8 Truths About Interviews: What NOT to Say (and What to Say Instead!)

8 Truths About Interviews: What NOT to Say (and What to Say Instead!)
Author: Kristen Harris

Landing your dream job often hinges on a successful interview! While showcasing your skills and experience is critical, it’s also important to know what NOT to say.

Interviews are a two-way street – you’re evaluating the company as much as they’re evaluating you. But, unlike a casual conversation, there are certain topics both sides should avoid in an interview. You could overshare and derail your chances of landing the job. On the other hand, there are other topics that an interviewer should not ask you about, nor are you required to answer.

Consider this your guide to selective disclosure, highlighting key areas to navigate with caution during interviews.

The No-Go Zones: What to Leave Out

1. Personal Issues

Interviews are professional settings, so there is no reason to divulge personal situations related to health, finances, family, or something similar. Nor should an interviewer ask you about these personal topics; their only concern should be whether you can do the job, meet the schedule, serve their customers, etc. How you manage your health, family, transportation, or anything else necessary to meet the job requirements is your concern, not theirs.

Interviewer: “It seems like you have a lot of great ideas! What are some of your goals for the first few months in this role?”

Don’t say…“Thanks! I’m really hoping to get a handle on this new marketing automation software before the busy season hits. I recently had surgery on my wrist, and it can get a bit stiff if I type for too long, so having a solid grasp on this software will help me be more efficient and avoid any potential flare-ups.”

Stay focused on your skills and accomplishments, demonstrating your ability to perform the job effectively.

Improved Response…“Thanks! My top priority is to hit the ground running and leverage my experience to implement some of the marketing automation strategies we discussed. I’m confident that with a quick onboarding process, I can be a valuable asset to the team in no time.”

2. Confidential Information

Never reveal confidential information about past employers. This includes client details, trade secrets, internal company strategies, or unpublished work. It breaches trust, raises concerns about your discretion, and could be a legal issue. You need to know whether you’re covered under an NDA, non-compete, or similar agreement and, if so, precisely what the terms of that agreement are. If you’re not sure, request a copy from your previous employer.

Here are some specific examples of confidential information to avoid:

  • Customer lists or contact information
  • Proprietary software details or internal processes
  • Unpublished marketing strategies or product roadmaps
  • Ongoing legal matters or internal disputes
  • Design projects or products that have not yet been launched


Unless you are absolutely certain that you can share information, stay on the side of NOT sharing. Let the interviewer know that you’re afraid that’s confidential information you can’t disclose; they should appreciate that you have integrity and would not disclose their confidential information to another company.

3. Bad-Mouthing Previous Employers or Colleagues

We’ve all been there. Sometimes, we need to leave a negative employment situation or exit on less-than-great terms. However, speaking negatively about past experiences paints a poor picture and makes the potential new employer wonder how you would talk about them. You could even come across as bitter or unable to handle conflict.

Interviewer: “Why are you leaving your current position?”

Don’t say…“My boss is a micromanager, and the company culture is extremely toxic. I have to get out of there!”

Instead, constructively address past challenges and move the conversation to more positive topics.

Improved response…“I’m grateful for the experience I’ve gained at X company, but it’s time for me to move on. I’m seeking opportunities that align more with my skillset in the Y area. I’m particularly interested in this role’s Z aspect, which aligns well with my strengths and career aspirations.”

4. Overly Personal Details

Building on #1, avoid sharing details about your personal life that are unrelated to the job.

Focus on your skills, background, experiences, or connections relevant to the job.

Example: If you love dogs and your interview is with the marketing department of a pet store chain, by all means, share that connection! But if you’re interviewing with an insurance company, then it’s not relevant and does not need to be shared.

No interviewer should ask you about your age, race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, or veteran status. They also should not pry into your marital or family status, disability status, living arrangements, or political affiliation. If they ask a question about these topics, don’t answer and politely redirect the conversation to something relevant to the job.

5. Salary Expectations (Too Early)

Yes, it’s important to talk about pay, but it’s best to have detailed salary discussions at a later stage in the hiring process. Don’t talk about getting married until you’re sure you want to be dating.

However, you DO need to know whether the role will meet your income needs to avoid wasting everyone’s time. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Look at the job posting – a pay range will often be provided.
  • Research the position’s average salary using resources like salary comparison websites or industry publications.
  • Ask others you know who work there what to expect for a pay range.
  • Ask the HR contact you’re communicating with for an expected hourly or salary range.
  • Don’t immediately assume you’ll be at the top of the range. Evaluate your experience and skills compared to the role requirements, and be realistic about where you’re likely to fall in the range for the role.


If the interviewer brings up pay prematurely, you can use the opportunity to gather more information while not showing your cards too much.

Interviewer: “What are your salary expectations?” (during initial phone screening)

Don’t say…“I’m looking to make at least X amount.” or “My last job paid Y.”

Express your interest in the role and deflect politely by saying you’d like to learn more about the responsibilities and fit for your skills before determining a fair salary. Then, ask them what the range is for the role.

Improved response…“Thanks for asking that. Right now, I’m primarily interested in learning more about the day-to-day aspects of the role and how my skills can contribute to the team’s success. Salary is an important factor, but at this stage, I’m more interested in a good company culture and a position that offers growth opportunities. Could you share what the range is for this role at your company?”

6. Irrelevant or Controversial Topics

Sticking to the script doesn’t mean being robotic, but it does mean keeping the conversation focused on the job. Do not bring up these topics unless they are specifically related to the job, and don’t take the bait if the interviewer does.

  • Politics: Politics can be highly charged. Avoid discussing political figures, parties, or hot-button issues.
  • Religion: Focus on your work ethic and values that align with the company culture. Interviewers should not ask about your religion or religious practices.
  • Social Issues: While you might be passionate about social justice causes, an interview isn’t the venue unless directly related to the position (e.g., applying for an advocacy role).
  • Sports Rivalries: Sports can be as controversial as politics! Keep the conversation professional unless you KNOW you both root for the same team.
  • Personal Controversies: If you’ve been involved in any past controversies, personal or professional, avoid bringing them up unless directly questioned. Focus on your strengths and how you’ve learned from past experiences. If you need to address something in your background, prepare and practice your response so you say only what is necessary (and nothing more).

An interview is about assessing your fit for the role. Stick to topics that showcase your skills, experience, and positive work ethic.

7. Unprepared or Vague Responses

Be prepared! If you come across as unprepared or scattered, it’s an immediate red flag for the interviewer.

  • Research the Company: Before the interview, thoroughly research the company, its mission, values, and current projects. This demonstrates genuine interest and allows you to tailor your responses.
  • Anticipate Common Questions: Prepare for common interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why are you interested in this position?” Craft clear, concise answers that highlight your qualifications.
  • Use the STAR Method: When discussing past experiences, structure your answers using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Briefly describe the situation you faced, the task you were assigned, the actions you took, and the positive results you achieved.
  • Prepare Examples: Prepare specific examples to showcase your skills and accomplishments. This allows you to go beyond generic statements and demonstrate your capabilities with concrete evidence.
  • Clarification vs. Vagueness: If you don’t understand a question, politely ask for clarification. Avoid giving vague or rambling answers. If you lack experience in a specific area, be honest but emphasize related skills you do have, along with your willingness to learn.


Preparation breeds confidence and allows you to deliver well-thought-out, clear responses. Bring a notebook with points you want to make or questions you want to ask; the interviewer will appreciate that you’re organized and ready.

8. Negativity and Self-Doubt

Confidence is key, and a positive attitude goes a long way. While it’s fine to show room for growth, an interview is the time to focus on your strengths and accomplishments.

Emphasize your enthusiasm for the role and what you bring to the table. Be your own cheerleader!

  • Focus on Strengths: Highlight your past responsibilities and accomplishments. Frame any weaknesses constructively and show how you’re actively working to improve those areas.
  • Positive Body Language: Maintain good eye contact, stay engaged, and use confident body language. This conveys your enthusiasm and professionalism.
  • Enthusiasm for the Role: Express your genuine interest in the opportunity. Ask thoughtful questions about the company and the role.
  • Frame Challenges Positively: When discussing past challenges, focus on how you overcame them and what you learned. This demonstrates your problem-solving skills and resilience.
  • Avoid Complaining: Avoid negativity about previous employers, colleagues, or work experiences. Focus on the positive aspects of your past roles and the skills you gained.


Shifting the Focus: What to Highlight

Remember, an interview is your chance to shine! Focus on…

  • Your relevant skills and experiences
  • A positive work environment:
  • Your enthusiasm and passion for the role
  • Strong professionalism and communication skills
  • Presenting yourself positively

Bonus Tip

Prepare “off-limits” responses. If an interviewer pushes a sensitive topic or there’s something negative in your background you might need to address, have a pre-planned response. Something like…”That’s an interesting question, but to keep things focused, let me share another relevant experience in this area…”

Remember, an interview is your chance to build rapport and showcase that you’re an excellent fit for the role! By strategically highlighting your strengths and maintaining professionalism, you can leave a lasting positive impression. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves while keeping the conversation focused on the job at hand.