6 Words You Should Never Use to Describe Yourself in an Interview

The words you select to describe yourself can have an effect and create a response to the reader or interviewer which could condemn you faster than you would think. Read more...

The words you use in your résumé, your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter bio, your cover letter, and in spoken language, create a response in the reader, which can condemn you faster than the blink of an eye. Being aware of your personality will help you choose the best words to describe yourself favorably.  Recruiters, hiring managers, potential clients and those in your social community  will scorn you, even ‘delete’ you, based on the emotion these words evoke.

Hiring managers all have their favorite interview questions but they are typically some variation of the common ones. For example, you might get, “How would your colleagues describe you?” or “Use three words to describe yourself.” Either way, your overall approach would likely be the same. The thing you need to be mindful of, then, is what words you actually use.

Asking candidates to describe themselves is a strategy used in many interview processes  but responding with humbleness and sincerity can be tricky. What words you use to describe yourself can say a lot about the type of person you are. For example, take the word generous. If you describe yourself as generous, it can appear as though you are bragging. By bragging about being generous, you automatically lose credibility. Even if this word really does describe how others would characterize you, you immediately come off as pompous and pretentious.

Here are some words that are great when other people use them to describe you  but you should never use to describe yourself:

1. Intelligent

You know you are intelligent and you know the hiring manager is looking for someone who is intelligent but please don’t describe yourself as such. This is one of those words that you want people to say about you but that you don’t want to say about yourself. Whether or not someone is intelligent is a judgment call and you want to shy away from words like that.

What to Do Instead

Talk about the way you think and use words like, “logical,” “quantitative,” “fast learner,” or “big-picture thinker.” You are going for words that sound more like facts and less like judgments.

2. Likable

For the same reason you don’t want to describe yourself as intelligent, you want to avoid words like “likable.” That, plus it’s tricky to find supporting examples of why you are likable without sounding weirdly desperate. (“Everyone says hi to me, laughs at my jokes, and misses me when I am out sick?” No.)

What to Do Instead

Use words that you can back up, like “team player,” “outgoing,” “enthusiastic,” or “caring,” and back them up with examples of how you pitched in, spoke up in meetings, or threw an office holiday party. It’s much more palatable when the evidence you give involves actions you took rather than the actions or reactions of others.

3. Successful

You can successfully do something, but you can’t just call yourself successful. It’s like saying in an interview that you are rich and good-looking. Do you really think that’s a good idea?

What to Do Instead

Narrow the focus down from success on a global scale to success on a more specific skill. You can absolutely say that you’re good at what you do. In fact, you should. The difference is saying that you’re successful in all realms of your life and pointing out your relevant skills and experiences for the job. The first is annoying; the latter is necessary.

4. Obsessive

Even if you are immensely passionate about your work, you still want to avoid describing this trait or any trait with words that have a negative connotation. Having to explain yourself means that you and the interviewer are not on the same page, and ideally, you could avoid all that.

What to Do Instead

There are plenty of words you can use to get across how invested you are in your work that probably are more specific and don’t require some awkward explanation. Words like “focused,” “detail-oriented,” “hard working,” or “dedicated” all work well.

5. Humble

It’s weird to brag about how humble you are. It just doesn’t work. Don’t walk into this unfortunate contradiction and try to talk your way out of it. The more you try to explain this, the more you wear down your interviewer’s trust.

What to Do Instead

If this is really something you want to get across in an interview, go with the “show don’t tell” strategy. Each time you need to brag about yourself during the interview (which will be often, since it’s an interview), only state the facts. Talk about what you did, what the result was, and what others thought, and leave the judging to your interviewer.

Hiring managers all have their favorite interview questions, but they’re typically some variation of the common ones. For example, you might get, “How would your colleagues describe you?” or “Use three words to describe yourself.” Either way, your overall approach would likely be the same. The thing you need to be mindful of, then, is what words you actually use.

6. Innovative

Most people claim to be innovative. Most are, however, not. That’s okay, because innovation isn’t a requirement for success. If you are innovative, don’t say it. Prove it. Describe the products you have developed. Describe the processes you have modified.

What to Do Instead

Give something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident, which is always the best kind of innovative to be. The way we describe ourselves is critical to making a good first impression.

It’s important to remember that during the interviewing process, employers aren’t looking for reasons why you should work for them. All of your employment qualifications are hopefully laid out clearly on your resume for them to see. They can read what you have done and are now looking for any reason not to hire you for the job. Don’t give them one. Take the time to be more descriptive and unique with how you present yourself. It can make a big difference between starting your career before graduation or being stuck without work for six months after earning your degree.