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Trigger Words That Will Cost You the Job

It is always important to present yourself in the best possible light during an interview. Advice is readily available on clothing choices, posture, follow-up and even résumé presentation. While it is true that all of these aspects of the interview will help (or cost) you the chance to move along in the hiring process, one crucial piece of advice seems to be missing….your ability to communicate in a way that causes the interviewer to engage.

Recruiters do look at appearance, but they also pay attention to the language that the applicant uses. Candidates have to be well-spoken. “Uhms”, “like” and “uh” sprinkled throughout your narrative are distracting and not likely to endear you to the interviewer.

But what about “trigger” words? These are the words that immediately set off a bad reaction in the listener. They just tick people off and should be avoided during the interview. Leadership IQ has researched the subject, and they have identified the top “trigger” words to avoid during interviews.

  1. “Absolute” words – these include words such as “never”, “always”, “all”, “every”, “everybody”, etc. They are all-inclusive and indicate that there are no exceptions. According to Leadership IQ, people who were rated as low performers used these words almost 103% more than high performers. They generally do not work well, because the world is not framed in absolutes. When uttered, they challenge the listener to find exceptions, which weakens the candidate’s point and credibility.
  2. “You” – this word also elicits a bad reaction, many times because the listener visualizes a wagging finger being pointed at him. In other words, it tends to set people off because it is viewed as an attack or pushy, unwanted advice. It is also language that signals to others that the person who is talking is not taking ownership of a situation. Leadership IQ found that poorly-rated job candidates used this word almost 400% more than highly-rated candidates.
  3. Adverbs – these include generic words such as “very”, “really”, and “quickly”. Interviewers are looking for detailed, candid, specific descriptions of particular circumstances – not vague, inflated descriptions. When these words are used by candidates, they tend to indicate a lack of experience, insecurity and/or an attempt to present themselves in a better light. In other words, it feels that the person is trying to embellish the facts. Leadership IQ found that low-rated candidates used 40% more adverbs than high-rated candidates.
  4. Words that trigger negative emotions – These would include words such as “accused”, “aggravated”, “blamed”, “unimportant”, “unhappy”. Leadership IQ found that poorly-rated job candidates used 92% more of these words than highly-rated candidates. When an applicant openly discusses negative emotions, it raises questions as to why he could not find a more positive solution. It does not indicate that the person is practical, trainable or proactive, which is what interviewers typically like.
  5. General negative words – These include words such as words such as “no”, “can’t”, “couldn’t”, “didn’t”. It really is true that hiring managers do not want to hear the word can’t. Low performers’ answers contained 123% more negative words than highly-rated candidates, and feedback indicated that these lower-rated candidates were seen being pessimistic, negative and having low emotional intelligence.

With these trigger words it is not so much about what you say as what others hear. This is where the breakdown occurs. Many times as we speak, we do not even realize that the words we chose can have a lasting impact on how we are perceived by others. Avoiding these trigger words can be difficult because we have so many of them in our vocabulary.

However, remember that interviewers (and the companies they represent) value quantifiable achievements and want to hear about the benefits you provided for past employers. Focus on those. When you speak, have facts at hand that you can reference. Remember, you should never enter into an interview “blind”. At minimum, you should have researched the company, the industry and as much about the people as possible. Do not shroud your conversations in obscurities, absolutes and negativity. Speak in terms of benefits, facts and quantifiable results.