We all know that a job interview is not a great venue for angry rants, scatological humor or embarrassing personal stories. But there are few topics that often sneak their way into an interview conversation and trip up even the most prepared and well-meaning candidates. If it looks like your interview is heading in any of the following dangerous directions, sound the alarm and change course. Don’t bring up these subjects on your own, and if your interviewer asks about them directly, keep your answers brief, maintain control over the conversation and move onto another topic as quickly as possible.
If you were laid off from your previous position through no fault of your own, you can discuss this freely. But if you were fired, especially due to a personality conflict, cultural mismatch or failed project, talk about this with extreme caution. Focus on the positive, and discuss only what you learned from the experience. Be very careful not to say anything that may be construed as anger or resentment. And no matter what, keep this discussion short. A good rule of thumb: if you’ve been talking for more than eight full seconds without interruption from your interviewer, it’s time to stop.
2. Deal breakers.
If you know you can’t accept this job without specific handicap accommodations, a flexible schedule, or compensation for your moving expenses, you’ll need to bring these things up before you accept an offer. But let the offer happen first. Unless you’re asked, don’t address these obstacles during your interview. Just stay focused on your skills and credentials.
3. Scandals, weaknesses, or problems within your former company.
Be cautious about this for two reasons: first, of course, any association with these scandals, no matter how remote, may reflect poorly on you. But also, your willingness to freely discuss private and embarrassing internal information may lead your interviewer to question your sense of discretion and loyalty.
4. Your previous salary.
It’s never a good idea to voluntarily offer your previous salary history too early in the game, since this can weaken your position in negotiations later. In fact, if you’re asked for your previous salary, you’re under no obligation to answer. You can simply state that you’ll talk about it when the time comes, and then get back to focusing on your skills and what you have to offer.
5. Gossip and industry name dropping.
Many cities and industry social circles are smaller than they might appear on the surface, and if you state a specific person’s name, there’s a chance your interviewer may have crossed paths with this person at an earlier point in her career. So don’t make or imply any statements that may be construed as snark, gossip, rumor or personal criticism.
While you’re at it, don’t make disparaging remarks about your company’s projects or even those of other competitors in this industry. For all you know, this person may have worked for these companies in the past, may have worked on some of those projects, or may have worked for or with the people you mention.
No matter what you decide to say, keep the tone of your interview professional. And keep your comments—even the implications of your comments—positive, generous, accurate and diplomatic.