Main image of article 8 Things You Should Never Say When Interviewing With HR

Whether it’s the first step in the hiring process or the last, there is a good chance that you'll be required to interview with someone from HR before an offer is made.

There’s often a misconception that the HR round is only a formality, but HR holds more sway over hiring decisions than you might think. “HR is looking for red flags and green flags,” explained Erika Gemzer, a product and engineering leader and career coach. They assess a candidate’s fit for the role and level of engagement before moving an application forward.

Interviewing with an HR professional may feel a bit awkward when you’re used to answering technical questions. The last thing you want to do is hurt your chances by saying the wrong thing.

To help you get the green flag at your next interview, here are some phrases, terms or behaviors that could potentially be interpreted as red flags by HR professionals.

“I will not accept anything less than X.”

First and foremost, HR wants to see if your expected salary falls within the range for positions with similar responsibilities, skills and titles. However, they’re also looking for agreeableness and honest humility, because people with those personality traits tend to get along well with others.

Tone is the issue. Taking a hard stand on salary can signal negative personality traits like rigidity, an unpleasant attitude or arrogance. Plus, you may be forced to backtrack if you quote a salary requirement that ends up being too low, noted job search coach Jeff Altman.

A better tactic is to state a generally acceptable salary range and that you are open to discussing specific numbers once you learn more about the role and responsibilities. By softening your response, you come across as competent, likeable and emotionally intelligent and also avoid boxing yourself in.

Generally, you want to avoid “what’s in it for me” questions until the end of the hiring process. Focus on what you can do for the company, the hiring manager and the team first.

“Nope, no questions.”

Candidates who can’t think of one question to ask will be perceived as less interested than those who do, noted Sarah Doody, founder of Career Strategy Lab. Failing to ask a question also can signal that you didn’t do any research in advance of the interview.

If you give the impression that you don’t know what the company does, that will not go over well with a recruiter or HR person. It’s not their job to explain the company’s products or services to you.

“Oh, is that what it says on my resume?”

HR will only advance candidates who express a genuine interest in the job and the company. If you’re just testing the waters to see how much money you can make and therefore haven’t taken the time to brush up your resume or reflect on past project experience, HR may not be convinced that you’re the right candidate.

Don’t act like a tourist, Gemzer cautioned. Being slow to respond, fuzzy on details and asking generic, non-specific questions about the product or your role in developing or enhancing the product are all considered to be signs of disinterest.

“That policy seems too restrictive.”

Overall, you want to avoid saying anything that you may need to correct. How? Talk less and listen more.

Just take it all in and keep your opinions to yourself as the HR rep describes vacation, sick leave, BYOD, DE&I, remote work policies, and so on. At the end of the process, use all of the information you’ve gathered to determine if the company is a good fit for you.

Becoming Too Comfortable

Try to use inclusive language as much as possible, especially when talking with HR. No matter how comfortable you become, don’t get lulled into thinking that chatting over lunch or coffee frees you to up to badmouth a former boss or teammates, or share highly personal information.  

Remember, HR is responsible for handling complaints, overseeing workplace conduct training and advancing policies that promote diversity, equity, inclusion etc. They will not advance a candidate who seems likely to say something that offends a coworker.

“I don’t have much experience with X.”

Don’t say things like “as an entry level” or “I only have a little experience” with a particular tool, library or process. Instead, simply describe your experience and let the interviewer decide if it’s enough.

Leaving Your Coffee Cup on the Desk

If you’re invited to grab coffee on the way to the interview, make sure to return your mug to the break room when you leave. Leaving it behind for others to deal with makes you seem arrogant and a poor team player.

“I’ll walk you through the algorithm, starting with the code.”

No one enjoys listening to someone who is speaking over their head. Strive for clarity and meaning first when describing your technical experience and accomplishments to HR, then ask if they’d like more detail.

HR may not have the skills or expertise to assess your technical competence, but they do know how to assess the secondary factors that equate to competence, such as character and chemistry. Using acronyms or jargon to describe your responsibilities seems exclusionary and disrespectful.

You can’t go wrong by treating everyone you meet throughout the hiring process with dignity and respect.