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“I” vs. “We” in Interviews

Corporate America has trained managers to think and act in teams, and to use the word “we” when describing all actions.  Like the Queen of England!

In a job interview, when asked to describe a project or a situation, is it better to say “we” did this…, or, to say “I” did this….?  The answer is both.

If you only say “we” when describing your involvement in projects, solutions in which you were involved, etc., the interviewer cannot distinguish your personal actions.  He/she would not know whether you were taking responsibility for the actions of others, were fully responsible personally, or something in between.  By being a shining example of corporate teamwork (saying “we” all the time), you don’t get to take credit for what you have personally accomplished!

On the other hand, if you say “I” for everything, you come across as egotistical, arrogant, and perhaps might be suspected as a person who doesn’t give enough credit to others.

I’m an advocate of being specific and clear, and using both words appropriately.  Here’s an example.  Let’s say you were asked what your experience was in turning around a dissatisfied customer.  Your answer might look like this:

”When I took over this project, I consulted with the team to see why the customer was dissatisfied.  We knew we needed to speed up delivery.  But, when all the input was in, we concluded that we really needed to improve communication and provide more accurate details.  Everyone took part, and we were able to turn around our communication within a month.  My part in this was to smooth the customer’s ruffled feathers and lay out our intention and plan for better communication, so that they would be expecting better information from us.  We fulfilled and ultimately exceeded their expectations.”

The ideal formula in an interview is to be conscious of balancing the use of “I” and “We”, so that you DO take credit for your personal accomplishments, AND DO come across as a team player who acknowledges others.  It is ok to standout sometimes, and in an interview it is important to clearly articulate your achievements.

The best way to achieve this balance is to prepare your stories in advance, and rehearse how you will tell them.  See my earlier blog about rehearsing stories for interviews.