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.
Or, to put it in another way,
there are words that you
should never, ever use.
1. Intelligent
You know you’re 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’re 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’re likable without
sounding weirdly desperate.
(“Everyone says hi to me,
laughs at my jokes, and
misses me when I’m out
sick?” Um, 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’re 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’re 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
Of course, there are always
exceptions to the rule, and
perhaps you can pull off
describing yourself as
intelligent, likable,
successful, obsessive, and
humble without cutting your
interview short. But know
that there are other ways to
get your point across without
causing your interviewer to
spend too much energy
trying not to roll his or her

5 Words You Should Never Use To Describe Yourself In An Interview


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