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I have an interview for an internship with the software/technology department of a large financial institution next week and during preparation, I came to ask to myself whether swearing in an interview would be a red flag? I don't mean swearing at people (e.g. interviewer), but rather to emphasize that I really loved working on that specific project, I would say "it was the absolutely f--ing best thing I ever did". I find the swear word adds an extra bit of emphasis and I would most likely use it outside of an interview.

Would that be too casual? Should I see how easy-going the interviewer (a software engineer) is? Or should I just avoid it?

On the one hand I would like to be natural and would also like my future colleagues not to be uptight about things like this, though at the same time I also don't want to seem like a delinquent.

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    I have a co-worker whose langage is ... salty ... at times. She gets away with it because she is careful about exactly when and how and to ehom she speaks this way, and to a lesser extent because she's technically supurb and people are willing to make some allowences, and I suspect not least because she is female and it becomes an amusing quirk of emphasis rather than coming across as threatening. In aninterview it would be percieved as evidence that you can't control yourself well enough even when the stakes are high. Don't. – keshlam Oct 25 '15 at 16:29
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    If I was the interviewer, all it would emphasize to me is a lack of communication skills. There are plenty of good ways to indicate the enjoyment of working on a specific project. – Laconic Droid Oct 25 '15 at 16:41
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    The most positive thing I can say is that it's possible that the interviewer won't be offended. Ask yourself why you wrote "f--ing" in your question rather than writing out the actual word. Then ask yourself whether using the actual word is more appropriate in an interview than in this post. – Keith Thompson Oct 25 '15 at 20:38
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    For the most part, I agree that it's a bad idea, but I'd never argue that it, by default, shows a 'lack of communication skills'. Swearing is absolutely a part of communication and, though usually more the exception than the norm, can be perfectly appropriate in the right context. Granted, the catch is that in an interview, it's really hard to gauge the overall context of the position at that point, so is dropping the f-bomb at that point is a much riskier proposition. – DA. Oct 28 '15 at 4:32
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    I'm trying to think of occasions where the F-word would be appropriate in an interview... umm... maybe for a position in a biker gang? – RedSonja Oct 28 '15 at 9:50

10 Answers 10

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The question isn't really 'is it acceptable' - it's 'should I' and that's actually very easy to answer.

Will the interviewer see not swearing as a negative? They'll almost certainly not even think about it.

Will the interviewer see swearing as a negative? Many people don't approve of swearing, and many don't see it as professional behaviour in a client facing context.

Why risk it? I swear a lot day to day, but if you're struggling to add emphasis without swearing then you need to work on that. I'd never swear in an e-mail or in front of a customer, for example.

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    That's an f'ing great ans...errrr, I mean it's plausible as sh...duuhh, I guess I just upvote. – I'm not paid to think Oct 26 '15 at 12:30
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    F* YEAH!. Seriously though.... why take the risk? I think you hit it square on the head with the "best vs worse case scenario". You win nothing by it, and you RISK a lot... – Patrice Oct 26 '15 at 15:59
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    To address the concern that he "would also like my future colleagues not to be uptight about things like this" - he could ask the interviewer how the company culture feels about the occasional swear word. (But if it's not actually a deal-breaker for him, he should really consider not bringing it up, because it tends to make people wonder, "How much do you swear?") – DoubleDouble Oct 26 '15 at 18:05
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    @DCShannon Tricky ground. Could they be testing you? It's not likely, but it is a possibility. If there is more than one interviewer, is the one who didn't swear still offended by the other's choice of words? It's best just to keep it 100% formal during the interview. Again, there is really no upside, and lots of downside to swearing in a formal setting where you're trying to leave the best impression possible. – Kent A. Oct 27 '15 at 13:25
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    @DCShannon, that's easy. I would no longer have an interest in that company. I want the people hiring me to be able to restrain themselves in formal situations too. But then I have worked in places where the boss couldn't say a whole sentence without swearing and it was no fun and very embarrassing in front of people from other departments and clients.(it was made worse by the fact that his second in command had narcolepsy and fell asleep in the middle of meetings, so one manager asleep and one literally swearing every other word, yeah we came across as a really professional group of people.) – HLGEM Oct 27 '15 at 17:36
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Yikes. That's totally unacceptable for an interview with in a "large financial institution". You may get away with this at a small informal startup but this is really not the place for it. These types of employers tend to be extremely conservative.

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    The distinction being "get away with" not "it will be beneficial". – Sobrique Oct 26 '15 at 9:54
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I would say "it was the absolutely f--ing best thing I ever did". I find the swear word adds an extra bit of emphasis and I would most likely use it outside of an interview.

Would that be too casual?

I've worked in software for a few large financial institutions. None of them would consider such language acceptable during an interview.

In my experience, financial institutions tend to be less casual than most. Even in the software groups within those companies where I have worked, casual dress code was not typical. And language was far more constrained than in the smaller software companies where I worked.

I think you would best be advised to be less casual than usual in your language when interviewing at such companies.

On the one hand I would like to be natural

If using that sort of language is natural for you, and if being natural at work is very important to you, then financial institutions may be the wrong place for you to work.

Try to get a sense of that during your interviews, without resorting to actually using such language at that time.

  • I've worked in every type of environment from startups to large banks to industry and government. In none of those environments was swearing in any form considered appropriate. The many "reality" shows on Discovery aren't normal businesses, they're staged shows, I seriously doubt those people behave like that when the cameras aren't rolling and if they do I wouldn't want to work with them... – jwenting Oct 26 '15 at 12:33
  • @jwenting: "I seriously doubt those people behave like that when the cameras aren't rolling" An extremely experienced individual just told you that they do. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 26 '15 at 13:51
  • +1 for your 2nd to last paragraph. I could not work at a place where swearing was prohibited. My first ever IT job taught me so many new amazing swears that I've used and improved over the past 15 years it would be a real pity to throw them away. That said I'm fairly sure I dropped f-bombs more than once when interviewing for my most recent position and I still got the job - each company is different. – Mark Henderson Oct 27 '15 at 15:21
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I agree with the other answer: No. However, I have a bit different of logic, because I tend to like answers that have more tangible roots than most social questions like this allow.

Swear words, linguistically are rather interesting. They get used when you have no other words to describe what you need to express, but you feel obliged to express something anyway. So, if I was interviewing and heard a swear word, I would have to assume at least one of two things:

  • The interviewee has a very narrow ability to express themselves, because I have now seen the edges of their capacities in an interview session. If I hired this person, could they get my company in trouble because they lack the ability to communicate effectively with others in the future without resorting to last-ditch techniques such as curse words?
  • The interviewee is so easily taken off balance by excitement that they couldn't even hold themselves together during a single interview. This isn't a 9 hour interrogation, just a 1 hour interview. How well can they handle the stress of a real job inside my company?
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The answer to this question is pretty obvious ..... NO !, swearing is not something you should do in a interview. As others have stated if you cant express yourself without swearing that's a bigger issue. The below phrases would be more appropriate to express your enjoyment of a project:

  • "I really loved working on this project"
  • "I really enjoyed working on this project"
  • "I had a great deal of fun and passion working on this project"
  • "This project was a great project for me"
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    In most jobs, you will need to be able to express yourself in situations in which swearing is not acceptable. You should demonstrate your ability to do so during the interview. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 25 '15 at 16:40
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I think swearing is a bad idea in any context. To me it says that the person as not mastered the language.

In an interview why swear? A better approach is not to as you do not know if it will go down well. Better to err on the side of caution.

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    I disagree that swearing, in and of itself, indicates a lack of mastery of the language. But part of mastery of the language is knowing what words are appropriate for what situation and I absolutely agree that swearing in almost any job interview indicates either a lack of mastery of the language or an inability to gauge what is socially appropriate. – David Richerby Oct 26 '15 at 10:52
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    @jwenting You're assuming that somebody who swears in a particular situation is incapable of expressing themself in any other way. That's bullshit. Also, it's incorrect. See? I just proved it. – David Richerby Oct 26 '15 at 12:39
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    Indeed. I also find those who declare that using adult language is "immature" to be remarkably unimaginative. It's adult language. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 26 '15 at 13:51
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    Stephen Fry (an extraordinarily intelligent man who can certainly not be accused of lacking mastery of the English Language) has some choice words regarding swearing. Worth a Google... the simple fact is that it is impossible to emphasize words to the extent possible with swearing, without swearing. Someone with true mastery of the language understands the distinction of when swearing is appropriate/acceptable or not. – Jon Story Oct 26 '15 at 14:08
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit In this case, 'adult' is being used as a euphemism, not to indicate that such language actually indicates any level maturity. Ironically, 'mature' is also commonly used as a euphemism with that meaning, typically in reference to things which are decidedly immature. – reirab Oct 26 '15 at 14:40
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Remember, "profanity is the hallmark of a tragically limited vocabulary." In other words, even if someone isn't offended by it, if you use it in front of them it lowers their estimate of your intelligence. This is not something you want to have happen during a job interview.

  • ...unless one doesn't want to work for people that make wild assumptions about intelligence in the first place. – DA. Oct 28 '15 at 4:38
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As a supplement to the prior answers, remember that you have tone of voice available even in a phone interview. In a face-to-face interviews you also have facial expression and body language.

"That was a great project for me." said with emphasis on "great" and a grin, conveys a much stronger meaning than the same words said in a flat tone of voice with a blank face.

When starting a new job, do wait until you learn the local standards before swearing in the workplace.

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My strategy for deciding whether to swear is to wait. In general, I will not swear, because I don't really think it's professional. However, if my interviewer swears, I figure I then have license to swear, and it can actually improve relateability. In general, you just have to read your interviewer, and there is no reason to guess that swearing is something they like, so just wait and see.

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    Ah, the "profanity dance," where one party will venture out with a light blooper and see whether it's reciprocated. This degenerates (usually rather quickly) into launching F-bombs all over the place. So you have two lazy-worded individuals congratulating themselves ("relateability") on their inability to think of more expressive ways to convey their emotions. – Kent A. Oct 27 '15 at 15:12
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    I personally don't degenerate into launching F-bombs all over the place, but you're right, if both parties have their heart set on that, then that will happen. Personally, I feel calling it 'salty language' is appropriate; a little bit can add a little flavor, but a lot of it, and the meal is inedible. Just exercise moderation, which may include eliminating swearing altogether as appropriate. If you don't like swearing, then don't throw it in just to try to be relateable. In general, be yourself in interviews, but moderate yourself. – Dan Oct 27 '15 at 16:01
  • @KentAnderson - profanity is a perfectly expressive way to convey emotions. Perhaps the most expressive way. – Joe Smentz Oct 28 '15 at 2:07
  • @RonD "I had the best F-ing time, ever." "I am so F-ing angry right now." Not really expressive, just ambiguous, and adds nothing to the sentence other than an attempt at amplifying the emotion. There are better, less divisive, amplifiers that also indicate a higher level of control, education, and courtesy. Again, profanity should not be used when you're wanting to present your best self. This is more than just a matter of opinion, though, since even those who regularly use profanity know there are times when it is inappropriate and guard themselves. – Kent A. Oct 28 '15 at 2:26
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    @KentAnderson your opinion of the words notwithstanding, this is a perfectly legitimate answer to the original question of whether swearing will be held against the applicant. That you may look down on both the interviewer and the interviewee isn't really relevant. – Jason Oct 28 '15 at 13:56
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I have pretty strong feelings about swearing. I don't do it, and I don't like to work with people who do it frequently. To be honest, if I interviewed you, I would hold it against you. If you were otherwise well qualified, it probably wouldn't be the deciding factor, but it would be a factor.

However, unlike the other answers, I strongly feel that interviews are a two-way street and people should be themselves in an interview. Their reaction will tell you if it's somewhere you will feel comfortable working, unless you intend to refrain completely during your entire term of employment. It might also help you get placed initially on teams more tolerant of swearing or a better fit in other areas personality-wise. Never try to be someone else during a job interview unless you're prepared to be that person during the job.

If you want to swear and still sound intelligent, remember that vulgarity is no substitute for wit. To listeners who don't enjoy swearing, it doesn't add emphasis, but detracts from it. I'm not trying to be harsh, but from our point of view, the perception is you couldn't form a cogent argument, so you interjected an adjective so generic it can be applied to nearly every kind of situation. To me at least, it's not so much offensive as it is lazy speech.

To avoid that impression, make swearing minor punctuation, not your main statement. Back it up with well-reasoned arguments, using vocabulary worthy of a college graduate. Show the interviewer you know how to communicate well, that swearing is a deliberate choice you make for emphasis, not a mindless habit you never broke from junior high, or something you do because you can't think of a more precise word.

  • "vulgarity is no substitute for wit" - excellent advice. – Jason Oct 28 '15 at 13:57
  • +1 for "so you interjected an adjective so generic it can be applied to nearly every kind of situation". If the OP used the word once for a truly outstanding situation - "man, it was the best f*ing thing I ever did - you would not believe how amazing it was for me, i gained so much experience and knowledge ...." then I would probably be willing to overlook it, If the word is repeated at all, then that would be a big black mark for the candidate. – Dragonel Oct 28 '15 at 16:37

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