Mind Your Language – Words & Phrases Recruiters Should Avoid Using With Candidates At Interview

When it comes to recruiting staff to your company, you probably have a very good idea of the type of candidate you are looking for. But, how do you go about making sure you hook that ideal candidate? Candidates might be impressing you but when it comes to interview time, are you impressing them?

You might be on the hunt for a highly qualified, talented graduate who you are hoping will take your company forward by progressing from your graduate schemes. Or you could be looking to employ a student to a part time or seasonal role. This might be entry level work where the young person gains experience of the workplace and a few pounds to replenish their dwindling funds. Or it might be an Apprenticeship or industrial or office based placement or internship in preparation for embarking on a future career.

Whatever your reason for recruiting staff, you know who you are looking for. And, once you’ve sifted through the CVs, the applications, covering letters, psychometric tests, a time often comes where you will invite a shortlist of candidates to a face to face interview. It’s important to bear in mind that while you are assessing your candidate during that interview, they are also assessing you. When they get up from that chair and walk through the door, make sure they’re hoping they get your job; not walking out and realising they’ve had a lucky escape!

I’ve written in the past about what young people are looking for in an interview. To back this up, here is a list of phrases and situations you should think about avoiding during the interview process if you really want that ideal candidate to come and work for you.

Words & Phrases To Avoid Using To Candidates During Interview

Lose The Office Jargon

‘Move the goal post.’ ‘Get the ball rolling.’ ‘Elephant in the room.’ ‘Hit the ground running.’ ‘Push the envelope.’ ‘Let’s touch base.’ ‘Thinking outside the box.’

We’ve all probably used phrases like this in the workplace. If you work in an office environment, you are probably aware of so many ‘office phrases’ and you might even use some of them yourself. It’s easily done.

In an interview situation, however, if you are loading your questions and conversation with cliched phrases… well, we’re all aware of ‘The Office’ and David Brent. If you come across as ‘Brentian’ to your candidate in interview, it can be cringeworthy and you might find them disappearing through that door, never to be seen again.

‘Sorry I’m Late’

Would you be impressed if your candidate walked into your interview with the same phrase? Wouldn’t that give you the impression that they are not going to be punctual in the future and perhaps are not taking their application seriously?

This works both ways. Your candidates want you to value their time. It’s taken them a lot of effort to get to this interview stage and you need to show them that you appreciate that effort by being as punctual as they have been. After all, if your candidate doesn’t feel you are taking their application seriously, they could get the impression that they are not going to be valued once they get the job.

‘Sorry I’m late’ gives your candidate another reason to leave through the exit and never come back – especially if they have further interviews lined up with other companies.

‘Actually, the job description is loose.’

Really? Have you put all that time, effort and finance into recruiting a student or graduate to your company and you aren’t really sure what it is you want them to do?

Again, put yourself in your candidate’s place. If they really want to work for you because you created that fantastic job ad with detailed job description and now, with this phrase, you are telling them that actually, that probably isn’t going to be the job description after all.

Depending on the type of role you are offering, your candidate could be considering relocation in order to work for you. They’ve put a lot of effort into coming to the interview in the first place and they need to know exactly what is expected of them if they accept your job. You are not giving the impression of a focussed targeted company if you are employing staff with cloudy job descriptions and this could set alarm bells ringing for your candidate.


Yes, that’s code for all those expletives that might be attempting to release themselves from your mouth. We all have those slips of the tongue – some more than others – we’re all huıman. But if you are trying to impress your top candidate in the hope of hooking them into your company, alternative choices of vocabulary are going to work better.

Again, switch the situation. If your candidate arrives late to interview, swearing about the state of the traffic, are you going to be impressed by that level of professionalism? Probably not.

‘Just give me one minute.’

If they are really keen to work for your company, your candidate will have done a lot of preparation and, no doubt, a level of stressing about, this interview with you. They have worked hard to get to this stage so the least you can do is give them your undivided attention. Make sure strategies are in place so that other staff can deal with any situations that might crop up or phone calls that need to be taken.

If you have asked your candidate a question and they are answering it to the best of their ability, your phone ringing or someone knocking on the door and entering to explain a situation to you tells your candidate that they are not your number 1 priority. If you don’t value their time and effort now, are you going to value their time and effort when they are working for you.

‘Have you had a long journey?’

Yes, you might just be asking this question to break the ice a little and make the situation more relaxed. A bit of small talk. And, of course, you might be genuinely curious about how far away from your workplace this candidate lives. Is it going to be easy for them to get to work each morning or is it going to be a long commute?

Rather than breaking the ice, what this question can actually do is put your candidate on the back foot. They already feel they might not get this job because they have had a long journey and they think that will go against them. Journey time shouldn’t cloud your judgement. If it is a graduate role or a particular Apprenticeship, lots of young people are willing to relocate in order to pursue their career.

‘We’re interviewing lots of candidates for this role. Why should we employ you?’

If you want to find out what your candidate could possibly do to benefit your company and drive it forward, ask them questions about their achievements, work experience or situations they have been in where they have had to make particular decisions.

Asking them to compare themselves to other candidates is unfair. The chances are, they have never met any of the other candidates so they have no benchmark. And, even if they have met at assessment centres or open days, it isn’t their place to comment on other candidates’ skills and qualities. They are there to impress you with their own qualities; no one else’s.

‘This is the third time this year we’ve had to recruit for this job.’

“What? Why? What is the problem with this job?”

That’s what your candidate is thinking when you drop it into conversation that your staff turnover for this role is so high. Alarm bells are ringing and your chances of seeing them again have just been drastically reduced.

Put yourself in your candidate’s position. Their mind will now be racing with so many questions: What’s the problem, here? Is the job so bad that nobody can stick it out for long enough? Is the job so bad because you aren’t a good boss? Is the job so bad because your potential workmates might make it more difficult. Is this firm going to get rid of me as soon as I get something wrong or make a bad decision?

You don’t want your candidates to feel insecure before they have even got to the stage of working for you.

‘The last person to do this job was useless. Why will you be better at it?’

Okay, maybe that last person wasn’t such a great match for your company. But, again, those alarm bells will be ringing for your candidate and you’re risking them heading through that door and never coming back. Why were they ‘useless?’ What were you expecting from that previous person that they didn’t do? How can your candidate tell you what they can do better.

And then, let’s say your candidate accepts the role and chooses to leave in the future. Are you then going to tell the next candidate how useless the previous person was? Nobody wants to work for someone who will potentially speak badly of them in the future.

The recruitment process is all about finding the right young people to fit your vacancies in your company. Often, all of the emphasis is put on the candidate and making sure they are the best fit for the role but, unless you have effective recruitment strategies in place, that top talent can be missed. And, if you didn’t miss them and invited them to interview, make sure they are as impressed with you as you are with them by asking the right questions.

If you are thinking about recruiting school leavers, students or graduates to any of your vacancies, E4S has the target audience for your vacancies.