Given the competitive recruitment market out there, I’ve been doing lots of interview skills coaching recently, helping clients – from school leavers and new Grads to experienced, senior staff – to stand out from the crowd.
And with so many applications for most jobs – from a national average of 15 per job, to well over 1000 (a recent Graduate campaign) – the bar is getting set higher, often with more hoops to jump through.
Assuming your resume clears the ATS (Applicant Tracking System), you’re then onto initial telephone or video screening… to background vetting… to first interview… typically to a second… and sometimes, to team meetings, lunches or workplace presentations. It’s a challenging process, where you need to perform at your best.
It’s also an area I truly love working in, because often it’s the small changes that yield the biggest results. Case in point: the words we use and how we phrase our responses. So often, it’s the smallest details that can derail even the best candidates.
When it comes to ‘word-bombs’, these are the 3 that I hear the most often…
Interview Bomb # 1: Just
I can count the number of people who love going to interviews on one hand. Most of my clients dislike them, and during my decade-plus of recruiting, I saw that dread first hand, looking back at me across the table.
One reason? We loathe talking ourselves up.
Most of us were brought up not to boast, not to brag and not to big-note – so the idea of ‘selling ourselves’ makes most of our toes curl. Take that into an interview, where we’ve been told that that’s the expectation, and what shows up? “Just”, as in:
How did I achieve that? Well, I just called up my contact, had a chat about their needs and they gave us the account…
And just like that, an impressive achievement sounds… not quite so impressive!
What is impressive is how that one little word manages to hide all the thought, skill and hard work that went into my candidate securing their company a very profitable, ongoing slice of business. It glosses right over their consistent delivery of outstanding customer service, their great relationship management skills and their expertise in negotiation; so, really, all the things that the employer was looking for!
I hear ‘just’ all the time and the effect is always the same; it totally undermines.
If you recognise it, I encourage you to re-think the old interview advice about ‘selling yourself’ and re-frame it as ‘sharing yourself’. Remember, you’re not there to tell anyone how great you are – that makes the panel’s toes curl too. You’re there to show them how you, with your unique skills, experience and approach, can help their business.
Interview Bomb # 2: We
A close cousin to talk-my-achievements-down just is didn’t-do-it-myself ‘we’. Again, it typically shows up when someone’s uncomfortable talking about themselves and sharing their value-add… and it’s the pet peeve of many recruiters.
Let’s say I’m recruiting for a role that requires a high level of innovation, creative thinking and initiative, so I’ve just asked highly promising candidate ‘A’ to tell me about their contribution to a workplace initiative…
During my time at BigCo, I was part of the team that implemented a new quality initiative. To start with, we ran focus groups to get stakeholder input… Then, we collated the results and we… we… we…
And the recruiter’s thinking: Great team focus… but what did they do?
What role did they play on the team? What specific skills did they bring? What creative ideas did they suggest? How did they add value? What are they offering this team, this department, this company? Why them?
The problem is that nobody on the panel can tell whether Candidate A is a really modest / highly collaborative person with a heap of initiative and creativity… or whether they didn’t actually contribute much, and they’re choosing to hide behind the team.
The panel may ask more direct questions – I’ve spent many interviews trying to dig out an individual’s contribution – but if they keep getting ‘we’ answers back, there’s not going to be any job offer.
Remember: unless your team’s being interviewed for the role, this is about you!
Interview Bomb # 3: But
Last but not least, is ‘but’. The pitfall of many a new job-seeker or career-changer, this little word-bomb tends to show up something like this:
I don’t have the skills or experience I know you’re looking for, but I do have …
And just like that, my candidate has shone a light on exactly what they don’t have (which is, unfortunately, the bit the panel will likely remember).
In some ways, it’s a very benign mistake. After all, most people use but in an effort to be up-front and honest with the panel and I’m 100% behind that; you never, ever want to lie about or fabricate anything in an interview.
You can, however, be just as honest without undermining yourself:
So you want to know more about my experience in sales? For the last 2 years, I’ve been volunteer fund-raising for CharityCo – which requires me to approach people ‘cold’ and build rapport really quickly, selling them on what we do…
Lead with the positive and you have someone’s attention from the get-go, focussed on the positive value you can bring.
Remember, by the time you’re being interviewed, they’ve shown that they’re interested in you as a candidate even if you don’t tick 100% of their criteria. And realistically, if you’re ever in the market for a new job, there will be many, many times when you won’t tick all of these (the only person who would, would be in the job already!)
Your panel have seen enough potential to invite you to interview; a significant investment of both time and money. Back-up their belief by being positive about your candidacy, up-front and every time.
In summary, sometimes the smallest things can have a disproportionate impact on our interview success, and I’ve heard these 3 little words undermine many candidates – and at all levels. Happily, I’ve also seen how tiny tweaks can shift the message, and make all the difference when it comes to showcasing your fit… and getting that job offer.