Experienced hiring professionals can tell a top performer from a weaker candidate just by listening to the way that they describe their past accomplishments. There are some hidden cues in your choice of words that can undermine the impact of how you describe your achievements.
Here are two words in particular that have caused me to reconsider the actual qualifications of candidates I was interviewing.
Use the word ‘we’ sparingly
Remember that you are the one who is applying for the job. It is not your whole team from your last company. Although your accomplishment may have been a joint effort, the interviewer wants to hear specifically about you – what you achieved.
Therefore, saying things such as “We launched a new ecommerce platform,” “my department exceeded quota by….,” or “we delivered the most successful quarter in the company’s history…” can undermine your own contributions.
Use the word “I” instead of “we.” The interviewer wants to hear how you stood out on the job and what you specifically did. It is common to feel uncomfortable talking about yourself and your accomplishments, but that is what you have to do in a job interview. Ideally you can do this without sounding boastful.
When you say, “we exceeded quota” or “we launched a new platform,” it can give the impression that these things merely happened while you there, but were not caused by you. You were part of a great team, but maybe they would have been great with or without you.
The next time you interview for a job, be sure to talk about your specific contributions to the team’s success. What did you specifically bring to the table? How did you stand out in the role? It’s okay to take full credit for your work without and talk about your achievements, that is what job interviews are for.
You are basically undermining yourself.
On the other hand, there was this guy. I was interviewing a young editor for a key role on a marketing team. He was a more junior candidate than I was looking for, but I was impressed by his resume. He had delivered significant results for some well-known websites.
While he looked good on paper, in the job interview he went and basically ruined his credibility with a single repeated word.
The candidate’s resume indicated that he had launched several targeted, sponsored lifestyle campaigns and maintained the website for a rival brand. I had looked at the websites and sample emails, and they seemed polished and engaging. So, I asked the candidate, “Since you launched these sites, what role did you have in mapping out the content strategy? Did you choose the writers and subject matter yourself?”
He replied, “Well, I basically launched it. I edited and published all of the content.”
Him: “When I joined the team, the new campaign was basically already live, but they hadn’t started promoting or distributing it yet, so I was basically there for the launch.”
When it comes to owning an online editorial channel or a marketing campaign, there is a big difference between “launching” a new initiative, and “basically being there for the launch.”
Launched means that you took ownership and brought a project from inception to release. Being basically there for the launch means that other people did that and you just happened to be there.
The level of exaggeration he had applied to his contributions in his resume was becoming apparent, so I gave him the chance to elaborate on his actual contributions. “So, you were the editorial lead for the website? Tell me about how planned out your editorial calendar.”
It was no help. He replied, “I was basically responsible for the content. The senior editor had me running the day to day updates and maintaining the websites. I always kept the sites fresh by having the newest stories and offers featured.”
Me: “So, you weren’t actually in charge of the content, you just updated the website with the newest material provided to you.”
Him: “Basically, yes.”
I didn’t end up hiring this particular editor. His impressive resume had won him an interview. However, in conversation he managed to undercut all of his alleged accomplishments. The major red flag was the repetition that he has “basically” done them.
When you are interviewing for a job, choose your words carefully. Focus on your own actual experience and contributions. Don’t be afraid to highlight what you accomplished, but also don’t try to claim responsibility for the achievements of others.