5 Touchy Topics to Avoid in a Job Interview

Loose Lips Sink Resumes

It’s hard enough to figure out what you should say in an interview, but knowing which details to avoid discussing with a potential employer can mean the difference between landing that new job and going back to square one in your job hunt. Most applicants probably know better than to rant about religion or politics, but there are plenty of more mundane subjects that might seem harmless at first glance but can easily derail your job prospects. MainStreet spoke with two career experts to find out the most important topics you should avoid in your next job interview. Photo Credit: Alex France


Complaints About Previous Employers

No matter how much you disliked your previous employers – and let’s be honest, if you quit or were fired, there’s a decent chance you’re not on the best terms – stop yourself from badmouthing them at all costs. “Don’t ever say anything negative about prior employers because the potential employer will look at you and say, ‘That person will feel the same way about my company five years from now,’” says Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You. Instead, she urges applicants to focus on the positives of their previous experience and, if pressed, emphasize that they opted to leave a previous job for a new set of opportunities “even if it’s totally untrue and you left because the place was hell on wheels.” After all, just because your previous employer was terrible doesn’t mean you have to bring it up and sabotage your future job prospects. Photo Credit: bark


Childcare Issues

At first blush, few subjects seem as wholesome and relatable as talking about one’s children, but job candidates should be careful about discussing particular child care issues. “I wouldn’t talk about my sickly kids who have to go to the doctor every few weeks, or any other childcare issues that might interfere with work, at least until I got the job,” says Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for Adecco Staffing U.S. Even less serious conversations about your children could come back to haunt you after the interview if they belie the possibility that you’ll have too many outside obligations competing with work.“It’s fine to mention your children,” Dede says, “but talking about how you coach their soccer team or want to be president of the PTA would all be a distraction from work.” Photo Credit: kevygee


Financial Problems

No matter how sympathetic the person conducting the interview may seem, Dede argues that applicants should avoid talking about credit issues, foreclosures and any other financial problems that may make you seem like a riskier candidate. “Anything that has to do with you not being able to pay your bills is tough for employers to hear,” she says. If you need proof of this, just consider the many employers who now rely on credit checks to weed out potential candidates who may not be on firm financial footing. Photo Credit: stuartpilbrow


Your Age

It might seem like an odd fact to conceal, but there have been plenty of lawsuits in recent years alleging that workers were discriminated against based on their age. Indeed, this can cut both ways as some employers may have an unspoken bias against workers who are seen as too young (inexperienced), or workers who are seen as too old (costly, with outdated skills). “You don’t want them to form a prejudice against you based on your age,” says Levit, who urges applicants to remember that interviewers can’t legally ask about your age any more than they can ask about your sexual orientation or race. “You want to be perceived as someone who is a can-do person and will hit the ground running.” The most you should say is to give a vague sense of when you began your career or attended college (for example, you can say in the 2000s rather than in 2009). Needless to say, even if you refrain from disclosing your age, the employer may still be able to take an educated guess at it, but there’s little to be gained from helping them along in that effort. Photo Credit: brookage


Questionable Hobbies

At a certain point in the interview, you may be asked to open up about some of your hobbies, but think twice before you answer. Your love of Scrabble may be harmless enough, but your love of hunting may not be. Levit offers the example of a man she once heard about who bragged to a potential employer that he enjoyed wrestling alligators in his spare time. “You might think that is irrelevant to the work environment, but the boss took it negatively because he thought it was irresponsible,” she says. Even more commonplace activities like drinking with friends or playing video games could potentially give off the wrong impression to an employer. So if asked, it’s generally a safer bet to focus on some of your plainer hobbies, even if it seems a little more boring. “Remember this is not a conversation, it’s an interview,” Levit says. “They are not your friends, they’re interviewers.” Photo Credit: hyku


Tweet alongside us

Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman. And if you haven't already, now is a great time to follow MainStreet itself on Twitter. You'll get all of our most important stories, right as they publish. Follow us @mainstr! Photo Credit: clevercupcakes


Show Comments

Back to Top