#1: Get Rid of the "We"-- Focus on the "Me"
I know, I know. You don't want to come off as being full of yourself. But, I can't tell you how many times I found myself, as a recruiter, interrupting a candidate and asking her to reconsider my question focusing on what she PERSONALLY did in regards to my query. In other words, can you please answer the question by starting with the word "I" vs. "We?"
When you are interviewing, try and highlight your accomplishments while stressing how effectively you worked with a team of fellow employees when answering questions. This way you can discuss what YOU have accomplished without sounding haughty or grandiose. Here’s an example of how to answer a question regarding specific job responsibilities: “I, along with my co-workers, wrote the collateral for all our programs and presented new concepts to the sales team.” Or, if you are asked about your ability to make rain, you could say something like: "I worked on new business initiatives on a regular basis and, along with the Partners of my firm, brought in x-number of accounts." In this way, you are clearly articulating your responsibilities and accomplishments while being careful not to insinuate that you did everything yourself.
A marketing department could execute 50 events a year but if you were only involved with 10, then those are the events you want to talk about. And, you want to make sure you specify what your role was in executing these 10 events. Did you develop the event concept? Did you write and design the event collateral? Did you sell in the sponsors?
When you are on an interview, the hiring manager or recruiter wants to know specifics about what YOU personally contributed to your current and past jobs. They are not so interested in what "we did."
#2: Bring Your Pom-Poms
Your last boss was an unbearable, controlling nightmare? The company you worked for was poorly organized? Red tape stopped you from getting anything accomplished? Don’t let on when you’re interviewing. We have all had to work for— and with— people whom we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with. A hiring manager/recruiter wants to know that you can handle working with all kinds of personalities, whether they are easy or difficult. Nothing turns off a hiring manager or recruiter more than negativity. Although I do believe you should be truthful when giving an interview, that doesn’t mean you have to share negative feelings. Instead of focusing on the forces behind your reason for leaving, focus on the big picture. Here’s an example:
Sample Question: "Why did you decide to leave company x?"
Sample Response #1
“To be honest, it is such a big company, with so many layers of management, I found myself in a quagmire of red tape. I would work on projects for months at a time, incorporating change after change from upper-management. Nobody could agree on what they wanted. I just got too frustrated and decided to find a new job where I could actually feel like I was contributing something.”
Sample Response #2
“I absolutely love what I do and really learned a lot from Company X. However, at this point, I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge. I’d like to perhaps take on a management role and think I’m ready for that. The structure at Company X, as it is today, doesn’t allow me to achieve that next level of responsibility. Therefore, I’m searching for new opportunities.”
Respondent #2 was able to hone in on the positives of the situation without having to provide negatives. Both respondents essentially want more responsibility. It doesn’t really matter why they are not currently getting it. What does matter is they are ready for the next challenge. And, the old saying that something positive comes out of every negative is true. The reality is, respondent #1 probably did learn a lot from his experience. He learned that he can’t thrive in a heavily managed, hands-on corporate environment. And, he knows that his next job will have to offer a significantly different cultural environment.
Another, simple reason not to bad-mouth an organization is that the person you are interviewing with might know someone who works there. In fact, he/she might know your old boss. Or worse yet, maybe her husband works there.
#3: Tell It Like It Is
If you were laid off, be honest. If you made $35K/year, then that’s the salary you say you made. Never, ever tell a lie. If you have spent your entire career in a singular industry, rest-assured that the hiring manager or recruiter knows someone who you work, or have worked, with. They can easily find out if you are lying about something just by picking up the phone. Even if you are changing industries, it is imperative that you are always up-front and truthful.
Sometimes hiring managers and recruiters perform blind reference checks. This means they call people from past companies you worked for who may not have been listed among your references. If you lie and they find out, you will immediately be cut from the job. And, if your recruiter catches you in a lie, he will not want to risk his reputation by working with you on future job searches.