In job interviews, own your work with “I” language

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this article, it happened again. The design candidate attributed everything to “us” by making “we” the protagonist of every sentence. Don’t make this mistake. Check out the interview advice below, originally published on UXswitch.

Don’t let the “We” outshine the “I” … or vice versa.

When you apply to a User Experience job, I want to find out what you do.

This seems simple at first glance. But designing great digital experiences is a collaborative endeavor. When it launches, the user interface has been touched by many hands and informed by many conversations. Especially when your portfolio shows shiny screenshots or links to finished products, it’s hard for me to tease out your part in the process.

When explaining your work in an interview, please help me understand what resulted from teamwork and what work came from your own hand.

How? It really is this simple:

  • Say “we” when you mean “we”.
  • Say “I” when you mean “I”.

When candidates explain their portfolio, many talk about “we” when they mean “I”. I tend to see this especially among women. I still remember a case about a year ago when a promising young designer was telling me about her work. She was explaining a really nice impulse to interview users jointly, together with the most skeptical of stakeholders, so that they could directly see where they were missing the point. She used “we” language the entire time.

“So, who’s idea was this?”, I finally asked.

“Mine.”

“And who led the workshop?”

“Me.”

She got the job.

So please take ownership for your work. Say “I” when you mean “I”.

Three more tips toward clarity:

  • Show team spirit. Don’t eliminate “we” from your vocabulary. Collaboration is key and the first-person plural pronoun is powerful. I want to see your sense of “we”.
  • Credit your colleagues. Make your “I” more credible by surrounding it with “she” and “he” and “they”. Tell me what the other designer did. Tell me what good ideas the developers had, or even where the Product Manager rightfully challenged you and was able to get better designs out of you.
  • Show your raw work. The final result is almost always a team effort. The early ideas, the post-its, and sketches are the most personal. You’ll stick in my mind better if I go out of an interview knowing what your sketching style is and what your handwriting looks like.

When interviewing, find the sweet spot between personal pride and ego-free teamwork.

Be precise with your “we” and your “I”.