Interview Tips

When should I use “WE” versus “I” in an interview?

I'm Jenna

With over 13+ years experience leading people and a HR designation, I have heard and seen it all when it comes to interviews. I'm here to share my interviewing tips, guidance + perspective on prepping for your next job interview.

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Have you ever been in a meeting and shared a plan, idea, or something GAME-CHANGING and presented it as a team effort? 

We did this. Versus, I did this.

My guess? You’ve probably been in the above scenarios. 

We don’t want to sound conceded or that we’re not team players, AND, on the flip side, we don’t want to come across as lacking initiative or deflecting responsibility at work. 

When we put this into the context of interviewing, you can understand that it can be challenging to know when to share what you’ve accomplished versus what WE accomplished.

Obviously, we don’t want to take credit for someone else’s work, but it’s essential to recognize where credit is due.  

We want to show the interviewer that we’re collaborative while also being someone who takes the initiative! 

I know the I versus We conundrum can be very unclear. 

I vividly recall two conversations I’ve had about this exact topic. Here’s the constructive feedback they received after their interviews. 

Feedback Example 1: 

“Instead of using we did this, we did that; I used I to describe the initiatives and projects I have led. They wanted more WE.”

Feedback Example 2: 

“I shared too much from the perspective of we, and I didn’t use I enough to showcase my accomplishments, what I had created and achieved.”

So how the heck are you supposed to convey your message!?!? We or I?

Well rather than making it black and white, we’re actually going to dive into the grey. I’m going to show you not when to use we versus I but rather answer using BOTH.

Ready for it?

In an interview, there’s a delicate balance. As an interviewer, I want to understand your accomplishments; this is an interview about you. In sharing your celebrations and failures, it’s important to share what part you OWN in them and acknowledge what role the team played in them. After all, we never really do anything entirely on our own. 

First, let’s state the obvious: 

  • Using WE can indicate collaboration. 
  • Using WE can mean you weren’t directly in control of the outcome.
  • Using WE to describe a scenario can sound like not accepting responsibility.
  • Using I can indicate independence.
  • Using I can showcase you owned or created something.
  • Using I can sound like you’ve done everything on your own.

Second, let’s acknowledge some of the skills most employers find ideal in candidates showcasing their ability to work as a team and independently:

  • Skills demonstrating teamwork: collaboration, leadership, listening, and communication.
  • Skills demonstrating independence: self-motivation, self-discipline, resourcefulness, critical thinking and confidence.

Now that we’ve reviewed the above let’s dive into an example of incorporating both WE and I in a response to showcase the ability to work as a team and independently. 

Interview Question and Answer Example

Q: Tell me about a time you were faced with a challenging situation.

A: I was assigned to work on a task above and beyond my regular role responsibilities with a cross-functional partner for a major client.

Although I was excited about the opportunity, the challenges I faced in this example were the tight turnaround and the fact that the partner I was working with was heading on vacation days before the task was due. My peer’s vacation ended up limiting our time to complete to 3 days. Usually, we would give ourselves two weeks for a job of this size. 

When I recognized our small window of time to complete the task, I set up a meeting with my cross-functional partner. 

We created an hourly schedule of milestones we needed to hit to provide our clients with what they needed. I suggested we meet for 30 minutes at the end of days 1 and 2 to reassess our achievements and, on day 3, meet mid-day and end of the day to wrap everything up. 

I also looked at my calendar to rearrange other tasks and commitments I made and notified my clients, peers and my boss to establish new expectations.

We ultimately delivered the finished product on time to the client. Our collaboration and commitment to one another’s success allowed us to deliver. I believe my ability to organize, stick to a project plan and have clear communication also supported me in being a strong cross-functional partner to my peer.

In this response, you can see how both WE and I are used.

There is an acknowledgement of the work that was completed together while also highlighting the elements driven by the individual themselves. This response shows both teamwork and also showcases self-management. 

See how easy that can be? 

I mentioned it above, and I’ll note it again. We rarely do anything completely alone so when you’re thinking about how to convey your experiences, consider how you want to highlight both your ability to work with others and on your own. 

Need a little help answering interview questions in a clear, concise way? Check out THIS blog post for a little support.

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Hi, I'm Jenna.
Your new career and interview prep coach.

I'm incredibly passionate about supporting people to walk into their job interviews with confidence. With 13+ years experience leading people and a HR designation, I have heard and seen it all when it comes to interviews.

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