10 Words You Should Never Use To Describe Yourself In A Job Interview

By Maddie Lloyd - Mar. 28, 2021
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Job interviews are the time to put your best humblebrag skills to use and show employers why you’re the best person for the job. But when interviewers ask questions like “Tell me about yourself,” or “How would your friends describe you?” it gets a bit more difficult to brag about yourself without going over the top.

Here’s the deal:

While you definitely want to show employers all of the great things that make you perfect for the job, you don’t want to risk slipping up and saying anything that makes you come off as, well, a self-righteous jerk. There’s a fine line between qualified and conceited, and you want to avoid the latter at all costs.

With that in mind, here are 10 words you should never use to describe yourself in an interview, and what to say instead:

1Independent

You think you’re telling interviewers that you don’t need anyone to hold your hand through a project, that you can get things done efficiently on your own, and that you don’t need any micromanaging. But what the interviewer hears is that you don’t work well with others and you might not be the friendliest person to work with.

Instead, tell the interviewer that you enjoy working autonomously, but you also enjoy being part of a team, and you can take direction well from others. You don’t want employers to think that you’re standoffish or not a team player, so it’s best to avoid describing yourself as “independent,” “a lone wolf,” or something of the like.

2Intelligent

Describing yourself as intelligent in a job interview basically tells employers that you think you’re smarter and better than anyone else. This is one of those personality traits you’d hope for someone else to use to describe you, but saying that you think you’re intelligent is a quick and easy way to come off as a pretentious jerk.

Instead, describe to interviewers how you think and approach problems. Use terms like “fast learner,” “logical,” “perceptive,” or “analytical.” Interviewers will be interested to know about your thought process and how you solve problems, but trust us, they don’t really care about how smart you think you are.

3Obsessive

You think that using this word to describe yourself will tell employers that you’re passionate and you have a keen eye for detail, but honestly, it just makes you come off as a little crazy. Avoid using any words that could possibly have a negative connotation so you don’t end up having to explain yourself and recover from a bad impression.

Opt for more descriptive words to describe your passion for your work. Use words like “detail-oriented,” “focused,” and “excellent time management.” These words effectively show your dedication to your job in a much more positive light than saying that you’re “obsessive,” or as the interviewer would hear, “psycho.”

4Likable

This is another one of those descriptors that makes you sound a little self-obsessed. Plus, it’s going to be kind of hard to find examples to back up how likable you are without sounding like a complete narcissist.

To show that you’re personable and generally well-liked without sounding hopelessly pompous, use words that you can provide examples for, like “team player,” “enthusiastic,” or “outgoing.”

Then, feel free to provide examples of times you hosted company parties, spoke up during meetings, and pitched ideas for projects. This is much more convincing than just claiming that people like you.

5Generous

This is another one of those words that you should never use to describe yourself. Generosity is a title that’s earned, and it’s one of the highest forms of praise someone else can give you. Claiming for yourself that you’re generous will just make you look silly.

If you actually do feel that you’re a fairly generous person and want to show this to your interviewer, tell them that you’re “helpful,” or “willing to lend a hand.” Give them examples of your community involvement or participation in any fundraisers or charities. If you can’t provide these examples, it’s probably not even worth trying to convince others that you’re generous.

6Humble

Even though an interview is definitely where you want to put your best humblebrag skills to use, you should never actually brag about how humble you are. It’s contradicting, it’s weird, and it just doesn’t work.

If this is an aspect of your personality that you’re just dying to let your interviewer know about, show them that you’re humble through your answers.

Even though interviews are the time to toot your own horn, you can show employers that you’re humble by describing your experiences and stating facts — without bragging about yourself. Let the interviewer do the judging.

7Straightforward

You might think you’re telling hiring managers that “you tell it like it is,” you don’t “beat around the bush,” or that you just “keep it real.” But all the interviewer hears is that you’re abrasive, disrespectful, or just plain rude.

Instead, describe yourself as being “direct,” “sincere,” or “truthful.” These descriptors effectively get the idea across without coming off like an inconsiderate jerk.

8Self-disciplined

The struggle to stay self-disciplined is one that we’re all familiar with. It’s difficult to stay so on-track constantly without needing a break every now and then. So difficult, in fact, that it’s almost unbelievable.

If you really want to get this idea across, show the interviewer your discipline with examples of your projects and their outcomes. The best self-discipline yields results, so use your experience to your advantage.

9Adaptable

This one is just redundant. Change is happening all the time, so it’s basically a necessity as a human to be adaptable. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being something that you’re supposed to be.

Instead, say that you’re good at handling and leading change and adjusting to new conditions. You can also use words like “flexible,” “innovative,” or “inventive,” to showcase your affinity for adjusting to new methods and ideas, or even creating new ideas of your own.

10Successful

Just don’t even bring this one up. Saying that you’re successful is another one of those terms that makes you come off as super self-obsessed. Employers will be able to judge your success for themselves from reading your resume and listening to you describe your work experiences and professional strengths.

If you’re dead-set on convincing interviewers that you’re successful, focus on describing why you’re good at what you do and what skills you excel at. You should aim to show your success, not just deem yourself as a successful person.

More Words to Avoid During an Interview

We’ve covered the big ones, but there are other categories of words you should completely avoid during an interview. Other words and phrases to look out for include:

  1. Filler words. “Uh,” “like,” “basically” — these are words that we all, to some degree or another, are guilty of overusing in the course of normal conversation. Perform a mock interview with a friend and record yourself speaking. You may be surprised by certain verbal tics you have.

    Then, consciously avoid those annoying little phrases and sounds you make during the actual interview. Don’t freak out if one or two slips out — it’s likely a life-long habit, and those don’t break overnight.

  2. Wishy-washy language. Words like “kind of,” “stuff,” and “might” (in the wrong context) all fit into this category. Hiring managers and recruiters want to hire a candidate who’s qualified and confident in those qualifications. Practice speaking directly and concisely. It’s a good habit to get into, inside and outside of interviews.

  3. Negative words. “Can’t,” “don’t,” “no” (to a direct request), and “hate” all fit into this category. Of course, you don’t have to completely censer yourself from every iteration of “not” — it’s the spirit of negativity we’re really talking about.

    Even when you’re discussing a lack of experience with a certain technology or process, stay positive and focus on how you’ve shown you’re a fast-learner, rather than dwelling on how you don’t have that skill set and can’t perform that task yet.

  4. Meaningless buzzwords. You know the ones we’re talking about: “synergy,” “motivated,” “perfectionist,” “amazing,” etc. Those words that have lost all meaning through overuse.

    Try to be creative and dynamic with your word choice — even if you’re using the correct jargon, leaning too heavily on a single word indicates that the scope of your knowledge is limited.

  5. Learning words. Unless you’re a teacher or a student, talking about how you look forward to learning new stuff on the job isn’t a great look. Of course, if you need to learn a new technology or skill as part of your on-the-job training, you can indicate your experience with successfully learning new things.

    But your goal in getting the job should never come across as self-improvement. The employer wants to hire someone who can add value; they don’t want to pay a person to get an education.

  6. Curse words. It doesn’t matter how casual your interviewer seems or even if they drop a few F-bombs themselves — don’t swear during your interview.

    Even a measly little “oh damn” when your interviewer is describing some big challenge they’re facing can come across as tasteless and unprofessional. Assume every interviewer is a picture of primness.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to interviews, everything you say matters. You don’t want to risk saying something wrong and leaving a bad impression on your interviewer, especially when you’re describing yourself.

Use words that showcase and describe the aspects of your personality that you want to show off to interviewers. And whatever you do, don’t say anything that will make you come off as pretentious or self-righteous.

Now that you know what mistakes to avoid when describing yourself, check out these articles on how to answer “tell me about yourself” and how to respond when interviewers ask how your friends would describe you. Good luck at your next interview!

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Author

Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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