By Gerald Walsh ©
This question came up in a job search workshop I conducted recently. Honestly, I had never seriously considered the question before. After all, they’re just two small pronouns. What difference could it possibly make in an interviewer’s perception of you and your abilities?
As it turns out – plenty!
The question reminded me of a remark I’ve heard several times when working on the interviewer’s side, with a search committee. The comment made after the candidate leaves is something like: “ I have no idea what they have done or accomplished. All their answers were “we did this” or “we’ did that.” I want to know what they themselves actually did.”
It struck me that there is value in thinking carefully about how you use ‘I’ versus ‘we’ when answering interview questions.
This can present a challenge sometimes as so much work is done in teams. Workplaces emphasize the value of teamwork and you must always be seen as a team player.
If you say ‘I’ all the time, the interviewer may conclude that you are a lone wolf, incapable of working with others.
Conversely, if you say ‘we’ all the time, you may fail to communicate the significant contributions you made as an individual to a project.
If that happens, you end up underselling yourself—something you don’t want to happen.
So, what should you do? Actually, both.
When preparing for an interview, try to anticipate all the questions you might be asked. You do this by taking the job description and then (pretending you are the interviewer) write down all the questions you would ask candidates.
This will give you a chance to think through how you might answer each question and what you want to communicate about yourself.
If you are describing an individual accomplishment that you had while serving as part of a team, it is perfectly acceptable to describe your part in the process by saying ‘I’ while at the same time describing what the team achieved.
But you should never take personal credit for something that you didn’t do entirely on your own. That will likely backfire on you.
Ultimately, you want to be seen as someone who works well with others and can be a contributing member of a team while, at the same time, can get things done independently.
So, use a good mix of both ‘We’ and ‘I’ throughout the interview so you will come across as balanced in your style.
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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh