Three Ways to Turn Off the Hiring Manager in a Job Interview

Job interviewing is the least-practiced job skill we use in our careers. Think about it: we interview for jobs when we don’t have one or want another one. Compared to how often you use Microsoft Office, for example, how often you interview is rare.

And it shows. Right now, because I’m doing a consulting gig, I’m doing interviews as a hiring manager. The truth is, I really, really want to hire a great person. I go into every interview hoping to find that great person. And while the people I’m interviewing have the job skills, I’m not impressed enough because I’m not convinced they can use their job skills to achieve my goals for the work I have for them.

Obviously, all of this is the opinion of one hiring manager, and your mileage may vary. But let me tell you what I’m hearing when I ask the questions, and let’s see what you think.

I want to know what YOU did, not what WE did

When a hiring manager is interviewing you, it’s all about you. The hiring manager has the drum beat of, “Will this person help me reach my goal?” I want the yes answer.

But then I get, “In the project, we took this approach.” “We decided to build whatever this way.” “We took this in this direction.”

The “we” thing translates in my head as “you” made no decisions, you were following the directions of someone else, and you couldn’t figure out how to do it yourself or no one trusted your input to do it your way.

In an interview, it’s all about you. Not we. You lose big points when I can’t tell what you are doing versus what others are deciding for you.

I want to hear your approach to doing the work

There are many different methods to get stuff done. Now, if you are being asked a methodology question to find out whether you understand the methodology, I get that. But when I ask a question about how you would approach doing something based on some information I give you or an experience from your past, I expect you to answer how you would use the information to achieve your objective.

And not spout all sorts of Corporate Speak or hide behind all the methodology as being the real answer.

When asked how a person goes about organizing themselves for the day — a real example — I don’t expect to hear a methodology response of following Project methodology and using Six Sigma. After all, I’m running the project on this gig, and I’ll tell you that the very good methodology this company uses to manage projects addresses absolutely nothing about how organized I am doing the work.

And Six Sigma for organizing your work? Seriously? How you eliminate defects in your task analysis or something? It’s not a real answer.

Methodology is methodology. If all you spout is methodology about how you go about doing everything, or even most things, you lose points. Lots of them. Following methodology is a job skill, not how you get stuff done.

Just to extend this point a bit more, all I want to hear is that you have enough brains to explain how you would go about getting stuff done, not that it has to match my method of getting something done. I want to know you’ve thought about your approach to the work.

Tell me a story. Please.

You’ve all heard the “Tell me about a time when…” kind of question. If you aren’t prepared to tell a story about that time, you’re seriously behind the eight-ball. Worse, to answer it with a “Well, it depends on your situation and how you want to do it,” is the kiss of death. I’m not doing the work, you are, and I want to know how you would go about doing the work. If you answer as whatever I want to do as a client, it’s a cop out.

Stories help tell the context of what you do. Stories help tell the actions you took to achieve a goal. After all, you are the hero of this story, right? You came in, battled long odds, overcame setbacks and still delivered what you promised to fulfill your mission.

But what I’m getting is, “It depends.” What I’m getting is cloaked in methodology. What I hear is all Corporate Speak. Just so you know, I can watch myself self-actualize with the best of them, and you won’t win that point.

Hiring managers want to learn about what you do and how you do it

Have you thought about how you do your work? Have you thought of how to create stories from your accomplishments? Do you know what YOU contributed to the work? Hiring managers — if they are good ones (and I’m biased in my case) — want to see a position taken, want to see obstacles overcome, want to hear the difficulties experienced, and, honestly, would love to hire you.

If you only showed them what you do and how you do it — not that it has to match how I do it. Because that’s a conversation — not some Corporate Speak, methodology-dancing-with-the-stars explanation of what you think I want to hear.

Comments

  1. BY Mike says:

    A comment regarding “I want to know what YOU did, not what WE did.”

    Is it possible you hear about “we” because conventional, current management mantra is all about “TEAM and there is no I in TEAM”? I would not be surprised if that’s the case. Too much talk about “me” leads some to believe a person is arrogant and self centered. It’s been my experience that arrogance is the result of too much self esteem rather than self confidence. Sadly, I’ve been accused of talking too much about me even though it was me who recruited the players, assigned the tasks and drove the project to a successful conclusion.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      This is the flip side of the “we” part of what we do. Both sides of the coin are just as bad because it turns off one person one way or the other. The key is to determine what you did versus how you collaborated with the team. The hiring manager (in this case, me) wants to know what you did in the effort versus what the team did. And, oh-by-the-way, how you worked with the team comes out of that answer as an added bonus. The hiring manager needs both — what you did and how you interacted with the team. Using both in the same answer is golden.

      Good comment — there are a lot of managers out there who would go exactly in that direction.

    • BY Steven Sciotto says:

      On the job, it’s always about ‘we’…the author is talking about your responses in an interview, and it had better be about you (‘me’), or it comes off as if you did nothing at all.

      Dr. Gregory House: “There’s no ‘me’ in ‘team’…actually, there is, if you kind of jumble it around…”

      See what I’m saying?

      Here’s a tactic I’ve found VERY useful in an interview, and the author is 100% dead-nuts on when he says the interviewer wants to hear a ‘story’…lace it with hints suggesting your nascent leadership if you didn’t hold a formal position with the word ‘manager’ in it, or clear evidence of your successful leadership and particularly ‘mentorship’ if you did.

      In the interview, it’s all about YOU…I couldn’t agree more with this guy and would love to know how to get in touch with him.

      • BY Scot Herrick says:

        Steven,

        Always good to figure out what characteristics you want to get across in a story — and the “nascent leadership” aspect you mention is a good one to incorporate if you have that experience in your background. Stories show you accomplishments and how your job skills are used to get work done. I’d also note that a good story can perfectly show how you, as an individual, worked with a team — what your part was, how the team reacted, how you supported a team, etc.

        The thing is, people remember stories and not facts. They remember that what sounded like facts were in the story, but the story is what they remember. A good thing when looking at a list of candidates — what is it about the candidate you remember? A story is often what is remembered.

        And my contact info is on my website.

      • BY Celeste says:

        Interesting perspectives. As a detail oriented person I actually tend to recall interesting facts and a long story will not normally hold my attention. I can see however, how this might make a candidate stand out. Yet, everyone is different and I’ve selected people based on their resumé. In a couple of cases I’ve already researched the background of the candidate and verified the information on the resumé, so the interview becomes a bit of a formality. I also don’t believe its possible to really know a person based upon 10 – 20 minutes of discourse. My father, an excellent manager and director, hired and inherited many talented people and he believed in getting to know a candidate by giving them adequate time to express their prior contributions.

  2. BY Hyder Bux says:

    Find a job

  3. BY Steven Sciotto says:

    Man, this guy is a genius and I couldn’t agree with him more.

    That said, he should NOT expect similar platitudes from the PMP crowd of in-sourced ‘telecom project managers’ who never spent a day on the bench as a technician, or a year on a design project, or a couple of years working on a large procurement where his mission was to lock horns over technology with the big vendor trying to forklift a large system onto a customer with a large tax base.

    I saw some of these guys taking home a 6-figure salary in the last 2 years for doing nothing more than waving their hands, smoking like chimneys and talking their ‘Corporate Speak’ methodology, laced with provocative suggestions of ‘quick fixes’ to problems they don’t understand, and for which they never deliver.

    For much less money, I had to do his Excel for him because he couldn’t do simple math, and I had to create tables for him in Word because he couldn’t start something ‘new’ on his own…just fill in the blanks…with data I obtained for him.

    I hold 2 college degrees, designed radio receiver circuits and a backup dispatch radio over IP system for the US Navy…

    …PMP-man never finished high school, then spent 20 years in the Air Force chain-smoking and pushing a broom around the electronics he later claims to have purchased…knocked up some fat girl he met at a bar outside Little Rock Air Force Base and ended up married to the local mob of cesspool diggers…who later diversified into telecom after the bubble burst by hiring 1 or 2 knowledgeable engineers for every 10 ‘Project Managers’; creating the very first ‘Ponzi Scheme of Knowledge’.

    In either case – individually or institutionally – it’s a classic case of ‘style over substance’.

    Individually, someone well-placed who knows all the ‘buzzwords’ will eventually get cornered into providing an answer with some substance – and he’ll come up short and fall back on his ‘Corporate Double-Speak’ in a job interview.

    Institutionally, a company that never finds any problems with the vendors’ solutions – problems which always seem to emerge after they’ve been paid and move on – gets a reputation as a ‘Rubber Stamp’ company.

    Based on the context of this article, and what I heard only yesterday on NPR as this form of ‘illegitimacy’ is practiced by ‘Financial Advisors’ who likewise have no real college education or salient experience, I’d say only now has the tide turned in the employment picture.

    Now it’s time for people with real education and experience to shine; I take articles like this as ‘feedback’ from the hiring community and it sounds like they’ve got real problems; which I knew they would from having taken one or two lousy jobs during the recession.

    If you’re one of these, try to avoid working for PMP-man, and by all means do NOT accept chump change. I guarantee you, the in-bred insider is earning top-dollar and hasn’t missed a day of work in this recession, while you’ve gone years without regular work and had to take out a second mortgage on your house to keep you kids fed and clothed.

    Aren’t you glad you went to college?

    • BY James in Maryland says:

      Bravo, Scott! Well spoken, and truthful to the bone… This is the first time I’ve heard the phrase “Ponzi Scheme of Knowledge” and it is so painfully apt here at my beloved Gargantua Corporation where the Chiefs-to-Indians ratio runs 3:1 or higher… Eventually SOMEONE really has to really perform the work so we can ALL get paid, yet the Chiefs never lay off another Chief and the ratio keeps growing as times get tighter…

  4. BY Nancy Paris says:

    Would you hire a person who is brilliant, more dynamic and more capable that yourself ?

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Nancy — I have hired people more brilliant than I. And I’ve inherited them on teams I’ve managed. The really great thing about managing brilliant and capable people is that they usually want to learn more and get even better at what they do. Consequently, you can work with them to do really cool and fun stuff as it relates to the work, unlike people who are not inherently interested in doing the work.

      Having said that, there are a lot of managers out there who think they are the best and don’t hire someone who would challenge them. During interviews, it is important to gauge that in the hiring manager to know what type of manager you are getting. Of all the managers I’ve worked for, I’d say the manager that has the right kind of ego to hire and work with brilliant and capable people is more rare than ones that are threatened by that type of person.

  5. BY Probably, LOL says:

    I’ve done exactly the opposite of all of them but am still not hired.

  6. BY Mike D says:

    Good information given here.

    About providing stories:
    Does anyone have any examples or insights has to how to turn an accomplishment into a story? I don’t give enough stories in interviews. I’d like to hear anyone’s take on this.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Mike, I know that I’ve written about this here on Dice.com; I just don’t have a link to it off the top of my head. Also, my site has articles on that as well.

      Telling those stories takes some practice. We don’t normally talk about our accomplishments and how we achieved them when we talk about our work to others. In any case, I construct them following this acronym: CAR, for Context, Action, Results. What was the context of the work ($1 million project? CRM Suite? Specialized software?), what actions did you take to get the work done, and the business results achieved from your work or the work of the team that you were a participant.

    • BY Cheryl T says:

      One idea that may help you is to keep track of your accomplishments as you go… always be building your mental highlight reel. I keep a folder on my work laptop for my “big wins.” Anytime I feel like I’ve done something very well (maybe I had my team’s top performance to goal for a quarter), I add it to my folder. Just make sure that you record the quantifiable victory and what you did to make it happen. Then, when you have an interview, you can open your folder and study up on the victories that are most impressive or most relevant to the position you are trying to land.

      • BY Scot Herrick says:

        Another way to do this is consistently add your results (like once a month) to your resume. That will build out the resume to something very long (a CV…), but the data will be there for you to use and what it meant while it was current.

        Something that seems dumb at the time — I worked with government agencies implementing projects in my past life — means quite a bit when now interviewing with a government agency about a consulting gig. In one of those palm-hitting-forehead moments, it’s important to have that on the resume because it helps the hiring manager in the government agency that you have some exposure to how the culture works.

        I didn’t have it on my long resume, but should have. Could have built a story around it. Stories are fortified with results and Cheryl’s folder idea or putting the stuff into a resume that can be pared back later for a specific position are good ways to capture results from your work.

  7. BY Jagdish J patel says:

    I partly agree with the author. Yes, it is all about ‘me’ in the interview. The hiring person wants to know about your capabilities, as an individual and also as a team member/leader. It matters, how you present yourself in the interview. for example: I led a team, established high goals (SMART) and motivated/guided/coached team that achieved…… Give example of diffrences that your leadership skill made. You need to demonstarte that you are an excellent team player/leader.

    For the second point, It is not advisable to show more skills/smartness than your future boss.

    Also, every hiring manager is not alike. They may have a different views. So, the answers should be carefully framed.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Jagdish,

      All good points.

      On teams, usually a hiring manager will ask a specific team question to figure out what you do with teams (“Tell me about a time you had difficulty working with a team member. What did you do so you could still work together and achieve the businss goal?”).

      That’s different than what work you did as a team member to achieve a goal. You are correct if the question is about how you lead a team — because if you lead a team, what the team accomplishes reflects your ability to lead the team to achieve goals.

      For the rest, yes, it is important to ask good questions to determine what kind of manager you are interviewing with. It will bring out the style and help you determine if you fit in with that manager’s style and approach to the work.

  8. BY Jagdish J patel says:

    By the way, this is a good discussion.

  9. BY Mike W says:

    I believe Mr. Herrick hit the nail on the head. Its refreshing to hear that from a recruiting specialist. Hiring managers are looking for an “I” not a “WE” to hire. Everyone realizes that major projects are not accomplished by an individual, but your contribution is what a recruiter cares about. Whether you directed the project, participated or were part of the customer base, your direct contribution becomes your story. Keep it brief, to the point and be specific on your participation and accomplishments in the successful project.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Thanks, Mike.

      Yes, there is this position out there that if you talk about “me” all the time it takes away from the “team.” As mentioned in a different comment, if a hiring manager wants to know about how you work with a team, you’ll get asked about it. But the hiring manager also wants to know your contribution to the team because it shows your results.

      For example, one of the first big company-wide projects I was on was as a team member responsible for converting move-add-change orders from one system to another. Reduce the total needed for re-entry since there was no conversion possible. That meant driving the number of outstanding orders to zero, or as close to it as possible for conversion night.

      Now, I was on a team — a whole bunch of other people were doing other stuff. But my contribution to it was starting with 2,000 outstanding orders in one state four weeks before the conversion, determining the triggers for the order to bill and therefore not have to be converted, working with the operations team to track and close out the orders and then, finally, doing the manual entry for what remained. On conversion night, we entered in about 175 orders — not the 2,000 I started with.

      (By the way, did you notice that was an interview story?)

      If I hadn’t accomplished that, the team would have suffered from entering hundreds of orders and possibly impacting the project’s conversion in that state. No one else was in charge of that part of the project — my team had to rely on me to get that part of the work done. That’s the “I” part of a team.

  10. BY Wally Talen says:

    The only problem I have with Mr. Herrick’s post and the “I” factor is there is no “I” in “TEAM” – so we interviewees have to guess whether it’s more important that we fit in (more likely than not) and our team skills are up to par or that we can do the “Kobe Bryant” alone on projects.

    It’s a tough call either way as interviewers can be turned off by a strong “me” factor especially if they’re the hiring manager and don’t want to hire another “prima donna”. On the other hand if the position is for saving a failing project a prima donna (who is justified by prior deeds) might be exactly what the IT doctor ordered :-)

  11. BY Steve Heitmann says:

    Good advice. Imo, there’s another interpretation of one’s use of “we”. The candidate might be signalling that s/he isn’t a credit hog and works well as a team member. Because many projects are complex enough to require a team, the candidate, in his/her mind, reflecting on past work, is still part of that team, i.e. “we”. Such a person may have, in fact, made all the tough decisions and may have been a primary contributer–and also acknowledges s/he would have had no success without a competent team of “we”.

    It’s best to keep your advice in mind to use “I” when being interviewed; I think it’s also a good idea that interviewing managers, when hearing “we”, ask, “what was your specific contribution? Were you a decision-maker?”

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Steve,

      Good advice on the hiring manager to follow-through on the “specific contribution.” In this particular case, I did just that and kept getting the “we” answer. One can only ask for specifics so many times before you just give up on it. Same is true on the “methodology” piece — I kept asking for instances of how this person did the work, how this person stayed organized, etc., and kept getting back methodology madness.

      Was it a technique problem in answering the question or was it really about the person ready to do the work? I chose the latter because either the person didn’t get it or I could never communicate well with this person if I hired that person.

      The takeaway from your good point, I think, is if you are interviewing and you are hearing the same question being asked in different ways, there is a disconnect between what you are answering with and what the hiring manager is looking for you to address. You’d have to understand the disconnect so you can address what the question is about.

  12. BY Mark T. says:

    Don’t usually comment on these types of things, but this was very insightful. As someone who is trying to get into new technology (iOS development) after being in other technology field (Java Enterprise development), I’m finding it hard to get to story across about what I’ve done in the past related to what they are looking for.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Mark,

      Part of what you can build your story around is “adjacency” and it’s really good in technology areas. It’s not as simple as “coding is coding so hire me,” but the technology is easier learned than is how you do the work and less important than the fact that you get results from your work. Your Java Enterprise development is adjacent to iOS development. Same scale, same type of work, same challenges — different technology.

      I don’t know how you show competence in iOS development from your background, but you certainly can show all those other critical achievements and results as an employee using your current work in a different technology. Build the stories around your current work and technology that match the same critical hiring attributes the hiring manager is looking to acquire (working large projects, criticality of data, customer interfacing; that kind of thing). If you have training in the new technology, but just haven’t used it yet in the work environment, your stories will really help the hiring manager take the chance of selecting you versus someone who knows iOS development — but doesn’t show how their work produces results.

  13. BY Mark says:

    I disagree with a determining factor being the I versus We response. Saying I did this and I did that comes across as an ego maniac. If the hiring manager feels that this is an important factor in the job interview the manager should ASK. With so much information being shared in such a short time any items like this that are critical should be spelled out rather than leaving the interviewee to guess or get lucky as to what the question “what did you do” means. Same response for the methods versus actions to achieve an objective. It’s impossible to know you are tripping up on the question without more information. You are missing a lot of good people if you can’t communicate your requirements. What is this? A cat and mouse game?

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Hi Mark,

      Nope, it’s not a cat and mouse game. As I said in the article, I really, really want to hire someone who can help on the consulting gig I’m on. I’m not trying to have people read my mind. Playing games with people I’m trying to hire is a huge waste of time I don’t have for what I’m doing.

      The “I” approach can absolutely come off as ego; it is the flip side of “we” statements all the time and just as bad. On one of the earlier comments, I did a quick overview of a project I did earlier in my career and it shows, I think, what I did versus what we did as a team. “I” comes across as ego when the tone of it gets to “I’m the greatest” versus what I think hiring managers want with an explanation of “here’s what I did to do the work.”

      Now, some hiring managers might just ask the question and hear the “we” and go on, but in this case, I asked for what that person did specifically for that aspect of the work. Without revealing the content of the questions, be assured I asked what input that person had into X decision, how did their work help achieve Y objective — but all I got back was “we” did this, “we” did that and, with another person, how methodology magically did all the work for that person. I asked. But most people, including me, will only ask so many times in so many ways to find out what a person did for the work and how they went about doing it. After that (and for me, it was about 35 minutes into the interview), hiring managers start to tune stuff out because they already know this isn’t the person for them.

      When I’m asking specific questions about past experience, current work, or how someone handles a specific situation I describe, I wouldn’t expect generalities back over and over again — especially with follow-up questions to the generality to try and nail the specifics down. Especially with no clarifying questions from the candidate about what I was asking. That means the candidate doesn’t get it, or, even if the candidate thinks he or she gets it, we’re not communicating right and that means it wouldn’t be a good fit for hiring.

      I’d just note that this isn’t about a question and a some sort of secret answer. Good hiring managers want to understand how a candidate approaches the work, how they track what they do and how they approach issues and problems. The questions and answers in a good interview become a conversation about how that works for the person which, in turn, start to show how the candidate and hiring manager can work together. That moves the needle in the right direction for hiring.

  14. BY Dave says:

    In defense of the ‘I’ approach, it’s not about ego, but about getting information on what the candidate has done. Even if they are part of the team I want to hear what THEY did as part of the team, not just what the team did.

    On the other hand, I don’t want ‘canned’ and rehearsed responses. This really doesn’t help me to learn how this individual reacts to a situation.

    Consulting is very much about keeping the client happy. Customers really don’t want someone who can spout canned responses, but is quick on their feet in resolving issues and delivering solutions.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      “Customers really don’t want someone who can spout canned responses, but is quick on their feet in resolving issues and delivering solutions.”

      And that’s my consulting gig. I need to make sure people can deliver on the project goals.

      As noted in other comments, too much I and too much We are both poor answers. But saying that you worked on a team and your part of the team contribution was “x” is a great way of defining your individual contribution while showing how you worked on the team.

  15. BY Mike says:

    Scot,

    The responses, from others, to your original post have been interesting. Thanks for the clarification.

    Indeed, if you ask more than once about individual contributions and decision making authority, yet receive responses always about what WE did, it seems the interviewee is not listening to the question.

    Mike

  16. BY Rob says:

    Very helpful, particularly the “We” part. I’ve caught myself doing that a few times and know that it’s wrong – it can be a hard habit to break.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      On this post, the I and the We have been the big comment area. I think the summary statements would be:

      1. Too much I and too much We are equally poor answers.

      2. Hiring managers want to know that you can contribute to making their business goals. So you need to tell them how you achieved business results in previous work.

      3. Hiring managers also want ot know how you operate with a team. Answering the individual contribution questions also allow you to tie in how you worked with a team for a double win on the answer.

      If you are wondering how to open up the answer to a “what was your contribution” type of question, I’d say something like “I was part of a team charged with doing X. My contribution to the team was to ensure Y. My work resulted in Z. During the work, the team had to work through A, B, and C issues, but we achieved our goals by taking these actions.”

      Mix that up a little bit, add in your results, and you get a great individual contribution story with how you work with a team bonus.

      • BY Celeste says:

        True, an overuse of any word would be annoying over time. Something which I find that some managers often do, perhaps due to arrogance and a sense of control which to some degree is necessary. Managers are human however as are interviewees and employees and an effective manager will normally recognize this simple fact. In some companies, when employees perform poorly, individually and as a group, the manager will be the first person that the company looks at. It is quite a responsibility.

  17. BY Robert Townsend says:

    You seem to be in desperate need of a high colonic. Your three points indicate that you’re the hiring manager from hell– the guy who wants the opposite of what everyone else expects and sends mixed or unclear messages. To address your points one at a time:

    1. Do you have any idea how many interviewers complain about the use of the words “I” and “me” in interviews? How many recruiters instruct candidates never to overuse the words– to say “We” and “team”?

    Maybe you should read one of the myriad books on how to interview before you complain about how people interview.

    2. I cut and pasted the first paragraph of your instructions into Word and ran a grammar check. The Flesch-Kincaid readability index (number of years of schooling needed to comprehend the sentence) was 17.1– meaning it would require a year of graduate school. The readability score was 43%– standard conversational English grades between 60% and 70%, meaning you’re about 50% harder to comprehend than normal.

    Interview 101, again, teaches “mimic the terms, phrasing and sentence structure of the person asking the questions.” When I sit down with a guy who speaks in 40-word sentences and uses “objective” instead of “goal” and “information” instead of “facts”, he’s going to get long sentences and jargon back.

    3. When I learned project management, step one was “Create the mission statement by asking the project sponsor to define the goals.” I don’t guess at what my boss wants done, and I don’t assume I know what is best.

    Especially not in an interview where people want team players who never assume “because it makes an ass out of u and me.”

    If you want something different than 99% of the people sitting across the desk, then it’s your responsibility to spell it out up front. You deserve exactly what you’re getting, and you have a lot of nerve to blame it on candidates who are laboring under the delusion that you’re not an irrational jackass.

  18. BY John in Maryland says:

    Re: Point #2 (individual/team talk)

    I understand that you want to know what the individual brings to the table – but I want to ensure that the person plays well with others, too. Some people have the assumption that techies are not team players – because a bunch of them are not team players.

    Yeah, we need to know that you are a CONTRIBUTING member to a team – and for that, you need to know about individual skills/accomplishments, but I like hearing about “we did this.” Rarely one person completes an important project for a business. But you can have a CONTRIBUTING member that adds so much. And that is who I am looking for.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      John — yes, very good point. It is a simple matter to say that you were part of a team and your unique contribution to that team was XYZ. Then you can go on to talk about the team and how you related to it (a double win).

      In my case, I could never get the candidates to describe their contribution to the team — “What was your contribution to the work the team did? What was your role in the team making when making the decision?” Nothing. Just “we.”

      My focus was never getting to the individual contribution in the interviews. If I would have had that, I’d have kept going on how the person related to the team.

    • BY Mike says:

      Re: Rarely one person completes an important project for a business.

      Much depends on how the business defines project.

      I have completed projects on my own; I have assumed responsibility for projects assigned to others; I have been a contributing member of a team effort; I have been a project/team leader.

      Whether or not a “techie” should be a (strong) individual contributor, team member or team leader depends on the skill set needed; soft and/or hard skills, as well as does the project require a team, or simply one person focusing on that project.

      The excellent manager/leader knows his people and how they are best used and motivated.

  19. BY Alfred Songy says:

    Excellent article with great insight. The discussion sparked by this article was also helpful. By emphasizing what “I” did as a contributing member of the “team” organization, I can get across to the interviewer information needed to make a good hiring decision.

  20. BY Celeste says:

    Its a bit of a slippery slope, on the one hand the interviewee is expected to put his or her best foot forward, be positive and express their past job experiences and achievements. Then the interviewer is objecting to the use of ‘I’ or ‘We’? Is he or she expecting the applicant to refer to themselves in third person? In that case a written report would suffice and no interview would be necessary. At one interview I had, the whole interview consisted of the interviewer touting his own skills, role in the company and his own achievements. I didn’t want to interrupt him. Whatever skills I might have had to contribute seemed irrelevant.

  21. BY Esther Lumsdon says:

    I agree with Scot. It’s been a few years since I got to interview candidates, but someone who talked only about what the team accomplished, and who could not provide details about the specifics…. that is a bad sign. Fortunately, when pressed for specifics some people say “someone else on the team did x” in response to every question, which is very helpful in determining that this person did nothing.

    I work in software testing Someone who cannot tell a story about solving a problem, or provide details about a past project is someone who you may regret hiring.

  22. BY Dennis says:

    I have no issue with most of the discussion. I have been on the interviewee side
    of the desk for a few years.

    The items about “….how you do things” caught my eye.
    I understand the point, but at some point(?), I have to say “….hire me and I’ll tell you”.

    It seems that there are a few standard approaches to solving problems. The creative part comes in when the standard approaches need tailoring. I must ask if the interviewer is looking
    to capitalize on the interviewee’s ideas on how a problem was solved in order to apply that idea or
    technique to an intervewers current problem.

    This puts the candidate in the uncomfortable positon of providing original work for free.

    It gets very dicey when the Proprietary nature of a former solution becomes too detailled.

    In my opinion, generalities are very nice and useful, but do not press too hard for details that are out of the scope of the interview.

    In short, why should the candidate be expected to freely divulge techniques, ideas, design, or approaches that have taken years to develop or engage in “blue-sky” thinking without compensation?

  23. BY Dawn W says:

    I think Scot is right on the money.

    …If you can’t get excited about what you do during an interview (your moment in the spotlight!).
    …If you haven’t figured out how you think about troubleshooting when you first tackle a difficult problem.
    ….If you can’t express that excitement, and communicate it to someone else.
    ….If you can’t show something about your style of problem solving, without worrying someone will steal your ideas.

    …then you should think about a different career, because technology is not for you.

    * “This puts the candidate in the uncomfortable positon of providing original work for free.” What was the poster thinking when he asked this? What interviewer is going to use a question he does not already know how to answer? He can Google and read for 2-20 minutes. Interviewing for one position takes a lot more time than that!

    Come on

  24. BY Steve Klemetti says:

    This article is as antiquated and clueless. Job interviews are outdated and not looking for the right information. They are all about the person’s past, something that a person can not change. Why talk about that?

    It should be about what a person can change. Just like on the Apprentice, have them do the work that they would be doing and judge them on that, not what they did with a company in the past with people they would not be working with.

    Actors have auditions, athletes have tryouts, job applicants have what they did 6 years ago. Get with the present and future.

    • BY Mark Feffer says:

      Well, you may not like what job interviews are right now, but the fact is — this is the way they’re approached, and if you want to have a shot at the job you have to be prepared to talk about things in the way the manager wants you to. Telling him his hiring methods are outdated isn’t going to help you any.

    • BY John from Maryland says:

      Steve, I disagree with a statement of yours: A job interview is about a person’s past (like you said), but it is also about potential. It isn’t or shouldn’t be about what a person can change. People, in general, don’t change all that much. Yes, we have the capacity for change, but people are comfortable with who they are, and their past experiences show you what kind of character, work ethic, intelligence and so forth they have. Sure, there should also be discussions about potential, but what would you rather here: (1) I just skated by because they were not paying me to do more, but I can do more for your company, or (2) while doing this at XYZ company, I attended college at night so I could be qualified to do more?

      People’s individual skills matter, but their impact on an organization needs to be highlighted. Going back to Steve’s earlier statement about batting average, OBP, etc. The reason Billie ball works is that they look at OBP and hire/purchase for that. It is that impact that helps the team. Sure the best players may not win the world series each year, but look at the Pittsburgh Pirates or Baltimore Orioles (both teams for the last 14 years are more). They have no chance to win without fielding at least a decent team.

  25. BY Steve Klemetti says:

    I vs team: What is your batting average, OBP, home runs, ERA? but none of those win world series by themselves.

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