Q: I am very confused about some feedback I received while looking for a job. After staying home with my children for eight years, I am planning to resume my teaching career. I applied for positions at two schools in the same district and had interviews with both principals.
At the end of these meetings, the two principals told me exactly the same thing. They said my answers included too many first-person responses, using “I” instead of “we.” I did not get an offer from either school. How should I interpret this feedback?
A: Screening applicants based on pronoun choice is ridiculous, so I understand your concern. Because such semantics are a poor predictor of actual job performance, giving them that much weight is simply foolish.
If this happened only once, I would assume you encountered a bad interviewer. If it occurred in different districts, I might suspect something odd in your answers. But when two managers in the same organization take the same peculiar approach, one possible culprit is their training.
So here’s my theory. Because many schools are now using a team-oriented teaching strategy, the principals may have been taught to look for applicants who are more collaborative. In these sessions, the trainers could have mentioned the use of “we” versus “I” as one sign of a team-oriented person.
While there could be some truth to this, it is certainly not sufficient evidence on which to base a hiring decision. Instead, managers should formulate questions about actual work situations which require collaboration. However, your two interviewers may have fixated on the pronouns as an easy shortcut.
For your own benefit, you might as well consider whether there is anything to be learned here. Before your next interview, examine your typical responses to be sure they don’t sound self-centered. And if you apply to any other schools in that district, choose your pronouns very carefully.
Q: For some reason, my manager seems to have made me a target. “Doug” frequently checks my work for errors and insists that I follow specific procedures. I don’t believe he does this with my co-workers. I have been with this company a long time, and I know what I’m doing. How can I get Doug to back off?
A: Based on your description, I can envision two possible scenarios. One possibility is that you and Doug simply have different opinions about how this job should be performed. The other is that you are actually doing shoddy work. Either way, the bottom line is that he apparently feels the need to supervise you closely.
If you and Doug view the job differently, then you should make a convincing case for your own approach. You may not prevail, but at least you can try. But if you are taking unapproved shortcuts and making frequent mistakes, you need to shape up and meet the standards.
The cold, hard reality is that Doug is your boss, which makes him responsible for overseeing your work. So if you want him to “back off,” try making a concerted effort to meet his expectations.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.