitment or focus on the job since it’s a highly substitutable, less complicated job, where many people can do the role and there’s no shortage or workers or roles.
However, for roles or individuals seeking to create a career and earn an employer’s long term trust, especially in the corporate world, a big turn-off would be letting your employer know you already are checked out before you even start the job. Fact is, for these roles, (1) the candidate competition is fierce, (2) the role demands and requirements are high, and (3) the commitment level expected from the candidate are similarly aggressive.
For a global technology firm, there are crucial deadlines and projects people need to adhere to and that could change at the drop of a dime. If someone is unwilling to be a team player, sacrifice their work-life balance during difficult and oftentimes almost impossible project deadlines, the whole business could suffer as a result. In these roles, someone who cares a lot about work-life balance would simply not match the business and job demands.
TIP: In roles like mine, sales and recruiting, we especially have to be career-oriented. Work-life-balance is second to clients’ and business needs. For the high-income that come with white-collar roles and sales jobs like ours, we can’t ever shut off. When we are hiring for producers or any type of employee in our organizations, we run away from those who aren’t revenue-focused and are more lifestyle-oriented.
2. In response to long term career goals, discuss anything other than the career/job/role at hand.
Sometimes, employers will ask you what you envision your future to look like. The fastest way to send an employer running is selling against the current role by saying you’d rather do something else.
Candidate answers that they’d like to experiment, learn, and perhaps move into another job instead of progressing in the role they’re interviewing for.
Candidate answers that they’d like to grow, develop, and become a leader in the role they’re interviewing for.
Who do you think is more likely to get hired?
3. The word “no”.
This one is more about the mindset of the word “no” rather than a mindset of “yes”. Even if you DON’T know how to do something or are not interested in something, an interviewer is looking for a candidate with a mindset that’s geared towards growth rather than limitations. Therefore, this issue is more attitude related.
If a candidate doesn’t know how to do something, they should still describe with their best effort how they’d adapt, learn how to do it, or have done something similar or transferable that will predict success in their new endeavor or opportunity. The positive energy and potential that comes with a “yes” mindset is also more attractive to most employers who are looking for candidates who embrace challenge rather than fear failure.
4. Statements more focused on team dependency rather than personal achievements.
Companies today are looking for autonomous, self-managing, and organized team players who ultimately can succeed in a team because of their individual capabilities. Thus, while team orientation is important, employers want to hear about how you can succeed on your own and your own unique accomplishments.
WARNING: In an effort to seem humble, many candidates downplay their personal achievements and individual actions taken to reach success. Instead of saying “I”, they rely too much on “we” due to their discomfort related to self-promotion. Even if they are truly strong candidates, they end up selling themselves short. Conversely, candidates who actually are objectively worse tend to oversell their capabilities and hog credit, which is why people sometimes have horrible colleagues and bosses in roles they don’t seem to deserve.
5. Unfriendly, derogatory, pessimistic, arrogant, or abusive language.
Goes without saying, no employer wants to hire a lawsuit waiting to happen. Jokes in poor taste about religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or anything that could be a sensitive topic to others, even if discussed offhandedly will torpedo your chances of landing offers.
The solution to this is to find company cultures that fit your particular style. I.e. If you like to swear and make jokes freely, it’s easier to work in a sales culture than in a very tight and regulated office environment. However, most company cultures will still be intolerant of egregious social boundary over-stepping.
As a candidate, while you may have your own agenda you’re afraid to share, sometimes being too easy to read could hurt your chances of getting a job. Understand where your employer is coming from and your interviewer’s vantage point. Then, formulate the right strategy to take in regards to your communication style, and attitude. Choose and pivot which pieces of your personality to highlight or downplay to put yourself in pole position to win.