I've interviewed many candidates over the years, and there is one word that far too many people say numerous times while describing their work that diminishes the impact of their work and hurts their credibility.
I work for myself now, running a small content shop, so I frequently interview new freelance writers or am interviewed myself as I try to land contracts. We all say it. I recently found myself saying the word over and over again almost like a nervous tick. I knew it was the wrong thing to say, but it was hard to stop.
The word is "we."
Why we say it and why it's wrong
When you're interviewing for a job, you need to detail your past work experience, particularly your accomplishments. What did you achieve in the role? How was the company more successful because of your contributions?
They need to hear what you did to help achieve those results.
The trouble is, many of those accomplishments will be as the results of team efforts. We have a tendency to speak to the big wins, and to try not want to take credit for other people's work. As a consequence, candidates end up in job interviews saying:
"Our marketing campaign made national headlines and won two awards."
"We broke new sales records in 2016."
The trouble is those statements mask your individual contributions. The interviewer doesn't want to hear how well your previous company did last year. They need to hear what you did to help achieve those results. How your work mattered, how you stood out. Not your team.
If you were the project manager or the team lead on the launch of that e-comm platform, then it is fair to say, "I launched a new..." or "I oversaw the launch of a successful new..."
If your marketing campaign made headlines and won awards, then mention that, but highlight your contributions to it. "I was the copywriter for a campaign that won..." or "My graphics were seen by tens of thousands as the campaign won..." or "I was the brand manager for the ad campaign that..."
If you exceeded your sales targets, focus on that. Describe how you beat your quota, how you brought in new clients, and how this contributed to the record-breaking year. Your past company's overall success is only relevant -- or even interesting -- to your potential new employer in as much as you were a part of the cause of that success.
Give credit where credit is due. But remember to take credit, too.
Otherwise, you just have been in the right place at the right time. You could have worked for company ABC at a time when they launched ground breaking technological solutions and shattered sales records. However, your actual job potentially had nothing to do with any of those accomplishments.
I have a great team. We worked together at several companies in a row before starting our own. So, when I talk about my past accomplishments, I have a hard time not referring to "we," saying what my team has done. But I know that when employers are deciding whether to hire me as an individual contributor they want to hear about my successes, what I have done. Saying "we" waters that down and hurts my credibility.
So, forget "we." Or at least use it sparingly. Give credit where credit is due. But remember to take credit, too. You've earned it. The word you need to say more of in job interviews is "I."
It's OK to talk about yourself and even boast (without sounding overly boastful) about your accomplishments. That's what job interviews are for.
Peter Harris is a Montreal writer transplanted to Toronto. He writes and speaks frequently on career, workplace, education and technology issues as well as on trends and changes in the Canadian job market.