Interviews can feel like a make or break moment. So, when you’ve done all the hard work of getting the interview, you want to give it your best shot.
Taking a moment to consider the words you’ll use is one way to ensure you put your best foot forward.
The right words can help you show the interviewer that you understand the role, and that you’re not just talking the talk – you’re ready to put the skills on your resume into action. But relying on certain overused words can make it harder for you to do this.
Here’s a look at the words to avoid and why – and what you should say instead.
Beware of buzzwords
In some ways job searching has its own language – nowhere else would we have to describe ourselves the way we do in a job interview. It’s good to get comfortable with that language. The trouble is, some words recruiters and employers hear all the time – and these buzzwords start to lose their meaning once person after person says them.
Some examples include “dedicated”, “motivated”, “team player”, “excellent communicator” or “proactive”. Without the right evidence to show that you are these things, these words make it much harder for you to stand out.
Avoid these overused words
Jason Walker, director at recruitment firm Hays, says some frequently used words could be replaced with better options:
The word “I” is always better. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear “we did XYZ in our department,” they want to know what part you played in the success and how you took ownership.
“Interviews are usually the first time we meet a candidate so you should not assume that anything is obvious,” says Walker. “We are trying to get an understanding of experience and how good a fit you would be for an organisation, so steer clear of implying we already know the answer.”
It might seem like a way to show that you’re willing to put in the hard yards, but think again. If you’re asked what your weaknesses are, instead point towards a ‘nice-to-have’ skill that you could develop, such as public speaking.
Steer clear of these generic terms
Ian Scott, manager at Randstad Technologies says to remove any generic phrases from your interview vocabulary. “Trained interviewers see right through the phrases that lack substance, and are left frustrated when having to draw out the real anecdotes that bring those statements to life,” he says. The top two to avoid are:
Never say “I love a challenge”, says Scott. “Rarely do people follow this up with a good explanation of what challenges them or even examples of challenges they have met, their reaction to the challenge at hand and the result of their response.” It also assumes that everyone finds the same things challenging.
- Motivated by change
“In my experience, many people become active job seekers because they have experienced change. As human beings, many of us struggle with change, and prefer the comfort of normality, systems, routine.” If you love change, just be sure your story is consistent throughout the interview.
What you SHOULD say in your interview
The problem with buzzwords isn’t so much the words themselves – it’s that they lack meaning on their own. Rather than just using buzzwords to say you have a certain quality or skill, talk about situations or examples that show how you have that quality or skill.
The STAR method can help you do this. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results.
With this method, you answer succinctly but directly, outlining the Situation, identifying the Task you set out to achieve, describing your Actions, and recounting the Results. This method works well when you’re asked a question about a situation, which might start like “Tell me about a time when…” or “What do you do when...”
For example, if the question is “Tell me about a time you showed leadership skills”, a STAR answer might be:
- “My team recently had to adapt to working with a new system. It was a big shift, especially for individuals who’d been at the business a long time.” (S)
- “I needed to get everyone across the new system fast, because we had a very busy sales period coming up and couldn’t risk slowing down delivery to customers.” (T)
- “The company provided video tutorials, but I took it a step further and organised training sessions so my team could be walked through things and have specific questions resolved as they went. I also created a ‘buddy’ system so more confident employees could support others, and made quick-reference troubleshooting sheets.” (A)
- “As a result, we went into our busy sales period with the whole team confident in using the system, and knowing where to turn for further support if needed.” (R)
This method helps you tell your story in a way that will impress the interviewer and give them a better understanding of your skills. Take a look at the job ad, then practice telling STAR stories about your past experiences that demonstrate the skills needed in the key criteria.
Getting to the interview stage in your job search is an exciting and nerve-racking step. Thinking about the words you’ll use to best describe yourself and your skills is one way to boost your confidence and ensure that you can give the interview your best shot.