This posting is a continuation of the “pronouns on the resume/CV …” Just as pronouns on the resume begin to provide an insight into a candidate’s social footprint, the phone conversation and interview finalize the assessment about the “social fit” with the culture of an organization. Every organization is a unique blend of individual and team effort. We also know that the amount of time to “on board” a new hire costs the organization productivity.
Every new hire has to be seen within the context of both their individual talent contribution and their positive or negative impact on the social dynamics of the work team and organization. A wrong social hire is both painful and expensive to the organization AND to the individual. Pronouns are an insight into the individual’s preference for “self” or “group/team” and the resulting fit with the organization. So during conversations, what do we listen for in terms of pronouns that can give a hint about the “social fit” of a candidate? “I,” “Me,” “We,” “Our,” “They,” “My,” and even “Dr.” for science types are the classic pronouns to listen for and track both in frequency and in their conversation sequence. There is no magic formula that correlates to a correct frequency or sequence; just common sense and good judgment. Both the candidate and the hiring team have a responsibility to exercise good judgment about pronoun usage based on accurate information about the culture or social dynamics of the organization. Here are some tips for the candidate:
1. The candidate has a plethora of social data about the organization and simply needs to spend about 15 minutes to understand the culture of the organization. A quick check of the target organization’s CEO’s message on the Internet or in the Annual Report is a good place to start. What pronouns are used in the message? How many “we,” “our,” “my,” “I,” “team,” “community,” “culture” and other social-group oriented words are used? Which pronouns are used first (as they tend to describe the real social nature of the organization)? Also check out the language used in other descriptive literature. Is the organization consistent in their social pronoun preferences? If they are, you have a very well organized and culturally adapted organization. If they are not, you either have a developing or chaotic culture at work.
The candidate needs to decide if this is an organization that manages their social environment by default (every person for themselves) or an organization that will not hire anyone that does not “socially fit” or promote the culture (and there are more of these type organizations everyday thanks to the rise of social media). Obviously, if you are preparing for a phone or on-site interview with a well-defined and managed culture-type organization, social preparation is required and pronouns are part of that preparation.
2. Pay attention to the pronouns you use in your conversation! Your use of pronouns should reflect the cultural nature of the organization AND still be your natural and genuine preference. Most candidates use a reasonably balanced blend of pronouns once they are comfortable in their social environment. TRYING TOO HARD to meet the perceived expectations of the hiring company can shift pronoun use to an extreme SELF or TEAM orientation and that will raise red flags. I’ve had conversations with candidates that when I asked about “the team,” I got back only “I,” “I,” and “I” responses. Listen to the questions you are asked! Use the pronoun language of the hiring team when you answer a question; “Our team was … and my contribution was …” You cannot script this type of interaction but you should pay attention to the pronouns at least three times during an interview or conversation; at the beginning, the ¾ mark and the end. There are psychological reasons for this pattern and the social neurosciences reinforce the pattern. So get some “team,” “our,” and “we” right at the beginning and also near the end of the conversation. You can “I” and “my” the rest of the time.
Here are some tips for the hiring team:
1. Verify the resume: Use the same pronouns in your first series of questions as those in the candidate’s resume. The first series of questions should give you some insight into verifying the social footprint of the candidate’s resume. If there is inconsistent pronoun use, then you have to ask why! I have even asked the candidate to “help us understand why you use the terms ‘team’ and ‘our’ all throughout your resume and yet not once in our conversation.” Inconsistent pronoun use is a clue to other possible hiring or social fit problems!
2. Verify the social fit: Now transition your questions and use the pronouns that represent the social dynamics or culture of your organization. Listen to the pronoun responses of the candidate. If the same pronouns come back in answers, then either the candidate is schooled in active listening, neurolinguistics or emotional intelligence techniques, or is reflecting his/her true social footprint. If you change pronouns from team to self, then back to team, and then back to self, and the same pronouns are always matched by the candidate, then you probably have a well-trained communicator and you should hire that candidate for a marketing or public relations position. The key is to listen for the pronouns that match the organization’s culture and you should have a reasonable probability of a good social fit.
The importance of pronoun use over the phone, in an instant chat, or during a live interview is that the feedback is directly from the candidate, and not likely to be prepared by a coach or another source. You are verifying in real-time the nature of the candidate. Their pronoun use can help predict their social fit within the organization AND how well they prepare for social interactions. Pronoun use is a reflection of the individual in a social context; in other words, self or team focus. While it is never the only social measure used to hire, it is a subtle social roadmap into the mind of both the organization and the candidate. Use it or lose it!