The Hidden Meaning Behind Your Job Interview Answers

Posted by The Editors on September 23, 2011
The Hidden Meaning Behind Your Job Interview Answers

A friend, updating me on the progress of his graduate dissertation, said that it was going well and his advisor was being supportive.  He then said, “I parse his every email for hidden content, but I’m just neurotic.” Inspired by James W. Pennebaker’s book “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” I’m doing something similar with my own emails.

The book explores the psychological links between personality and word use. I’m looking into the language used during job interviews and its true meaning for an article in the next issue of WetFeet magazine, but Pennebaker keeps throwing fascinating curveballs my way.

Right after hearing about the book, I visited the author’s website to take a test on the use of certain pronouns (I, me, and my). I didn’t do so hot; I got fewer than half of the answers right. Then, after receiving a copy of the book, I took another quiz with the following prompt: “In daily conversations, emails, informal talks, blogs, and even most formal writing, who uses the following parts of speech more, men or women?”

I did even worse: one out of six! I can’t even remember the last time I failed a test so badly. Luckily the grade won’t show up on any transcript, but I found the results very interesting: Apparently, women use “I,” “me,” and “my” more than men do, and they use cognitive words (like “think,” “reason,” and “believe”) and social words (like “they,” “friends,” and “parent”) at higher rates than men, too. I’ve also learned that the use of “I,” “me,” and “my” carries messages about status, self-confidence, self-awareness, and whether the speaker telling the truth.

All of this has certainly made me consider my own language habits when sending email, chatting online, and even interacting in person. I’m not going over every single message with a magnifying glass, but I feel as I thought I’m thinking more about how my words sound and whether I’m focusing more on myself or on the person on the other end.

How does this impact the job interview, where you’re expected to talk about and reflect on your personal experiences? Can word analysis tell if someone will be a good employee? That’s something I hope to find when I talk with Pennebaker later today, and as I work on the article in the coming weeks. How does “The Hidden Language of Job Interviews” sound to you?

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