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9 Words and Phrases Make You Sound Inexperienced—and What to Say Instead

By | Adrian Granzella Larssen |

When I started my first job, I was the youngest person in my organization. No, really. Although I could legally drink (barely), every single one of my 300-or-so coworkers was older and more experienced than I was.

I felt like the lone kid at the adults’ table—and worse, I probably acted like it. (Exhibit A: My email signature was hot pink and in Lucida Calligraphy font.) But looking back, I shouldn’t have let it affect me so much.

Here’s what I know now: It doesn’t matter how much experience (or gray hair) you have compared to everyone else. You were hired to do a job and work with the people around you. The more you can position yourself as an equal, the more you’ll be treated like one. While you shouldn’t go to the other end of the spectrum and act like you’re more important or experienced than the rest of your team, you should never feel afraid to present yourself confidently as a peer. (Oh, and this is true whether you’re in your first job or joining the ranks of upper management.)

How do you do that? Here are a few commonly used words and phrases to avoid—they instantly make you sound inexperienced—plus what to say instead to come across as the capable, competent professional you are.

1. “I don’t know.”

You certainly don’t need to have all the answers all the time. None of us do. But answering your coworkers’ questions with, “I don’t know,” and a blank stare can make you look like you’re not up to the job.

Alternatives to saying, “I don’t know.”

According to Muse writer Sara McCord, you have a few choices depending on the situation. You could try:

  • Offering up what you do know—for example, “Well, I can tell you that the report went to the printer on Friday.”
  • Saying that you’re interested in the same info they are—for example, “That’s exactly the question I’m looking to answer.”
  • Bringing in someone who likely knows what they need—for example, “Let’s loop Devante in to confirm.”

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