To clearly communicate your value during an interview, you must include “I” and not just “we”. Keep in mind one simple fact: your target employer is not interviewing your team; they are interviewing you. I wrote about this topic in 2018 and provide an update below.

Should I use “I” or “we” during my interviews?

Many of us are told:

  • It takes a village
  • There is no “I” in team
  • Everybody rows in the same boat

In fact, studies have shown that people who use the word “I” live shorter lives than those who use “we”.

However, since you want to show you are a team player, shouldn’t you mostly use “we”? No.

“I” should play a prominent role in your interview dialogue

Even if you are a people manager, favor the “I” word  50+% of the time. The interviewer wants to know what your individual contributions have been in generating revenue, reducing costs, satisfying business partners. They are looking to hire you.

Poor bullet: We had a team of 10 professionals who submitted an RFP for a $100 million transaction and won

  • Problem: I do not know what the interviewee did on the project

Great bullet: I managed a 10-person team by rotating responsibilities among my members during each phase of answering a $100 million RFP, providing individual feedback during the process, en route to winning the mandate

  • Solution: I understand what the interviewee did and am curious how he/she rotated the workload

My client couldn’t get out of the “We” speak

My technology client was incredibly bright and managed over 100 professionals. He was extremely proud of his management skills, which he saw as a competitive advantage.

However, every time he answered any mock interview question, he kept using “we”, “my” or “our”. My team produced an application that… Our team worked cross-functionally with the business unit to… We accomplished the project under budget…

He intellectually understood that balancing “I” and “we” is crucial for demonstrating his individual contributions. However, balancing these words when he spoke was really difficult.

We trained him to use the “I” word in a balanced way

I used Pavlovian theory as applied to interview preparation. No, not shock therapy.

Every time he provided a mock interview answer with 75% or more “we”, I:

  • Exclaimed at the end of the answer, “I don’t know what you do for a living”
  • Interrupted him aggressively saying “please take a breath”
  • Generated a lot of negative energy by slumping in my chair and looking bored

A coaches’ job is not to play nice. A coach’s job is to get you the outcome you pay for.

We practiced over 5 separate sessions. Just as I used negative feedback to erase some “we”, I used positive feedback to encourage his “I”.

When he finally began to use “I”, I:

  • Looked directly into the zoom screen and sat up in my chair
  • Increased my energy level in asking questions
  • Asked follow-up questions to his answers and engaged in real dialogue

Eventually, my client balanced “I” and “we” to demonstrate his individual contributions within a team environment.

If you go to a Bank of America ATM and notice how many activities you can accomplish, please thank my client.

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