In my previous life as a generalist HR consultant, I delivered the occasional training course. Here, I faced attendees with varying degrees of enthusiasm and, occasionally, cynicism about the content on offer.
A couple of times, the groups informed me that they usually played ‘Consultant B…S…Bingo’ when attending a training session – that is, they kept score all day as to how often the consultant used clichés or jargon as part of their content.
I was always relieved that they gave me a score of zero.
Of course, like all of us, I do occasionally fall into the trap of clichés (‘It’s not rocket science’ comes to mind, for example). However, when I want to convince someone, I call on the full resources of the English language to aid my cause.
Culling and Cleansing
Arguably, a Job Interview is one of the few times in life where a relatively small slice of time will have a massive impact on your life. A mere 45 minutes means the difference between a new job or not, with all of the obvious impacts on your future.
Here are four clichés / boring phrases that are likely to alienate a prospective employer. It’s worth a quick check to see if you use them.
‘I’m passionate about…’
World peace, maybe? Eliminating poverty? Or even the Adelaide Crows football team?
It may be OK in a romantic movie but ‘passionate’ gets used too many times in both Cover Letters and job interviews. It is such a strong word that it doesn’t ring true in a work setting. Not many of us turn up to work every day passionate about our daily tasks.
It’s not so much that your listener is going to actively disbelieve what you then say: most people understand that you don’t really mean ‘passionate’ in the true sense of the word. It’s just harder to believe something that is attached to something unbelievable.
If you are absolutely wedded to this phrase, follow it up with specifics. Your delivery style will need to be lively and enthusiastic, and the content will need to be strong to convince your listener.
A more natural alternative is…
‘What I love about xxx is yyyy.’
2. Team Player
I often say I’m the only person in the world who admits that she is not a team player. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit sceptical of people who make the claim.
Teamwork is one of the most complex skills in the workplace. It is multi-faceted not one dimensional. Simply stating that you are a ‘team player’ as a standalone phrase does not convince anyone that you are gifted in this sphere.
Instead of making an ambit claim, analyse exactly what it is about your approach to team work that makes you of value to a prospective employer. It may be that you are the creative one, you may be the glue that holds the various personalities together etc etc.
Be precise and be specific. Follow up with an example even if one has not been requested.
‘My approach to teams is to…’
‘And then I did…, and then I did…, and then I did...’
Once a client has started along this path, I’ve noticed that their voice will adopt a sing song rising intonation with each example given. It’s as though even they are bored by their own content and that is why their voice is falling into this pattern.
Instead of a long ramble, provide structure. This does two things. First, it lets the listener know where you are going so that they are more inclined to stick with you. Second, it gives you confidence that you know what you are doing. You then tend to have stronger content and a more interesting delivery style.
‘There were three key things I did. The first was to…. The second focused on… Finally, I…’
‘I’m a collaborative leader.’
Pause. As if that’s enough.
Sorry, no it’s not. If you’re senior enough to be talking about this topic, the expectation is that you’ll do better than that.
Like teamwork, leadership is an elusive quality. What a pity if you are gifted in this area but cannot articulate why or how. You are likely to miss out on the role to someone who could well be a poorer prospect than you but better at playing the interview game.
Do your homework. Think through the concept of leadership and then your approach to it.
An interview is not usually a grilling under harsh lights, especially when you are applying for a senior role. There is little risk in you straying just a little from the question asked if it gives the interviewer valuable information about you. So, no matter what leadership question you are confronted with, start with your definition.
Your leadership definition does need to be compelling and you need to sound as though it rings true with your values.
The next step is to link your approach to leadership with your definition and finally to provide a specific example.
‘I think leadership is…’
Many US career experts will advise a candidate to send a thank you letter to the employer after a job interview. This approach has never taken off in Australia because we seem to feel that very few recipients would believe we were genuine.
So, if most of us are savvy enough to realise that few people are fooled by insincerity, it’s time to apply that wisdom to interviews.
Wake them Up!
Picture the worst case interview scenario – a hot Friday afternoon with the sun streaming through the window directly into the eyes of your decision-makers.
In such a situation, clichés and boring platitudes are not your friends. Even if they don’t show it, your audience will mentally switch off from you and will likely be longing for that first Thank-God-It’s-Friday drink.
Your job in an interview is to keep them alert and interested.
Use normal, everyday language. Accompany it with a lively and animated delivery style. Achieve both and you will have nailed interview communication!
As always, start early. At least a month before any interview, find someone to practise with. Together, assess your use of clichés and/or boring phrases. Film yourself on your phone answering typical interview questions. Listen to both specific words and to the intonation of your voice.
Then, it’s a case of practise, practise, practise until you have switched from bland and boring to…
…sparkling and scintillating.
Nail the interview, nail the job. It’s as simple as that.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's Careers section, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au
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