Job Interview and the Myth of I

by Sep 10, 2020Uncategorized0 comments

More heresy from me today. I hope you like it. It’s a plea for a new realism in job interviews. The tea’s in Boston Harbor. Ninety Five theses are nailed to the church door. There’s a man in green standing outside a post office trying to whip up a mob with poetry. Let’s see how it goes.

How many of you have heard you should always use “I” in a job interview, and never “we”?

Almost all of you I suspect, and the advice is right.

It’s you being interviewed. Not the people you work with.

It is not however right because it is, actually, right. It’s right because everyone thinks it is right.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not.

Let me explain with a brief anecdote.

Several years ago my then boss (lovely lady, hugely talented) resigned for personal reasons after only 90 days in post. I was her only member of staff.

She’d been hired to build a new national team to both win and deliver business. Her leaving so quickly was a really big strategic problem.

So, swotty here, the company’s best writer, one of its best interviewers, but by no means its favourite son, had the chance to deliver this initiative.

A year later we had about 26 people on four sites, a bunch of freelancers, a very healthy stream of fresh revenue and a new respect in the market for quality delivery of executive search assignments.

Did I lead this?

Yes I did.

Would it have happened without me?

Probably not.

Could I have done it on my own?

Could I hell.

The first thing I did was hire an excellent deputy from outside the company. Then, we hired the core of our new team. My deputy and the new team started building core processes and then delivered them. I had my hand on the tiller but in truth they were doing the rowing.

I was doing other things. Winning business mostly, in new and quite novel ways. That built a certain aura around the team – nothing will ever win you more credit with a Chief Executive than winning revenue if you are not actually supposed to be doing it (think of me as a kind of secular warrior monk).

That aura won support to build a bigger team, to implement bigger changes, and most of the work was done by the people I’d brought in.

The whole thing worked. It put me in the hospital (open fundoplication with anterior gastropexy, nasty), but it worked.

We did it. The team did it. All of us. It was guts, judgement and luck in more or less that order.

And the truth is that any even moderately complex victory in business tends to be down to “we” not “I”. And yet in interview we must talk of “I”, because everyone knows we must.

It’s group think, basically. And it will take more than this post to break it down. So if you are being interviewed today please say “I”, not “We” – “my” not “our”.

Even though we all know, or should know, it is less than the truth.

This isn’t about how you work in teams. This is about what you bring to teams, and how group achievements have come from that.

I’d be interested in the ideas of serving recruiters on how we can move from the artificial focus on “I” to this more sophisticated appreciation.

David Welsh