Interviewing: I and We

In response to: say “I” — not “we” — in your interviews

If you are a manager you need to lead teams, lead projects and improve work systems. In an interview I believe you need to say specifically what you did but also talk about what the team accomplished. A manager needs to have successful project and make other people successful. To me the important thing is getting great long term results, not doing lots of tasks themselves. Often figuring out the right leverage points to work on is difficult but it doesn’t have to be a large volume of work, just the right decisions on where to make improvements.

Sometimes (often, for me, but maybe I have more difficulty explaining it than I should) these ideas are hard to convey to others. It is similar to answering hypothetical questions where, the way to “handle” the issue raised is to avoid getting into that mess in the first place. We were able to success not because of 3 specific actions I took during the project but because of the system I put in place and cultivated for years that allowed the team to succeed. But some people have trouble connecting long term system improvements to current project results.

As a manager my main focus is on building capacity of my organization to succeed over the long term. That greatly reduced any fire-fighting I have to do. Of course for many interviewers great tales of fire-fighting play better than I didn’t really have to do much to make x,y and z projects successful because I set the stage over years creating a system that works well.

Creating systems that work well often isn’t tremendously exciting and tales of creating systems that avoid disasters seem boring. I didn’t have to be heroic isn’t as sexy as and I was a hero in this way 3 months ago and then last month I saved us from disaster when… If I am interviewing, I would want to ask why you have to keep being a hero, but I don’t think most people think that way.

If you just talk about what I did it also can confuse interviewers, I think. Those things are often not directly tied to accomplishing some business need. Creating the right systems which allow great results to be attained often isn’t obvious why it matters. It is indirect and not nearing as obvious as fire-fighting behavior what the benefit is. Most organizations are not used to the value of creating well performing systems so they just think of management doublespeak that accomplishing nothing (since most such talk, respect for people, for example, is just talk and not of much value).

To show that the improvements made have real results I think you then have to switch follow “I did x,y,z’ with “which allowed our team to accomplish a,b, c.” Unless you really did have to do most things yourself instead of creating the systems that allow others to perform well. In which case it makes it easier to say what I did, but should cause those doing the interviewing to ask why you hadn’t set up better systems (at least it would if I were the one conducting the interview).

Related: How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedWhy work doesn’t happen at workBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesCircle of Influence

2 thoughts on “Interviewing: I and We

  1. Pingback: The Carnival of HR « change-effect

  2. John – if you have not already you should read Requisite Organization by Elliott Jaques. Systems thinking, and creating, can only truly be performed by a select group of people; we humans are stratified in our different levels of capability. In my RO advising work with CEOs, from time to time I help them search for and hire senior managers. Those individuals who can function at Stratum IV and above (who can create systems)stand out heads and shoulders above those who cannot. The language they use in interviews is very much in line with your comments. They almost always delineate between the work they do as individual contributor and that which their subordinates do in the systems they created. I think you will like Elliott.

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