It takes only one word to blow your interview when you are in military transition. One bad little word. A word you use every day. It is not the word bomb you are thinking of, Sailor. It isn't even a cussword that blows your interview, Marine.
The word to avoid in an interview is "we." As in, "We provided 78 billion gallons of clean water to a desperate population following Hurricane Disasteronomous." Or "We saved the command $30 million in three days." Or "We were able to retain 79% of our junior officers when most commands had a 35% retention rate."
While hiring managers salivate at your numbers and statistics, they hate it when you start dropping the "We Bomb" in the interview, so they zone out.
There is no "we" in interview.
It is not fair to you. As Military.com's Transition Master Coach, I see how you answer the questions promptly so you feel like you are rocking the interview. You are using the word "we" to show how you are a team player and a compassionate leader. "We" is used to demonstrate a lack of arrogance and a commitment to the group. That's how we do things in the military.
Talking about your own accomplishments is so taboo in military culture, there are names for those who assume credit for the accomplishments of the entire unit. Most of those names are cusswords (or at least words you did not learn from your mother).
It is so ingrained that most military members -- even mid-level pros and senior leaders -- have no idea how many times they drop the We Bomb when they are answering interview questions. Among my senior military clients, I will hear on average only one "I" to seven "we's." It is an automatic behavior shaped by a lifetime in the military.
So why does a "we" blow your interview?
In the civilian world, a We Bomb does not make you look humble. It blows the interview because it makes you look invisible. When you talk about what the unit did, the average interviewer doesn't have enough military experience to be able to suss out what you did in your job. Yes, the interviewer or the recruiter understands the ship or the squadron or the battalion did something great, but what did you do in particular? What was your part? How did you make a difference?
Hiring managers are trying to see you clearly. They intend to use the data you provide to predict what it would be like to work with you and what you could be expected to contribute to your new company. If a "we" makes your input and impact disappear from the story, there is not enough information to make you memorable when it is time to compare you to the competition.
How do you give a good interview without a "we"?
You prepare ahead of time. NOTE: This does not mean you read over the interview questions in the parking lot 15 minutes before your interview.
This means you decide to prepare and practice for the interview and get frank feedback. While your ability to think on your feet is major, this is more about analysis and refinement. You have already done most of the work by preparing your resume with our FREE Reverse Resume Master Class. You have identified your own contribution, your strengths and your keywords. So you have the right responses ready.
The hiring manager wants to hear what you did in particular. Lose the "we" habit by working with an interview coach like me, with a mentor from a program like Veterati, or with a really honest and insightful partner. A good coach will catch you in your "we" and turn you back around to the "I" a hiring manager wants to hear and hire.
If you want to know more about breaking the "we" habit, or about other interview questions, I'm always available by email or you can connect with me, message me, or tag me on LinkedIn @jaceyeckhart.
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-- Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's Transition Master Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level master classes through our Veteran Employment Community and on her website seniormilitarytransition.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.