Use your words!

We all use words. Just that some people use them better than others. In my university class, I talk with the students every semester about the importance of first impressions and how the content (words you use) is not nearly as important as how you are dressed, how you move, how you act, how you sound. This infographic is the one I refer to when we discuss the biases that they will face when interviewing. A few of the uncomfortable truths from the study are:

  • First impressions are formed within 7 to 17 seconds of meeting someone.
  • Hiring managers claim to know whether they will hire someone or not within the first 90 seconds of meeting them.
  • The words you say account for only 7% of what creates a first impression.
  • 67% of hiring managers said they have rejected candidates for a lack of eye contact.
While this is important to understand so that my students and our kids, as job seekers, know what they are facing and may take steps to prepare, it has the secondary effect of making it seem that what they say and how they say it never matters. That could not be further from the truth. A first impression is almost unconsciously done and as stated above, happens in less than 20 seconds. The interview, on the other hand, lasts 30 minutes to an hour. What our kids say (the content) during those additional 29 minutes and 43 seconds very much matters.

I want to draw your attention to an important point about content. Unfortunately, the facts are not always presented or received in the same way. 

What this means, is that two qualified job seekers of equal skill... actually, let's make it more dramatic and still accurate. Imagine two qualified job seekers, where one is more skilled than the other, presenting the same basic content in an interview, years of experience, knowledge of a certain technology, etc. After considering, the hiring manager chooses the jobseeker with less skill! What happened? The candidate with less actual technical skill used more convincing language and word choice than the competing candidate. Here are two simple examples that might help to prove my point. Candidate B is the one with less technical knowledge but better words:
  • Interviewer: How much experience in programming do you have?
    • Candidate A: I have a fair amount of experience in programming.
    • Candidate B: I have extensive experience in programming.
  • Interviewer: Why do you want this job?
    • Candidate A: This is a good move for my career.
    • Candidate B: This is a great move for my career.
The answers are not stating numbers so there is no deception here on the part of B. She may believe that her 3 years of experience is "extensive" and A may also believe that his 5 years are "a fair amount". The interviewer will hear two things that are not specifically said, only because of the word choice:
  1. Candidate B is more confident about her experience than Candidate A.
  2. Candidate B is more interested/motivated in this job than Candidate B.
These two points are more than enough to sway most interviewers and only with the slightest change in word choice. Multiply this through the entire interview and it will be hard for the interviewer to consider Candidate A at all.

As I am a Headhunter Dad, with an emphasis on Dad, I also want to bring this around to my kids. The words we use as parents are often as important as the point we are trying to get across. If a kid hears the word "stupid", which by the way is banned in our house*, often enough he is likely to believe that he really is on the lower end of the intelligence curve. I have mentioned confidence enough in my articles for you regular readers to know how important it is for our kids regardless of what path they choose in the future. The next time your son or daughter does something "stupid", try to align your response to the result you hope to achieve. I am guessing here that your goal is not to belittle your child and make them feel useless but rather to point out how they could have done whatever it was differently so that they can do better next time. Something along the lines of, "Well that didn't work out so well. What could you have done differently?" Or, "Looks like you were not really thinking when you did that." 

We (parents, adults) all know the right words. We just get caught up in the moment and the things we heard as kids pop out without thinking. Take a breath, consider the impact of your response, choose better words.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

* The word "stupid" is not actually 100% banned but its use as a substitute pronoun is banned. We are loosely allowed (although discouraged)  to point out an action as stupid but we are not allowed to call someone stupid.