Imagine you're standing behind a pane of one-way glass, watching a job candidate being interviewed. Beside you, someone in a white lab coat monitors a computer that absorbs each and every word the hopeful applicant says, breaking them down statistically (complete with real-time evolving color bar graphs!) in order to get at the real truth of his or her personality, capabilities and intentions.
It's a totally fictional picture—but that sort of data does exist.
As the founder and CEO ofIQ, Mark Murphy has advised on the hiring processes at hundreds of companies—and in doing so, has slowly revealed commonalities among job candidates when they speak during interviews.
For example, the answers of high performers contain about 60% more first-person pronouns than those of low performers. And those low performers offer up roughly 400% more second-person pronouns (you, your) than those who are likely to be better employees.
What's going on here? Using "I" is a reflex of those confident in themselves, their past and their own potential. These candidates also take personal responsibility for their highs and lows rather than ever-so-gently redirecting blame or even success. The "you" folk tend to speak in generalities that subconsciously distract interviewers from looking too closely.
The crutch of generalities is also revealed in the way low performers tend to use adverbs more often (quickly, totally, thoroughly, etc.), resulting in more words that reveal less, which is what they secretly desire. Their answers use 130% more negation (no, neither) than do the answers of high performers, and they often speak in absolutes, using "always" and "never" a great deal. The cream of the crop, who have learned to accept life and work's many gray areas, are more hesitant to throw such dramatic terms around.
“When people speak in amped-up language, it usually means they have no idea what they're talking about,” Murphy says.
Finally, you might want to pay attention to tenses. Your best applicants are proud to speak in the past tense liberally because they're happy to discuss the specifics of both their triumphs and failures. Weaker applicants will want to speak only of the now and the purely hypothetical future, working hard to assure you that they will be great if you hire them.
You won't have a computer frantically processing the words of the next person who struts into your office with résumé in hand. But you do have ears, and they can be trained to listen for surprising clues that are slipping past less-attentive hiring managers. Now, to somehow apply this verbal analysis to your child's explanation of why there's a cigarette burn on the sofa cushion…