by Rosalia Felice, Manager,
Career Advising & Transition Services (CATS)


What if I told you that one of the most damaging words that you could use in an interview is but? It’s a small yet mighty word! In fact, Webster describes its definition as a conjunction, preposition, adverb, pronoun and noun. Pretty impressive for a three-letter word. Here’s what’s less impressive: it can sabotage your job interview. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Using but when supplying more information than necessary

Job interviewer: Have you worked with HTML before?

Candidate 1: Yes, but not in Canada.

Candidate 2: Yes, but it’s been about one year since I last used it.

Candidate 3: Yes, but that wasn’t my primary task.

Candidate 4: Yes, but only for my own personal website.

Candidate 5: Yes! I have experience with HTML.

Which candidate best answered the question? No doubt, it’s candidate 5! The interviewer asked if the candidates had experience using HTML – no buts! All the other answers diminish the power of the word yes. Never qualify a yes or affirmative answer with a negative and unnecessary but.

If you asked someone if they loved you, would you want to hear, “Yes!” or “Yes, but…”?

Using but when exposing your self-doubt

Job interviewer: Describe your leadership skills?

Candidate 1: I have leadership skills, but I’ve never managed a team before.

Candidate 2: I have some leadership skills, but I need to gain more experience in this area.

Candidate 3: I have held many leadership roles, but I can certainly improve these skills.

Candidate 4: I was a manager in my country, but not here in Canada.

Candidate 5: I think that I have leadership skills, but I’m just a student.

Candidate 6: I have excellent leadership skills, and it’s something I continue to work on.

Who best answered the question? That’s right, it’s candidate 6. Notice that this candidate, like the others, expressed that they had not mastered leadership skills, however, the candidates that used the word but, demonstrated some hesitancy and lack of confidence in their skills, while candidate 6, commanded self-awareness of their skills and took ownership about the fact that they intentionally work to improve that skill.

If you asked your surgeon if she had experience performing the type of surgery that she was going to perform on you, would you like to hear, “Yes! Of course” or “No! But practice makes perfect!”

Banish the buts

I can enumerate several other examples to demonstrate the fact that the word but is less than ideal in a job interview. Luckily, avoiding this word and/or replacing it with something more suitable (often, the word and does the trick), will enable you to appear more confident in an interview! After all, if I asked you if you learned anything from this article, I would rather hear “Yes” than “Yes! But…” Word selection matters!

As you may have heard hundreds of times before, in an interview, it’s not often what you say that matters, it’s how you say it!