"How Do You Like Me Now?"
John Moore of TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE fame led a breakout session called, "Growing a Brand. Growing a Team," at the 2006 In-HOWse Designer Conference. During this session, the participants discussed how to spot what I’ll call, people you really don’t want to work with (they had a much more colorful and evocative name for them), during interviews.
The session came up with something dubbed, “The ‘I’ Exam,” the underlying principle of which is that people who are not “likeable” will tend to take undue credit for work they did on projects or as part of teams by claiming, “I did this” or “I did that.” “Likeables,” or “people you really want to work with,” will stress the “we” of what they’ve done even when describing their experiences as team or project leaders.
While the reliability of this “exam” is debatable, it does highlight something very important about job interviews. Interviewers are not only curious about your credentials and the skills you will bring to the job. They also want to figure out if it will drive them crazy to be around you for an extended period of time! In other words, whether they admit it or not, interviewers are deciding whether or not they “like” you.
The obvious recommendation that you should use “we” when talking about work you have accomplished with others is irrelevant here. Indeed, there is very little you can do to make yourself more “likeable” (apparently, human beings make that sort of decision within the first seconds of meeting someone). This human tendency to evaluate others based primarily on first impressions leads many companies, and even government agencies, to institute explicitly structured methods of interviewing, which work to decrease the emphasis on “likeablity” and increase focus on competencies essential to success in a particular role. [More on preparing for structured and behavior-based interviewing in a future post. If you want to read what the United States General Accounting Office says on this subject, go here - Matt]
There is at least one lesson to be drawn from this. In the interest of taking a more active approach to interviewing, it’s critical that you use the interview as an opportunity to consider whether or not you like the people you’ll be working with, the role itself, and the overall work environment. Considering whether the position you are interviewing for fits into your career goals and meets your personal ambitions constitutes a different sort of “I” Exam along the lines of, “Do I see myself professionally satisfied in this place with these colleagues working on these projects for the foreseeable future?” Though that might come-off as “egocentric” and borderline “unlikeable,” it is the mindframe that separates the active Job Seeker from the relatively passive Job Applicant.