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.

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Interview Preparation – What Everyone Wants to Tell You but Wont

mouth taped shut

The interview is set.  You have researched the company.  You have researched possible interview questions.  You have enlisted a friend to help you prepare for your interview – after all you want to ace this.


You have prepared answers for each question and you reply to each one that your friend asks in a confident manner.  You ask your friend how you are doing.


They normally respond with something like, “Great – you are going to do great!”


But that is not what they want to say.


What they want to say is, “You’re talking too much.”


But they won’t because they don’t want to hurt your feelings at the least or freak you out at the most.


It is a natural response to over-talk.  You want to sound confident and convince them that you are the best candidate.  The problem comes with the convincing part.  In doing so, we normally have a tendency to talk more than we need.


Which actually has a negative effect.


You leave no room for them to ask questions, you may bore them or you may wind up talking yourself down a rabbit hole from which you or them have no idea of how to get back from.


So, let me help by giving a few tips:


  1. Relax.  Breathe.  You’ve got this.
  2. Have a general idea of what you want to say but do not memorize it word for word.  It allows for a more natural response.
  3. If you are unclear of their question or the question could be taken one of two ways – ASK!  Ask for clarification: “Do you mean that in terms of A or in terms of B?”  The interviewer may not even realize that the question could be confusing.  This shows you are listening and on top of it.
  4. When you answer – answer their question without going into several examples or beating the horse to death (my apologies to horses for that analogy).  Let them decide if they want an example, let them ask if they need clarification on something.  Jumping in and giving them everything all at one time could make you seem too over-anxious, a know it all or an unlikable “talker”.
  5. Guess what, you might just say something wrong or mess up.  Don’t sweat it – remember number one.  Relax.  Breathe.  If you do say something wrong or if you start going down that rabbit hole – STOP.  Take a breath and smile.  Simply tell them something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I got here, but let me get back to your question.”  Answer the question then stop.
  6. Answer the question then hush.  This is the scary part.  The silence.  That is when the freak out part of our brain says, “Oh no, they aren’t saying anything – I better fill in the silence with more!”  Please don’t.  Let them take time to think about it.  If the silence seems a bit long and you are second guessing your answer simply ask them if you answered their question as they asked.  Interviewing is a two-way street.
  7. Stay measured.  Remember to keep breathing even throughout the interview, take a silent breath before answering each question, speak in a slower, more measured manner than you normally do.
  8. If you are a hand talker (I am) here is a good trick – press your thumbnail into the bad of your middle finger and press.  Every time you want to flail those hands it will stop you.  This does work and has kept my hands calm many a times.
  9. Have questions ready.  I don’t care if they answered everything you had on your list, ask questions at the end.  You should be listening during the interview and quite possibly there is something you need clarified. Perhaps you could ask about the people who held the position before you – what made them successful, were the recruited from within, how long have they been here – just find something to ask to show you are engaged.
  10. End with them knowing you want the job.  You would be surprised how many interviewers after a great interview say something like, “I think it went well, but I don’t know if they are still interested .”  Don’t let that be you.  This is when you can recap the highlights of the interview, tell them how excited you are about the opportunity and are now even more convinced that this is the right opportunity for you and the organization.


Relax, if you were called in for the interview they have seen something in you.  Now they want to know more and get a feel for if you will fit into the organization.  This isn’t a crap shoot – you beat out many other candidates with your qualifications so be a little confident!


Just don’t talk too much and you will be fine!



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW


Check Out Opportunities, Expand Your Network and Come See Me – Job Fair In New Pal!

people shaking handsJob Fairs – I love them!


I will admit that often there may not be a huge selection of open positions or the positions offered do not suit you, but that is just one aspect of the job fair.  There are so many other benefits.




That’s right – a chance to expand your network and recruit more to your personal sales force.


I’m not talking about just the employers, I am talking about the attendees.  How many times have you heard – or said yourself – that someone looking for a job can find every other job available except the one they want?




Here is a chance to connect with people who know exactly what you are going through and to build mutually beneficial relationships.


But first – you need to prepare.  Let’s do a quick review of job fair preparation:


Dress professional, not interview suit, but clean, business appropriate. (Wear comfortable shoes)

I have attended job fairs and seen people in hooker shoes, “I’m with stupid” t-shirts, stained cloths and pajamas.  I’m not kidding.  They left an impression, but not the one you want.


Have several copies of your resume with you to hand out.

You will be embarrassed to tell a prospective employer that you ran out of resumes or that you just brought one that they can look at but have to give back.  Take a couple minutes to stop by a copy store and get some black and white copies made – I think they average about $.10 a copy.  It is worth the investment.


Prepare your networking elevator speeches ahead of time. (Yes, more than one)

How will you introduce yourself to each employer?  Each job is a bit different and so should your initial impression – to make sure you meet the job.  Also, you will want to network with the people you are standing in line with – make sure you can engage them, as well.


Have writing utensils and a pad of paper to take notes.

A prospective employer may want you to fill out an application on the spot or give you information for you to follow up on – write it down so you do not forget.  Writing on your hand is not an acceptable substitute.


Don’t go just for the goodies.

I can always spot these – the ones that go from table to table eyeballing the propaganda on the tables and filling up their bags.  It is not adult Halloween – stop that.  Yes, you can take a pen or whatever is available but have some respect.  What do you do with all that stuff afterward anyway?  I almost feel sorry for the kids in your neighborhood when Halloween comes rolling around….


For goodness sakes, smile!

Be approachable at all times, not just when you walk up to the table.  Here’s a little tip – the recruiters watch everything.  They do not just pay attention when you walk right up to them, they are watching you in line.  They also take breaks and walk around themselves and this is when they may speak to you offline – you want to make sure to make a good impression.


So today in New Pal (only those in Indiana will know where that is, for anyone else – no worries, you wouldn’t be attending) I will be partnering with the Hancock County Library to provide free resume reviews.


That leads me to another tip – if there is free advice – take it!  But – and I cannot stress that enough – realize it is a limited availability in time therefore be courteous and do not expect someone to solely focus on you for the entire event.  I will not be re-writing anyone’s resume tonight.  I will review, offer suggestions and that is the best I can do – I want to be able to help as many as possible.


Remember, when you go to a job fair and do not see a single opportunity that fits your needs it is not a total loss.  That is when you can focus on meeting the other job seekers and building your network.  Once people know who you are, what you can do and what you are looking for they are able to help you in your search – that is building a personal sales force!


When going to a job fair remember: be open, be prepared and have fun!



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW