It only takes a second - a flubbed explanation or a taboo subject - for your dream job interview to turn into a nightmare. One wrong answer or inappropriate comment can spell disaster for your career goals, and eliminate the possibility of a Hollywood ending. Here are just a few things you can say during your interview that can send the interviewer screaming in the opposite direction. 

"It Wasn't My Fault"
Lesson learned: Accept responsibility, and don't pass the buck.

Deferring blame for a previous shortcoming does more damage to your credibility in a job interview than you may realize. There's the obvious downside of seemingly not being able to accept responsibility, of course. But by "passing the buck," you're also eliminating an excellent opportunity to boast about your crisis management skills.

Even a negative situation to which you're willing to take partial blame can speak volumes for your character, and by making these three simple observations, you can walk away from the interview looking like a star.

  • What was the root cause of the issue?
    Have you taken the time to realize the originating factors that lead to the problem?
  • Why weren't the shortcomings identified and rectified before the problem escalated?
    What (if anything) was done to put out the small fires before they turned into infernos, and what else could have been done?
  • What was done after the fact to ensure that these problems don't arise again?
    Elaborate on the lessons you walked away with from the experience.

The very idea of deferring blame can send shivers up an interviewer's spine. The purpose of the job interview is not to fool you into incriminating yourself. Rather, it is to judge proficiency at presenting yourself, and to gauge the lessons learned from previous jobs and careers - both positive and negative. By claiming that an issue was "not my fault," you're saying that you're not mature enough to accept your role in a situation, which speaks for your teamwork skills - or, rather, lack thereof.

"Harassment Suit"
Lesson learned: Focus on the positive.

In some situations, the old adage of "less is more" truly applies. Of course - there are going to be some circumstances that should be left off the record altogether. Leave out any glaring negatives from your previous work experience, even if it means omitting a former employer from the conversation altogether.

The most obvious downside to this will be the inevitable gaps in your work history, which will also accompany fewer potential references. And while it's never a good idea to outright lie during an interview, there are some creative ways to spin the truth.

Conflicting Statements
Lesson learned: Be straight-forward, but selective.

Unless you were fired or your previous employer has a "no references" policy, there's a good chance that your potential new boss will be contacting your former one. Therefore, it's dually important that you be as accurate as possible, as it related to your old gig. Even the truths you stretch ever-so slightly could come back to haunt you when their validity is questioned, so keep it simple and focus on qualifiable and measurable instances. 

Lesson learned: Show that you can be a team-player.

The word "union" can send HR personnel and managers into full defensive mode for fear that, under the right conditions, employees will band together like a zombie invasion in an act of collective defiance and policy re-evaluation. While many positions - like teachers and law enforcement officers - may be forced to join unions before officially being hired, most companies prefer to employ human resources, or third-party teams handle the dirty jobs themselves.

One of the biggest fears with union talk, though, is that companies will lose control of their policies. Since unions typically handle all major negotiations, including compensation, benefits and immigrant rights, it might be best to save talk of the subject until after you've earned the job and have a little time with the company under your belt.

Show that you're not a loose cannon by inquiring about a company's policies and governing bodies without dropping the "U" bomb. (To learn more, see Unions: Do They Help Or Hurt Workers?)

Lesson learned: Be patient.

During a job interview, there are many beasts that can rear their ugly heads. Perhaps the most blood-sucking of these is the impression that the compensation being offered is not enough. For the most part, companies offer reasonable pay within an industry-standard range, which can be negotiated to an extent based on your previous experience and bartering skills. And as long as you're comfortable with the agreed-upon amount, there's always time to re-negotiate after you have proven yourself.

Not only does prematurely over-negotiating a salary during the interview show a lack of patience, it undermines the company's payscale and compensation policies. And it's never a good feeling to lose a job over a few hundred dollars per year.

The Bottom Line
It's extremely rare to meet a person who has truly aced the job interview. It's almost as rare as it is to find a company that is asking the best possible questions. So, for both parties, the process is still somewhat of a crapshoot. But by knowing what to and what not to say, you can prevent the perfect job from passing you by. (For more helpful job-hunting tips, check out Taking The Lead In The Interview Dance.)