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Why sometimes 'I' should come before 'we' in your job interview

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The type of language used within job interviews is critical to how you come across to your employer. This is one of the key elements of showing the recruiter that you are suitable for the role. But, there is one word in particular that not all candidates realise they use too much and can potentially undermine their position in the recruitment process. That word is ‘we’.

Before anyone gets confused, the use of ‘we’ is good to use in certain context. For instance, when asked to talk about how you worked together to solve an issue or with other stakeholders, it is essential to show your communication skills, how you work in a team and the ability to maintain strong relationships with senior team members in your organisation.

However, this is an opportunity to tell your potential employer why you are suitable for the role and your results, not those made by others. The interviewer wants to know about your experiences, skills and achievements and why you are the best candidate.

Get first-person personal, by using the word ‘I’

“Describe a time where you went above and beyond to achieve a professional goal?”

This is where the interviewer wants you talk about how well you performed in the role and how you approach situations professionally. Mentioning ‘we’ will not give them the information they need, so you should try to avoid using this term when answering the question and refer to your own success.

Below is an example of what your perfect answer may sound like:

“I was given the personal goal of increasing the sale of X by Y percent over a one-month period. I asked our sales director to mentor me on how I could improve my sales technique. This involved coming in an hour early for our mentoring sessions, reading his recommended books and listening to podcasts in my own time. It worked though, and the following month I exceeded this goal by Z percent.”

“Tell me about a time you failed”

Although one would ideally want to focus on the positive, hiring managers will want to see your ability to identify how and where you went wrong. Remember to look at failure as the key to your success.

This is one of the trickier questions, to see how you take responsibility for your role and actions. Here you will be able to demonstrate that you can take ownership of the good and the bad, showing the recruiter that you are able to handle the more challenging aspects of your job.

If you were to say ‘we’ within your response, this only tells the interviewer that you are quick to pass over the blame. By using the word ‘I’ on the other hand will show them that you are responsible, self-aware and keen to turn your mistakes into lessons. For example, “I faced a challenging situation during my role as X. I made the error of doing Y, but I learned Z from the situation…”

When it’s best to use both ‘I’ and ‘we’

Of course there will be times where it is best to use both words. As mentioned above, when asked about how you have worked within a team to solve an issue or reach an objective, it is important to highlight your team focus and communication skills.

You will need to use the word ‘we’ to discuss a goal that a number of people achieved together. Such as: “We all worked together and combined our strengths and skills to beat our all-time record this financial year.” However, be sure to then revert back to “I” to describe the part you played in reaching this goal. For instance: “My role as X meant I was personally responsible for delivering Y skills to the task. This achieved Z result.”

These tiny words can really make an impact; it will distinguish your ability to get things done individually and within a team. Most of the interview should be focused on your own successes and claiming these wins as your own, but still being able to strike the balance between ‘I’ and ‘we’. Ensure that you have shared your experiences and achievements to show why you are right for the role.

For more information or to discuss your employment needs, please contact your local consultant.


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