When my editor suggested I write a column about powerful words for job interviews, I started by researching what other people had written about the subject.

To my surprise, most articles about interview "power words" were full of puffy, self-descriptive adjectives, like ambitious, confident, diligent, honest, etc. That is just SO wrong.

Why in heaven's name would ANYBODY care about how you see yourself? Or what happy-sappy words you use to describe yourself? Especially since you're unlikely to express any opinion that's not positive!  It's like the A.A. Milne poem:

I went to the Zoo, and they waited to say: 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
" Have you been a good girl? " 
Well, what did they think that I went there to do? 
And why should I want to be bad at the Zoo? 
And should I be likely to say if I had? 

Look, I've gotten a job offer every time I've interviewed and I'm 100% certain I never used any of those words because--shock!--I would never waste an interviewer's time expressing my personal opinion of my own character.  Why would they care?

Spouting self-praise is especially silly when you're in a conversation because the interviewer(s) can see and hear for themselves whether you actually possess the traits you're claiming to possess.

For example, if you repeatedly insist you're "self-confident" but are sweating bullets during the interview, the interviewer will immediately know you're either fooling yourself or lying to them.

So, no, words like "ambitious" and "loyal" aren't going to land you your dream job. What you really need are these five honest-to-goodness job interview "power words":

1. Responsibility - e.g. "It was my responsibility to..."

Managers want to hire employees who take responsibility for getting the job done. They don't want to hire employees who shirk, foist work onto others or, worst of all, delegate tasks upwards.

Stating you took responsibility for achieving a goal, and then explaining specifically how you achieved that goal, shows the hiring manager that you're reliable, hard-working and conscientious.

2. Initiative - e.g. "I took the initiative to..."

Managers want to hire employees who don't wait around to be told what to do. That drives managers crazy. Like everyone else, managers are pressed for time.  They may be willing to coach but they certainly don't want to be forced to hand-hold.

Stating you took the initiative to get the job done, and the explaining how you got it done, tells the hiring manager that you're self-motivated, self-confident and ready to get to work.

3. Result - e.g. "As a result of my actions..."

Business is all about results, aka the proverbial bottom line.  During the interview, never mention any activity without also describing the positive impact that activity had on the company and team.

Talking about results rather than mere activity shows that you understand the basic rule of business and understand what's really important. Ideally you want the hiring manager to be thinking: "Wow! This candidate will get results!"

4. Measurable - e.g. "The measurable increase in profit was..."

In this case, it's not so much the word itself as the concept behind it. In business communications, concrete facts always outweigh abstract generalities.  The more specific you are, the more credible you seem.  

But you be the judge.  Which of the statements below is more powerful and convincing? 

  1. "I worked an average of 50 hours a week"
  2. "I worked some long hours."

Or, similarly:

  1. "I increased sales by 25% in 3 months"
  2. "I made a lot of sales."

5. Example - "Here's an example of how I handled that..."

This is the most powerful interview word of all time because it allows you segue from an abstract discussion into a real world story. It forces you to "show" rather than "tell" what you're really made of.

The word "example" is especially valuable when you're asked the corny standard interview questions:

  • Interviewer: "What's your greatest strength?"
  • You: "I'm results-oriented.  For example, when my working group was faced with a new deadline, I took the initiative..."

Get the idea?  When you're being interviewed, don't bother bloviating about your fabulous personality traits.  Instead, use the five power words to illustrate exactly how you can help your future employer achieve their own ambitious goals.