By using the right language, you can make a positive impression.

Often, the job interview is the first time you interact verbally with an HR manager. Whilst you can spend as much time as you want crafting the perfect CV and cover letter, in an interview, you must think quickly on the spot.

In stressful situations, it can be easy to fall back on habits, like overusing the filler word 'um' or being overly apologetic. By knowing and practising effective things to say in a job interview (and, importantly, what not to say in a job interview), you're more likely to speak with ease when the interviewer asks a tricky question.

Best words to say in a job interview

'We', 'collaborate', 'team'

Whilst we may be tempted to showcase our own accomplishments in an interview and downplay the contributions of others, it's important to use words that show you're a team player. In today's collaborative work environment, few tasks are truly accomplished on their own. Using words like 'we' and 'team' when describing your experience shows that you have a degree of humility and that you know how to succeed in groups.

'Increased', 'optimised', 'created'

The important advice that goes for CVs also goes for interviews: Don't just say what your daily responsibilities were at a job ‒ talk about the outputs of your work. Using action-oriented verbs like 'spearheaded' and 'championed' is an effective technique for communicating the impact of your work to your interviewer. Words like these help the interviewer understand the active role you played in the results of your previous efforts.

'I think'

Employers want to hire someone who knows how to make good judgements and think rationally about the tasks at hand. Using the phrase 'I think' is a good way to qualify your statements without making them sound too declarative.

Importantly, it is also more effective than 'I feel. Prefacing statements with 'I feel' makes them sound emotion-based and flighty, whereas 'I think' sounds more rational and reasoned.

Anything that assumes you're already part of the team

Even the slightest modulation of our words can have subconscious effects on the listener. There is a meaningful difference between asking the interviewer, 'What would you want the employee to do?' and 'If I'm part of the team, what would you like me to do?'.

Including yourself in the new, hypothetical team helps the interviewer imagine you having a place at their table. It also shows that you are ready to jump aboard and start contributing.

Words to avoid in a job interview

Bashing a former employer

Whilst you may have a laundry list of your former employer's misdeeds, the interview is not the place to share those frustrations. In fact, a study carried out by TopCV and CV-Library found that 32 per cent of UK employers said loyalty was among the top traits they look for from candidates.

If you show a lack of loyalty for a former employer by bad-mouthing them in the interview, the interviewer may be concerned that you won't be a loyal employee to their own company in the future. Instead of making disdainful comments about your former employer, talk about what you learned and how you grew from difficult situations you may have faced.

'So', 'um', 'like'

No matter how riveting the content of your answers is, filler words can undermine your credibility and project a lack of confidence. This also includes using run-on sentences to fill silence. In fact, interviewers are often trained to do a 'pregnant pause' in between questions to see how you react when things get uncomfortable.

In order to avoid getting flustered and stumbling over your words, take a pause to gather your thoughts before diving into your answer.

'I'm sorry'

When you don't remember something or misspeak, don't dwell on it. Being overly apologetic will only project an appearance of insecurity. Rather, when you make a gaffe, quickly acknowledge it and then gracefully move forward.

If you truly don't know what the interviewer is asking, consider either asking a follow-up question for them to clarify or just saying 'I'm not sure' and following up with a related topic that you do know about.

'Yes' or 'no' – and stopping there

Interviewers are almost never looking for you to answer with a simple yes or no; every question they ask is meant to glean substantial information from you. Even if a question could technically be answered with a yes or no, be sure to elaborate on the response and provide context for your answer. Otherwise, you may come off as unprepared or disinterested.

In summary

It's crucial to know beforehand what to say in a job interview (and maybe more importantly, what not to say). Especially for those wary of public speaking, interviews can cause anxiety that causes us to revert to our worst speaking habits.

Giving yourself a set of rules to abide by – and practising your answers by speaking out loud with a friend or an interview coach – is the best way to overcome this. 

Before you get in the interview room, impress with your CV. Get a free CV critique to find out if you're using the language that will grab attention.

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