Sunday , September 5 2021

Interviews, Herd-like Performances and Lost Opportunities

Looking for a private staffing job is about setting yourself apart from the field. That is a cliché and this article is about clichés and avoiding them. So, oops. It’s a competitive labour market out there and the objective is always differentiation.

A sure way to fail in setting yourself apart from competitors is by using cliché words and expressions. You can bank that countless other people being interviewed are either using precisely the same, over-used language or an approximation thereof.

Why join the herd?

An interviewee’s objective should always be to give an interviewer something to “chew on” — words, expressions, turns of phrase, experiences succinctly and well expressed that will resonate after you leave the interview room. Your presence should be one that lingers in the best way possible (and I don’t mean by wearing strong perfume or cologne). Failure to do so will, more often than not, result in failure to get that job.

Here are the 10 “greatest hits” of job search boilerplate language:

  1. “I’m a hard worker.” Ask yourself this: how many people do you think being interviewed are going to say something along the lines of “yeah, I’m kind of lazy and I’m a bit of a clock watcher”? I know the counter example is extreme, but I also think the point is made. The phrase is wasted words and gives an interviewer nothing to chew on.
  2. “I’m a team player.” As someone who interviews on a daily basis, this one irks me. It doesn’t mean much. It isn’t measurable, and it certainly isn’t memorable. I recently interviewed a fellow who said that he considers himself to be an “ambivert.” I had to think about the term for a while and I liked that. I like being made to think as an interviewer. It is a turn of the table that I find compelling. The term is a clear differentiator since it is rarely said and there is a kind of bravery in saying it. The combination of being an introvert and extrovert and being comfortable in both roles is attractive. More importantly, the term resonates because it is uncommon.
  3. “I’m loyal.” Again, this term makes me yawn on the inside. It is particularly troubling when it is at odds with a resumé that indicates the person has a history of jumping from one job to another.
  4. “I like challenges.” Oh yeah? Prove it. Too often this expression is just spoken and the words are left hanging with no supporting evidence.
  5. “I’m perfect for the job.” Again… meaningless. Hopefully by the end of the interview you will have established the fact. It is so much better to express ongoing interest in the position. Employers like to hear that the person they are interviewing not only wants the job, but is engaged and animated by it.
  6. “There isn’t anything I won’t do.” Oh, please. We all have limits — moral, professional and so on. Interviewers know this, so there is something disingenuous about the statement, and so the statement rings false. Insincerity is never a good thing.
  7. Saying anything negative about a previous employer. Granted, this is not a statement, but it is something to avoid. Remember this… an interviewer will greet such negativity with itchy thoughts over what you might say about them if the position doesn’t work out. Keep it positive folks. 
  8. “This is my dream job.” While interviewers do want to hear enthusiasm from an interviewee, this statement has a “pie in the sky” (there’s my other cliché) quality to it. Jobs are not dreams. There will be good days and bad days. Interviewers want to know that the person they are hiring is grounded and exists in a world of reality and facts. They want to know that the new employee embraces good days and muscles through the bad ones.
  9. “Try me out and I’ll prove myself.” While my heart goes out (just a little) to the person who makes the statement, it also has a tinge of desperation to it. Employers never want to hire a desperate person. Fair or unfair, they just do not.
  10. This last one is a kind of inversion of the nine previous clichés. Many if not most interviewers will ask: “Why should we hire you?” More often than not, the interviewee strings along all the clichés they have already uttered. Instead, think about the question as an opening for a strong closing argument. You should expect the question and be prepared to answer with something that will have a lingering impression on the interviewer. Your response should be a concise summary. It absolutely must also be position focused while drawing parallels between your experience and the job. Do not go on and on. Choose three or four key areas of strength that are in alignment with what the employer is looking for. The interviewee’s answer must be on point and compelling.

Interviewing is a difficult task. There is no doubt about it. As someone who interviews regularly, I know that and therefore understand why so many people rely on such commonplace answers to questions that should be greeted as opportunities to stand apart from the dozens (hundreds?) of other interviewees. Work at finding your own expressions that come from a place of sincerity and can be supported by evidence. That takes time and effort. My bet is that it is effort that will pay off over time.

What other clichés can you think of? I know they are out there and I welcome hearing about them.

Written by Scott Munden, who is the CEO of Portico Inc

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