If you’re wondering how much of a difference word choice can make, just consider which of these two responses makes a better impression: “I helped brainstorm ideas for campaigns” or “I generated ideas that were used in award-winning, successful campaigns.”
Both answers are reasonable, but one conveys significant accomplishments, and the other is a bit forgettable.
Let’s dig in to see why the second response is more powerful. To start, the word “helped” (which is seen in the first response) is vague. To an interviewer, this could mean that you presented a list of powerful ideas—but it could also signify that you were a near-silent participant on a conference call to discuss the campaign. The second option uses a more active verb—a person generating ideas is deeply involved in the project. Plus, powerful adjectives are added; not only did you come up with ideas, but they were good ones!
Your words during an interview convey an impression of you and your abilities. Make it a positive one. As you practice for your next interview, keep word choice in mind. Here are five broad types of words and phrases to integrate into your interview answers.
One of the things interviewers try to uncover is if you’re just going to show up and do the job, or if you care about your work. Will you go above and beyond your job description, or just tick off boxes?
People who are passionate and interested can further a company in unexpected, positive ways. They’re good for morale, and also for a company’s bottom line. Using these words and phrases shows that you aren’t a clock-watcher and that you’re highly engaged with your work:
During an interview, it’s always good to demonstrate that you’re responsible—you want to show interviewers that if you’re set to a task, you’ll not only accomplish it, but you’ll complete it on time and meet the established standards. These words and phrases convey responsibility:
- Met the deadline
- Results; Results-oriented
- Satisfied the client’s requests
- Team player
Are you interviewing for a leadership role? If so, it’s particularly important to use strong, active verbs. Show how you’ve led teams and projects, and take ownership of any results and accomplishments from throughout your career. Try using these words to convey your leadership strengths:
- I handled that by…
4. Industry Buzzwords and Jargon
Each industry comes with its own buzzwords. When you’re outside of the field, this jargon can be off-putting—like a secret code keeping you from following the conversation. But if you’re in the know, and the jargon is familiar, using it during conversations is a bit like a secret handshake—it lets interviewers know you really get the industry.
To use jargon, of course, you’ll have to understand it, so if you’re new to an industry or field, read up on familiarizing yourself with it. Follow people in the industry on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, and seek out relevant blogs and videos.
5. Words Reflecting Company Values
Want to show a company you’re a good fit? Mirror the words the company uses to describe itself. Very likely, these same catchphrases are used frequently in internal communications and company-wide meetings.
Even if interviewers don’t consciously realize that you’re reflecting their own words back, it’ll make a subtle, positive impression. Examine the language on the company’s “About Me” page on their website, on social media pages, and within the job advertisement.
You can also choose synonyms to avoid sounding too much like you’ve memorized the company’s own copy. This will help interviewers know that you understand what they’re looking for.
6. How to Use Powerful Words During Job Interviews
This isn’t the SATs—no need to memorize a long list of words using flashcards! Instead, as you practice your responses to common interview questions, keep an ear out for your verb choices. Do “help” and “assist” keep coming up? Opt for more powerful verbs instead. Choose strong descriptive words and phrases, too. A project can be a success or it can be “award-winning”; it can perform well or “result in a 25% jump in sales.”
And keep in mind that the best words to use in your answer depend on what kind of role you’re after. If you’re applying for a job as an assistant, for instance, you’ll want to incorporate lots of words that show you’re responsible and get results (and focus less on words that emphasize your leadership abilities).
Keep in mind that it’s not only during interviews that word choice matter—opt for powerful action words in your resume as well.
Written by Madeleine Burry