How to Keep Your Foot Out Of Your Mouth When Interviewing

Foot in Mouth

Let’s face it – interviewing is no fun.  I could say that in a clearer and more colorful way, but my mother reads all my articles so I am being nice.

It is nerve racking and I always equate it to dating. Before my boyfriend I hated dating. It was no fun.  It was torturous having thoughts of:  

“Am I making the right impression, will he like me, will he call me back, do I want him to call me back, do we have anything in common, do I look alright, did I spill something on myself, have I made a complete fool of myself…” all in the first five minutes of your first date.

Interviewing is really the same thing. You are hoping to make the right impression and a good connection. If you research interviewing, you will find almost overwhelmingly everyone will tell you to research and practice. 

This article is not about preparation or speaking to your abilities and attributes as they align with the job or company.  This article is about keeping your foot out of your mouth when trying to establish a connection.  If you want help on preparing and nailing the interview, here is an article I wrote for  Interview Like a Pro 10 Tips to Boost Your Confidence.

We want the interviewer to like us, right? We try to find common ground or a spark that we can have a conversation and make that connection.  But sticking your foot in your mouth by assuming or saying something (there is not nice way to say this) stupid when talking about something non job related is when all your hard work of research and preparation can come crashing down.

I think examples would help illustrate this point, so let me give you a couple snippets from when I was interviewing candidates.

During one interview of a very professional woman, she noticed a picture of me and my son on my credenza. I don’t remember exactly how she asked, but somehow it lead to me being a single mom and divorced.  Apparently this hit a nerve for her because what I do remember is her saying something very disparaging about ex-husbands (translating to bitter) and tried to get me to agree that all ex-husbands are good for nothings and how lucky we are to get out while we can.  I simply looked at her and said that I was sorry, I could not relate as my ex-husband was one of my best friends.

During an informational interview a young man was trying to bond by sucking up.  I am not a fan of sucking up in general, but this kid was swinging for the fences.  The investment firm I was working for was affiliated with a bank. He told me that he had talked to someone in a certain department of that bank and they knew nothing, and how refreshing it was to talk to someone like me who was an expert and able to give him such great information (gag).  I asked him if he remembered who he talked to at the bank. Since he was trying so hard to impress and had apparently turned off his brain, he told me her name.  I told him that is funny, she is my best friend.

Here are a few ways to keep that foot out of your mouth:

Don’t try so hard.  If you have done your research, you might have been able to find out some information about the interviewer.  Use it like spices in a fine dish – sparingly, gently and appropriately.  You are not trying to be their instant best friend, just establish a rapport.

Be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not or someone you think they want you to be.  If you create this illusion when you interview, how long do you think you can keep that up if you get the job? 

Be aware of your surroundings. You can’t prepare for everything, so be aware of your surroundings. If you are interviewing in someone’s office, scan it for possible items of conversation.  But do not assume!  They may have something with a college in their office but that does not mean they went to that college.  Maybe their kid went or goes there.  Maybe it is a lost bet.  I worked with a couple of guys – one went to Indiana University the other went to Purdue University – and during any sports season, whoever had the better record, the other had to keep their rival’s memorabilia in their office.

Just don’t. Stay far, clear and galaxies away from talking about anything anywhere near politics or religion.  Just don’t.  That is too dangerous a territory to try to build a bond in this situation.  Just don’t.

If you do find that you start dipping a toe in your mouth, stop.  If I was doing the college rivalry thing in my office and you saw a Purdue pendant which led you to say, “Hey, how about them Boilers!” I would let you know I graduated from Indiana University. At that toe dipping moment you could rebound by saying, “Oh, see what I get for assuming!” with a light laugh or “then I bet there is a really good story behind that Purdue pendant”.  Make light of it and yourself.

Some gentle reminders:

The interviewer wants you to like them, too.  This is not a one way street of building rapport.  Listen to them, observe their body language and identify when you have an opportunity to further a connection.

You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.  Ask questions, get a sense of the environment, culture, position, trajectory, opportunities, challenges – ask, listen and ask some more.

Building a rapport may not have anything to do with something personal.  It may easily come from your career history so run with that.

In summary – be yourself, mind your manners, ask questions and it will be much easier to find that nugget to start a rapport.


☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚ ☛ ☚


I think they should have chocolate flavored shoes for all the times I have stuck my foot in my mouth!  I have plenty of examples of saying something awkward during an interview – what is the most awkward moment that you created for yourself in an interview?




A little about me: I do what I love: help professionals break out of a suffocating job existence and into a career, position and place that renews their brilliance.

As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career personal branding firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging personal branding as applied to LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.

Click here – – to find out more about how we can help you.

★ To get all my latest articles, click the “Yes Please!” button on the right ★

Leave a Reply