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


Newsprint is on life support,
emoji are multiplying faster
than hungry Gremlins, and 300
million people worldwide strive
to make their point in 140 or
fewer characters.
People don’t have the time or
the attention span to read any
more words than necessary.
You want your readers to hear
you out, understand your
message, and perhaps be
entertained, right? Here’s a list
of words to eliminate to help
you write more succinctly.
1. That
It’s superfluous most of the
time. Open any document
you’ve got drafted on your
desktop, and find a sentence
with “that” in it. Read it out
loud. Now read it again without
“that.” If the sentence works
without it, delete it. Also? Don’t
use “that” when you refer to
people. “I have several friends
that live in the neighborhood.”
No. No, you don’t. You have
friends who. Not friends that.
2. Went
I went to school. Or the store,
or to church, or to a
conference, to Vegas, wherever
it is you’re inclined to go.
Instead of “went,” consider
drove, skated, walked, ran, flew.
There are any number of ways
to move from here to there.
Pick one. Don’t be lazy and
miss the chance to add to your
3. Honestly
People use “honestly” to add
emphasis. The problem is, the
minute you tell your reader this
particular statement is honest,
you’ve implied the rest of your
words were not. #Awkward
4. Absolutely
Adding this word to most
sentences is redundant.
Something is either necessary,
or it isn’t. Absolutely necessary
doesn’t make it more
necessary. If you recommend
an essential course to your new
employees, it’s essential.
Coincidentally, the definition of
essential is absolutely
necessary. Chicken or egg, eh?
5. Very
Accurate adjectives don’t need
qualifiers. If you need to qualify
it? Replace it. “Very” is
intended to magnify a verb, an
adjective, or another adverb.
What it does is makes your
statement less specific. If
you’re very happy? Be ecstatic.
If you’re very sad, perhaps
you’re melancholy or
depressed. Woebegone, even.
Very sad is a lazy way of making
your point. Another pitfall of
using very as a modifier? It’s
subjective. Very cold and very
tall mean different things to
different people. Be specific.
She’s 6’3″ and it’s 13 degrees
below freezing? These make
your story better while also
ensuring the reader
understands the point you’re
6. Really
Unless you’re a Valley Girl,
visiting from 1985, there’s no
need to use “really” to modify
an adjective. Or a verb. Or an
adverb. Pick a different word to
make your point. And never
repeat “really,” or “very” for
that matter. That’s really, really
bad writing.
If you are visiting from 1985?
Please bring the birth
certificate for my Cabbage
Patch Doll on your next visit.
7. Amazing
The word means “causing great
surprise or sudden wonder.”
It’s synonymous with
wonderful, incredible, startling,
marvelous, astonishing,
astounding, remarkable,
miraculous, surprising, mind-
blowing, and staggering. You
get the point, right? It’s
everywhere. It’s in corporate
slogans. It dominated the
Academy Awards acceptance
speeches. It’s all over social
media. It’s discussed in pre-
game shows and post-game
Newsflash: If everything is
amazing, nothing is.
8. Always
Absolutes lock the writer into a
position, sound conceited and
close-minded, and often open
the door to criticism regarding
inaccuracies. Always is rarely
true. Unless you’re giving
written commands or
instruction, find another word.
9. Never
See: Always.
10. Literally
“Literally” means literal.
Actually happening as stated.
Without exaggeration. More
often than not, when the term
is used, the writer means
“figuratively.” Whatever is
happening is being described
metaphorically. No one actually
“waits on pins and needles.”
How uncomfortable would that
11. Just
It’s a filler word and it makes
your sentence weaker, not
stronger. Unless you’re using it
as a synonym for equitable,
fair, even-handed, or impartial,
don’t use it at all.
12. Maybe
This makes you sound
uninformed, unsure of the
facts you’re presenting.
Regardless of the topic, do the
legwork, be sure, write an
informed piece. The only thing
you communicate when you
include these words is
13. Stuff
This word is casual, generic
even. It serves as a placeholder
for something better. If the
details of the stuff aren’t
important enough to be
included in the piece? Don’t
reference it at all. If you tell
your reader to take your course
because they’ll learn a lot of
stuff? They’re likely to tell you
to stuff it.
14. Things
See: Stuff.
15. Irregardless
This doesn’t mean what you
think it means, jefe. It means
regardless. It is literally (see
what I did there?) defined as:
regardless. Don’t use it. Save
yourself the embarrassment.
Whether you’re ghostwriting
for your CEO, updating a
corporate blog, selling a
product, or finishing your
doctoral thesis, you want to
keep your reader engaged.
These 15 words are a great
place to start trimming the fat
from your prose. Bonus? You’ll
sound smarter.

15 Words You Should Eliminate From Your Vocabulary To Sound Smart