The new year is an excellent time to revisit the language we use to promote ourselves at work, during interviews and when talking with clients. The words we choose or use unconsciously have a direct impact on the value others place on our contributions. Too often I hear clients use words and phrases that undersell them and demean the good work they do.
This generally unconscious habit conveys an underlying lack of confidence. Eliminating these words and phrases from your everyday conversation builds confidence, changes the tone of your interactions with others and improves overall self-esteem.
What are these words that are so damaging to your job prospects, chances for promotion, and overall career?
Let me begin with the seemingly harmless four-letter word I regularly hear slipped into conversation, “just,” as in “I just audited the books and found the discrepancy.” This suggests minimal effort was required.
In fact, what you did was, “audited 16 months of financial records and discovered a recurring $970 overpayment that cost the company nearly $18,000 in the last year and a half.” And yes, I hear this kind of over simplification from clients every day.
An equally dangerous four-letter word: “only.” This is sometimes substituted for “just” and also serves to minimize one’s contribution. For example, “I only negotiated the service side of the agreement.”
Instead let me suggest, “I negotiated the service agreement reducing overall costs by 15 percent.”
Sometimes the word “simply” is inserted in place of “just” or “only” with equally damaging results.
During résumé and interview coaching sessions clients will refer to an accomplishment or successful outcome by stating, “but it was really nothing.” Or, “anyone could have done it.” OK, if you say so.
But why kick a good accomplishment to the curb? During an interview if you tell me it was nothing, I will believe you.
If you frame it as the true challenge it was, it will enhance my understanding of how you will add value to my organization.
Another pet peeve is the use of the word “little.” For example, “I worked on a little problem that was causing daily hiccups in the website when customers went to the checkout screen.”
Really, that was a “little” problem? It sounds to me like this problem had the potential to cost your company a sizeable amount of money and customer goodwill if it you hadn’t corrected it. Surely that is worth a better description than, “little” problem.
Finally, I come to a two-letter word that has the potential to derail an interview, the seemingly harmless “we.” A common interview question is, “Can you give me an example of a problem you faced and how you resolved it?” Inevitably, the candidate replies using the royal “we.” Telling the interviewer, “We worked with the marketing department to create a new customer acquisition strategy.” This response minimizes your contribution.
While you don’t want to overstate your role, a more accurate response is, “I collaborated with the marketing department to create a more effective customer acquisition strategy.”
If in fact the solution was a team effort, replace “we” with, “my colleagues and I,” or “my team and I.” Use “I” language to own your contributions.
This year, commit to cleaning up your language and eliminating the words that negate your value.