Interviewing Tip: Mind Your Buzz Words

When I’m conducting interviews I want to get a good sense of the candidate and their relevant functional expertise in relation to the job. Many candidates will ensure that their resumes include the right keywords and industry buzz words so that they are picked up in searches by recruiters. The resume is the ticket to the dance, but you’ve got to walk your talk during the interview.  During the interview, my advice — be to be careful of the use of all those buzz words.

Interviewing Tip: Mind Your Buzz Words

Buzz words are likely picked up from the internet, news, or industry sources —   even directly from the job posting. A good listener may even hone in on words that a recruiter or phone screener uses repeatedly. I think that is actually a good thing, with a caveat. Its a good thing because it may demonstrate preparedness, active listening, and a skill to pick up on what points or concerns are important to the business. My caveat, make sure that you can speak in detail and intelligently about the buzz words you are using.

For the job seeker:

If you are a job seeker, I’m not telling you to remove these words from your resume or interview. What I am saying is that you do need to be an accurate representation of your skills. If you don’t know what it means or don’t have the skill, then leave it off. During the interview, instead of regurgitating your resume back to the interviewer (BIG NO NO), use that precious time to show that you know what those words mean and that you can apply them to your experience AND the company’s needs.  If you show that you are not able to apply the words and concepts, you may be interpreted as someone who is researched enough to pick up on the right queues and what is important  but doesn’t know how to apply or carry it through to practical application. If you heard them talk about the “war for talent” on CNN money, but you don’t really know what it is or what to do about it, but want to sound like you stay on top of the news — don’t do it. Pick another current event that is relevant to your industry and your experience that you DO know about.  I also suggest, that if you are using buzz words that your interviewer(s) are not using, be careful of overusing them — focus more on their buzz words and less on the industry ones. What is said is just as important as what is not said — pay attention to that. Also, make  strong connections between their needs and any best practices or recent research.

For the interviewer:

If you are the interviewer and are hearing buzz words in a candidate’s answers, carefully listen to the answers and probe for more detail if needed. An experienced and prepared interviewer will give an answer that demonstrates that they know the concept AND how to apply it. Now I know lots of great employees who aren’t great interviewers — so this is where an interviewer can help draw that out of someone by asking a follow up question of “why,”  “how,” or “tell me more about that.”

For example, if someone asks, “how do you plan for projects?” and they respond with phrases like “project plan,” “MS Project,” “needs analysis,” “process map” or if you ask, “how do you retain top talent?” and get phases like “war for talent,” “engagement,” or “right people on the bus.” — you’ve got a lot of buzz words in there. You’ve also some good concepts that they may be trying to tie back to your question and your business. So be ready to ask them about “what does that mean to you” or “how have you applied that in the past” or “why do you use those tools” — don’t assume that since they know the right things to say that they really understand it and can apply it (BIG NO NO). Or moreover, that you have the same understanding of the concept as they do. Don’t write someone off if they have a different meaning or understanding than you (or your organization), but do be mindful of those who just saying the words they think you want to hear.

What do you think of industry buzz words and their use in the interviewing process?

Any other tips that you have to share to help demonstrate if someone is just trying to impress you with the word play or if they are trying to connect with you by using a shared concept.

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Andrea Devers

Andrea is an HR technologist and change management expert. She’s has built her career in global HR Compliance, HR process improvement, and shared services across all functions of HR. Connect with Andrea.

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