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Interview tip: say what you mean and mean what you say

Interview tip: say what you mean and mean what you say

Posted by Jen over 5 years ago
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We all know that miscommunications and misunderstanding are a constant struggle professionally and in daily life, there’s a whole literary cannon based on it (looking at you Shakespeare)!

Often in life we get the opportunity to rectify the miscommunication and there’s no harm done, but interviews are not one of these opportunities. First impressions in interviews are ridiculously important and, fairly or not, all the explanations in the world won’t take back that gut feeling you’ve given an interviewer that you’re not a great fit.

Here’s an example; a candidate of ours recently had an interview. He was (like all our candidates!) a very strong candidate and we were pretty confident. Even the best of us sometime eat our words.

The candidate told the interviewer that he likes to do more difficult work, a pretty innocuous statement to most people, and a statement which was clearly intended to demonstrate that the candidate enjoys a challenge and doesn’t shy away from hard work.

Unfortunately the interviewer rejected this candidate because he interpreted that statement as meaning that the candidate would only undertake work that he considered interesting and would ignore the day-to-day essentials, which would make him a difficult employee and a poor team player. One take away from this example is the importance of well-rounded individuals. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a specific strength or area of expertise, but that you are willing to do all aspects of the job with enthusiasm.

But my larger point is that it’s frustratingly easy to be misinterpreted. A good way to avoid this for candidates is to anticipate the questions you will be asked and have set answers. You can then look for various ways in which your statement can be interpreted, or even ask a friend (or reddit!) to take a look. This is more difficult on the fly and you can’t prepare for every potential question, but just practicing this will change the y you think about your use of language.

The best way to avoid this as a candidate is to use work based examples. Something like ‘I was excited to be included in X project which had extremely complex aspects including XYZ. The challenging work pushed me to achieve my best and the team environment was mutually supportive which taught me a lot about supporting others and accepting help from teammates, I also learnt a lot about time management by undertaking this project on top of my everyday tasks.’ See what I did there? You’ve got passion, you’ve got ambition, you’ve got time management skills, you’ve got a can do attitude, you play well with others, you’re eager to learn, but you still finish your dinner before you have dessert.   

However, the onus should also be in hiring managers. A great hiring manager does not take things on face value and understands that candidates are nervous and might misspeak. Always be probing; the simple version of that would be asking the candidate if they can explain in more detail or give an example. It might be a bit radical, but that hiring manager could have said ‘what about doing (insert mundane task here)’ and used their intuition to divine whether or not the candidate was lying when they professed their love of said mundane task. A more subtle approach would be asking something along the lines of ‘what do you believe you achieve by volunteering for the more challenging work?’, this would have given the candidate the opportunity to explain that they like to push themselves are rise to a challenge.

So, it’s the responsibility of both candidates and hiring managers to prevent the interview turning into a misunderstanding of Shakespearean proportions. The candidate needs to be aware of how they can be misinterpreted, and the hiring manager needs to be more lenient with candidates and take the time to ask questions.  

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