Words matter—not only the words you choose but also how you put them together. Since competency-based questions require detailed responses, wordiness—or convoluted and excessive language—can be a common result. You must find a balance between providing the detailed information required and speaking directly and simply become aware of common wordy expressions and avoid them. Figure 5-1 provides examples of wordy phrases and their concise equivalents.
Common Words and Phrases to Avoid
The words and phrases you select to communicate your experiences will impact the interviewer's perception of your qualifications. Certain common words may seem harmless to you, but they can be ammunition that shoots down the listener's perception of you. When the interviewer is offended by what you say or has a negative reaction to your use of slang, there's a breakdown in communication. To avoid this problem, familiar-
ize yourself with the following conversational pitfalls that leave an unintentional negative impression.
1. Do not refer to women as girls. Though you may not mean harm, the interviewer may view you as sexist or as someone who may have problems working with women. Instead, refer to co-workers and others as team members or use particular job titles. For example, refer to "the receptionist," not as "the girl at the front desk." In a similar way, older candidates should avoid referring to younger co-workers as "kids." This implies a lack of respect for younger team members.
2. Avoid slang. Very casual talk does not have a place in an interview, and that includes bar talk, sports jargon, and all off-color references. Though many people use "you guys" when referring to co-workers in everyday situations, avoid the phrase.
3. Drop "fillers" from your talk. For example, eliminate any habitual use of just and er and like, as these indicate hesitancy and poor expressive ability. Likewise, using the phrases "I think" and "I guess" send a subliminal message that you lack confidence.
4. Eliminate "qualifiers." We often add small words that modify the meaning of the nouns that follow, but this is a bad habit because these words minimize the impact of those nouns. For example, do not use the word try. The statement, "I try my hardest to satisfy client expectations" is simply not as effective as, "I have a proven track record in client satisfaction."
Make Specific Statements
Because the purpose of competency-based questions is to solicit in-depth responses, you must steer clear of general statements. As an example, let's examine a common competency-based question asked of teachers: "Tell me about a time when you were proud to be an educator." Here are several ways to respond to this question:
Version 1: "When I set up a school-wide talent show."
Version 2: "When I set up a well-received school-wide talent show where students came together for an evening of rappers, guitarists, pianists, and singers."
Version 3: "As a new music teacher for the Huntington School District, I coordinated the school's first Music Talent Show Club. Along with club members, we planned the logistics for an evening show, which featured rappers, guitarists, pianists, and singers. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators were energized, and that enthusiasm was felt throughout the school for several weeks."
Let's consider each alternative. Version 1 is bland and stops short of providing the interviewer with a well-rounded picture of the event. Though the interviewer may deduce the reason the talent show is an accomplishment the teacher is proud of, it is up to that teacher to offer an explanation.
Version 2 is an improvement. The answer provides the listener with detail; on the other hand, it does not give the interviewer all the information required to fully appreciate the extent of the teacher's experience. In both versions, the interviewer will most likely have to ask follow-up questions to solicit more information. And those follow-up questions break the momentum of the discussion. Lastly, version 3 offers all the interviewer needs to know: the situation, the action, and the result (SOAR; see Chapter 2). A well-thought-out response leaves the interviewer with a positive impression of experience.
Script or Outline Your Responses
There is no right or wrong method to prepare your answers for interview questions. It is a matter of preference and comfort. You can choose to script your responses whereby you flesh out your thoughts, or you can create an outline with answers for the questions that may be asked.
There is a sense of security to be gained in writing down, word-forword, your answers to potential interview questions. This method will make you brainstorm your answers and to think through your work experiences. There's a caveat, however: becoming too accustomed to delivering perfect answers may cause you to freeze during the actual interview and you may "go blank" when off-the-cuff answers are required. Also, following a script too closely may make you sound stiff. On the other hand, scripting your responses keeps your professional history and accomplishments at the forefront of your thinking. You will find scripted responses in Chapters 6 through 10.
In contrast, outlining your responses—say, on index cards, on which you write a question and a short list of answers—may allow you more flexibility during the interview. With ready answers, during the interview you won't trip over your words trying to remember every detail. Also, you will sound more natural. See Figure 5-2 for an example of an index card prepared as an outline response.
In short, anything that you can do to make yourself stand out from the other candidates is a step in the right direction. By following the suggestions in this chapter, you will approach the competency-based interview confident and prepared.