Unless You’re Hiring “We” – Don’t Let Candidates Hide Under the “We” Umbrella

I was recently interviewing a candidate with the CEO of the company I’m doing a search for. As the candidate is answering a question the CEO stops him and says, “I hate it when people use the words we and they in their answers. I’m hiring you, not we or they, so I want to know what you did. I would prefer it if you used ‘I’ instead.” I thought WOW that is a pretty strong statement and it clearly signaled to the candidate how to better answer his questions.  So what do you think was the next word out of the candidate’s mouth? If you answered “I” you would be wrong. It was “we.”

It wasn’t that the candidate didn’t want to answer the question. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to follow the CEO’s suggestion. He was in the habit of saying “we.”  Like most candidates, he has been trained to respond this way. Every book, coach, recruiter and outplacement firm seems to stress the need to use the word “we.” The fact is, there is a need to use the word “we” during an interview, but not all the time. As the interviewer you should help the candidate navigate these waters.

It isn’t the candidate’s fault for using “we and they.” I believe managers have to take some of the blame for this. For example, if a candidate uses “I” too often the interviewer often thinks, not a team player, they have a big ego, this person is arrogant, it’s all about them, they couldn’t possibly do all of this, or they like to take all the credit. Have you ever had these thoughts? What honest manager hasn’t? As a result candidates have been trained to to respond with “we” so as to eliminate those thoughts. For the most part, managers are getting the monster they created.

A good interview is a blend of “I” and “we.” Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far in one direction and interviewers need to help tame the monster.  Just as the CEO did in his interview, consider working with the candidates. They are in an environment where they are not comfortable. It is not the same as when they are working and in their comfort zone. This is a common mistake made by interviewers. Cut the candidates some slack. It’s an interview. Give them the same consideration you would want if you were a candidate out interviewing for a job.

Instead of eliminating the candidate, try coaching the candidate much like the CEO did. Let them know they have your permission to use the word “I.” Reassure them that you will not think they aren’t a team player or have a big ego. It will take some coaching and patience so the candidate gets comfortable using “I” instead of “we.” If you help them just a little you may not lose a good candidate for the wrong reasons.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard

bradremillard

About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.

Comments

  1. ABHAY VAIDYA says:

    You are perfectly correct. In many interviews the candidate uses the word ‘We ‘ because many a time if the candidates use the word I then it may not be taken positively by many interviewers as it is felt that the candidate is taking the credit of everything , and since many interviewers dont like the word I , the practice of using the word we is started.However the CEO himself has told the candidate and given the valuable guidance it was easy for the candidate. However it should be the combination of words We and I however the best practice is to avoid the repeated use of those word as ultimately repeated use of these words irritates the interviewer. The answers can be specific which will lead to the fruitful discussion and it should be enjoyed both by the interviewer and the candidates.

  2. I agree fully. This isn’t just an interviewing problem; it’s become prevalent in society, largely because of sports figures and politicians that obviously don’t understand the basics of the English language. “I” is singular, “we” is plural. Speak correctly! If you’re referring to the team, then use “we,” but if you’re talking about yourself the use of “we” is restricted to royalty.

  3. Karl Bogard says:

    My first thought is that this interviewer is desperate for a leader, and doesn’t want the candidate to waffle or not be clear about his/her successes or strengths. Personally, I would never consider a candidate that used I and Me as they discussed successes. A “leader” leads teams, so we and they is absolutely correct….in my opinion. On the flip side this interview was simply a “Me” and “I” guy, so the interviewee has to make an on the spot decision if they want to work for this dinosour…. again, just my opinion and I was not there at the interview to hear the content.

  4. Niels E. says:

    If you ar a team-worker, which most of us are (or almost always have to be),
    and even if you know that you personally deserve the credit, most well educated
    people wil answer with “we”.

    When I (as CEO) interviewed candidates, and found them answering most questions with
    (I did) i was, and will always bes suspicious of their ability to team-work, and
    share their workload with colleagues.

    So! Do not be afraid of “we”, but ask supplementary questions, to
    hear about their role, attitude and reason.

    Otherwise you may end up with an employee, who is not able to team-work,
    or share (or you run the risk of employing a “bully”).

    Rgds
    Niels E.

    +++

    • Niels,

      You are right on the money – I like folks to show a little humility by saying “we”, but then not letting them hide behind we – rather probing deeply for their specific role. Thanks for your comment.

      Barry

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