A lot of interview advice focuses on how to answer specific questions, or ways in which you should prepare. It’s not always easy to find advice on the general tone of an interview and how to present yourself positively…and the key part of that presentation will be the language you use.
We asked learning and development professional Sukh Pabial, a keen practitioner of Positive Psychology, to explain some of the best ways to use positive language at interview…
“One of the things that fields such as psychology help us to understand is about human interactions and behaviours, and how these affect those around us. Many people have taken these insights and adapted them for business purposes. In the field of Positive Psychology we are starting to see a shift in helping people to focus on strengths and creating lasting feelings of happiness which are fulfilling. In therapy there are some very clear techniques used to help people achieve this. At work, we can also learn a lot from these activities. In particular when attending interviews, there are some key things to do with the language you are using which will help you deliver a positive experience.
So you’ve done all the right stuff leading up to the interview. You’ve read about the company beforehand. You’ve learned some key things that are relevant to the role you’re applying for. You’ve looked through the job description and developed answers for likely questions that may arise. You’ve arrived in time for the interview. You’re suitably dressed and feel good about the interview. Then start the questions…
Before we think about the language you’re actually using to provide an answer, ensure you’re using models like the ‘STAR’ model to help give you structure to what you’re about to say – what’s the Situation? What Task did you have to do? What Actions did you take? What were the Results? And finally what did you learn from all of that?
This model will help give you confidence that you are providing a considered response which will give a full answer.
So let’s then consider the language…
Try not to use phrases like “I don’t think I’ve ever had a failure”, or “I never make mistakes”, or “I always give 110% in the job”. Phrases like those are disingenuous and the hiring manager will see right through them. You need the hiring manager to see that you’re capable of dealing with situations where you are challenged. Saying you always overcome challenges is just asking for trouble. Instead use phrases like “Where I have had a failure, it’s always been important for me to learn what happened so I could make it right the next time”, or “I will try and put the right practise in place so that I don’t make mistakes. If they do happen, it gives me the chance to think about what I might need to change to not let it happen again”, or “I stay focused on the job at hand and try not to let myself be distracted by non-important stuff”.
In a rapidly evolving world, there are new things being developed and created all the time. It’s important to talk about what you’ve learned from different settings and how these have helped you to develop. Talk about what helps you to learn, and different ways you engage in learning in your own time. You may not think you do, but the papers you read, the books you read, the TV programmes you watch, all give you content and information you do something with. Beyond those, the blogs you read, the seminars, workshops and webinars you attend will give you knowledge in different ways. Hiring managers want to know that in a world of uncertain formal learning and development activities through the company, you are able to seek out information on your own and do something useful with it.
Don’t get sucked into ranting about previous events or people you’ve worked with. If you had a difficult team member and they’re the reason you’re leaving, the hiring manager doesn’t need to know that. They want to know what you’re going to help his team achieve. To that end, listen to the question being asked, and respond with phrases like “that sounds like a really interesting challenge you’re facing”, or “I’ve been in similar situations and the experience has helped me to see how I can deal with that differently”, or “I’m glad you asked that because it’s something which I enjoy doing”.
We’ve all got a set of activities we’re just not good at doing. Be it using MS Excel, writing reports or delivering presentations, each of us will have something we just don’t do well. When you’re asked about things like this, don’t focus on how bad you are at doing that task, talk about how you’ve found ways to make sure it doesn’t stop you from doing a good job. For example, “I do use MS Excel, and find that I’m not always getting formulas right. When that happens I just ask for help and give myself the time to make sure I’m getting it right. When I do that I know I’m reinforcing the learning I’ve had and giving myself more opportunity to keep getting it right.” Or, “I find that presentations can make me nervous, so when I’m asked to do them it’s important for me to get feedback from my manager to ensure I’m giving the right message and practise a few times so that I’m confident about the content ahead of the presentation”. What you’re helping the hiring manager to see here is that you’re self-aware and aren’t afraid to be a useful member of the team.
Ensure you’ve introduced yourself well, and when you’re leaving, that you leave the hiring manager with a lasting positive impression. This means, shake hands when meeting and when leaving. When meeting say something like “Thanks for inviting me to the interview, it sounds like a role which I’m going to enjoy finding out more about, and how I might fit in with the team and the company”, and “When I was researching the company, I was impressed with how big it is and the opportunities this presents itself”. When you’re getting ready to leave say something like “Thanks for meeting with me, it’ll be good to get the feedback from the interview. Hopefully we’ll be able to talk again soon.”
I hope this has been useful to you and that you have success in your interviews.”
Sukh Pabial is a learning and development professional and if you like what he says, he writes a regular blog… and if you’re interested in finding out more about Positive Psychology, he’s holding an event on Friday 17th August