Watch Your Language!

Say what you mean, not what you're feelin'

Labor specialists agree that while most job candidates tend arduously to minute details regarding their résumé and/or their appearance, they often overlook the significance of using language correctly. That oversight may give another candidate the winning edge.

“Demonstrating good verbal communication skills during an interview reassures the interviewer that you can use those same skills in the position you’re seeking,” says Christopher Jones, vice president of content and communities for HotJobs.com. “Interviewers make decisions based on the information at hand. They are very critical of language, whether it is spoken or written. Consistent misuse of grammar during an interview can cost you a job.”

The natural evolution of language has integrated colloquialisms, or slang words, into everyday speech, but it has also magnified complexities associated with English grammar. As a result, it is important to first identify words in your everyday speech that might not be acceptable in an interview setting. In recent years, words like ‘tight,’ ‘dog,’ ‘chill,’ or ‘wack’ have become commonly used words. But should you carry them with you to a job interview? Experts say definitely not.

“Hiring managers are looking for reasons to disqualify you,” says Laura Lorber, managing editor of CareerJournal.com. “All else being equal — experience, credentials, etc. — in most cases, the employer will select the candidate with the better verbal skills.” There are ways, however, to polish your presentation:

Leave out popular/cultural catchphrases. Culture and ethnicity are also big factors when it comes to language. “A jobseeker must be very tuned in to the age and cultural background of the interviewer,” advises Bill Warren, executive director of DirectEmployers Association.

Of course, in this global economy, some positions may require the prospective employee to have a particular cultural sensitivity. That can be adequately demonstrated through discussion about experiences, travels, and studies. That is not a cue to speak slang. Use plain, descriptive language.

Make language an ongoing homework assignment. Even after you’re hired, your ability to deliver presentations and represent the company effectively can determine how far you advance in your organization. Good referral guides include the Descriptionary: The book for when you know what it is, but not what it’s called by Marc McCutcheon (Facts on File Inc.; $55.00) and Write to the Point: How to Communicate in Business with Style and Purpose by Salvatore J. Iacone (Career Press; $13.99). Although the latter focuses on the written word, it includes a grammar and usage review, the correct use of prepositions, and a listing of often confused words.

Commonly mispronounced words include asked (axed), February (Febuary), and library (libary). Incorrect phrasings with the past participle include had did, had came, and had went. It is correct, however, to say had done, had come, and had gone. According to Lorber, another turnoff is the overuse of like, um, and you know. “These misuses are good reasons to ask a family member or friend to see you through a trial run prior to an interview,” advises Jones.

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