What not to say in an interview for a graduate role

Most candidates generally perform very well at interview stages – but there’s still a minority who let themselves down. Here are the top 5 things not to do in an interview. 

4-minute read

Congratulations, you’ve got an interview for a graduate programme at a top company. To have reached the face-to-face interview stage you will most likely have passed through an initial screening process to ensure you meet basic application criteria, and you may have taken part in a video interview or recruitment day. By this point your interviewers know you’re smart and that you can communicate, so now they want to know more about you and your motivations. We caught up with Jamie Abela, Associate Director at Deloitte New Zealand, and veteran in the graduate recruitment game, to see what he thinks are some of the biggest turn offs when it comes to interviews.

“Recruitment is as much about feeling and cultural fit than anything else”, says Jamie. “We need to gauge (in a short amount of time!) whether a candidate has what it takes to make a positive contribution to our organisation and to our clients, and to assess if our firm is the place where they can ultimately grow and achieve their career aspirations and ambitions. Our interviews give us the opportunity to meet face to face to make this assessment.”

Jamie interviews a large number of students each year for the Deloitte Tax & Private graduate and summer internship programme, and he says most candidates who get through to interview stage generally perform very well – but there is still a small contingent who let themselves down by doing or saying the wrong thing. Here are his top 5 things not to do in an interview.

1. Don’t arrive too early

“We expect candidates to arrive on time for their interview and certainly arriving late would be a bad look. However, arriving too early can also start the interview off on the wrong foot. Arriving too early can create an urgency or expectation for interviewers to drop what they’re doing to accommodate. In many situations our interviewing team will often be flat out assisting our clients, which means candidates can be left sitting around waiting. It’s never great starting an interview with an apology for making a candidate wait, especially when it’s the candidate’s fault for showing up too early!”

2. Don’t say ‘I’m a perfectionist’

“Candidates are often asked to describe their biggest weakness in an effort to gauge self-awareness and to tease out whether anyone could be prepared to press the self-destruct button! Candidates who are prepared for this question will often say that “being a perfectionist” is their greatest weakness and we couldn’t think of anything more cliché. A definite turn off! If you have time-management issues, but you’re working on it, that’s great to hear. Just don’t tell me you’re a workaholic or obsessed with being organised.”

3. Don’t interview the interviewer

“We always provide the opportunity for candidates to ask us any questions that they might have, generally at the end of the interview. We are looking for genuine curiosity, and for engaging questions about the business, teams, life at Deloitte, etc. On occasion candidates will use the opportunity to interview the interviewer, e.g. “What has been your greatest achievement during your career” or “Tell me about a difficult client and how you resolved the situation”. Not only is this a terrible waste of an opportunity for asking questions to learn more about the role, but it’s extremely exasperating for the interview team and won’t do you any favours at all!”

4. Don’t overuse business jargon or buzzwords

“Graduates don’t use phrases like ‘low-hanging fruit’ or ‘on the same page’ in day-to-day life, so why start using them in an interview? It’s cliché and contrived. It comes across as what you think we want to hear, rather than what you actually want to say. Be professional, yes, but also be yourself. We want to learn about you, not the person you think we want to see.”

5. Don’t ask these questions

“A question I don’t like is when candidates ask us to describe in detail what their day-to-day role will involve. We expect candidates to have done some research about the company and business unit and to have some working knowledge about the job they have applied for. We don’t expect candidates to know everything, but if they can evidence some research and preparation then it will reflect much better on them generally. 

We also recommend steering clear of asking when “you’re allowed to leave” and “how long until I can go on secondment?”. We know that our graduates want flexible working arrangements, and to take advantage of the huge opportunities that come with being part of a global firm, but during the interview it’s possibly better to show us that you’re committed to growing and learning, and how you’re invested in our commitment to go that extra mile for our clients. 

Other red flags we see are when candidates describe the role they’re interviewing for as a stepping stone to something else. Rightly or wrongly this can give the impression that the candidate is looking to leave before they even begin, and when we’re making the huge time and financial investment in your development it’s not what we want to be hearing!”