Don't use filler words and phrases in your interview

Recently I worked with a client who was a Solutions Architect. He had good experience and was getting interviews, and he answered interview questions well. He sounded like someone any company would want to hire, except for one thing – when he spoke he said “um” constantly.

Although his other interview skills were good, the “um’s” made him sound unprofessional.

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Using filler words in interviews is unprofessional

Do you use filler words?

Do you have the same problem my client had?

If you have a good resume that gets you interviews, but you have a problem doing well in the interview, is it because you speak unprofessionally?

How you sound is just as important as your experience and education.

What are filler words?

A filler word is a word that doesn’t mean anything and is just used to fill space.

Examples of filler words:

um, uh, er, ah

There are also words or phrases that do mean something but are also often used as fillers.

Examples of words that can be used as fillers:

like, you know, okay, right, well, really, so, right, I mean

Do you use any of these? I’m embarrassed to admit how many of them I use when talking to my friends. I try not to use them when I’m in professional situations though, and sometimes I succeed.

How many filler words is it okay to use?

I recommend interviewees use no more than one filler word per minute of speech.

I realize this isn’t very many and it may be hard for you to cut it down to this, but you need to if you’re going to succeed in your interview.

Filler words are bad

Filler words make you sound childlike and not smart.

Filler words also make you sound like you don’t have self-confidence.

You don’t want to sound dumb, insecure, or childlike in your interview — you want to sound the opposite of those things.

Non-native English speakers should avoid filler words

Often people whose English isn’t perfect use filler words because they can’t think of the English word they need.

If you’re a non-native English speaker, you may already have an accent or imperfect English.

Using filler words can make it harder for your listener to understand you.

You want your interviewer to understand you.

You can’t make your English perfect in a few days because that’s a long-term goal, but you can work on your use of filler words in the few days or weeks before your interview.

How to reduce the number of filler words you use

Okay, so you agree that filler words are bad and you don’t want to use them. How do you stop, or at least use fewer of them?

1.   Learn whether you use filler words

You may already know you use fillers, but if you don’t, make an audio or video recording of yourself.

Then listen to/watch the recording. Count the use of filler words.

Do you use them more than once every minute? If so, you have a filler word problem.

2. Understand which filler words you use and where you use them

This may be easy and it may not be.

I seem to use quite a few filler words in different circumstances so it isn’t easy to say what my pattern is.

 I use “you know” at the ends of sentences; I use “uh” and “um” in the middle of sentences; I’ve also started using the word “literally” a lot, which is a trend with American women; I also use “like” when it isn’t needed, which is common with Americans, unfortunately.

I hope it’s easier for you to figure out your filler pattern because you don’t use as many fillers as I do.

But this step is definitely necessary because you can’t stop a habit if you don’t know what it is.

3. See the filler word coming

If your pattern is to say “you know” at the end of every sentence, pay attention when your sentences are ending.

If you know when you’re going to say it, you can prepare not to say it.

4. Use a pause instead of a filler word

Instead of using a filler word, just say nothing.

If you usually say “I mean” at the beginning of every sentence, say nothing instead. Just leave an empty space.

It sounds strange to you, but other people won’t notice it because the time will be so short.

Succeed in your interview by avoiding fillers

If you go through this process and continue to practice, you can stop using filler words.

When you eliminate fillers, your speech will be more effective and you will be more likely to succeed in your interview.

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.