Buzzwords. Love them, hate them, or love to hate them- they serve a purpose in an interview setting. Regardless of your feelings about buzzwords, aka words and phrases that are popular in a specific context (in this case an interview), the use of them signal that a candidate has done their research and knows what is important to employers in the current hiring climate.  

Sure, you may be thinking that buzzwords are overused and unoriginal. You aren’t necessarily wrong. “Hard worker” and “team player” are proof that buzzwords can become cliché and even work against a candidate. However, the buzzwords that I am referring to are far from being cliché and are often accompanied by a synonym or two to avoid overuse.

Initiative: While it is important that a candidate is able to fulfill a job’s requirements, that alone isn’t enough to make them a top contender. The candidates that you should focus on are those who use words like “initiative” to describe their contributions in previous positions. This word, and it’s synonyms, signal that the candidate is not one that will simply fill a role; rather, they will work to improve the role altogether and set the bar higher for everyone on their team.  

Synonyms: created, established, introduced, instituted, launched, set up, started

Results: A top candidate will not stop after giving examples of times that they have demonstrated initiative. Instead, they will continue on to describe the results that were achieved from their efforts. If you don’t hear it, ask about it. Someone who has truly demonstrated initiative in their career will also be able to discuss the measurable results that followed.

Synonyms: effect, deliverables, metrics, outcome, product

Value: Though “company culture” is a relatively newer buzzword that employers and candidates alike have in the back of their minds, you may not hear that specific phrase in an interview as it is one that is quickly becoming a cliché. What you should be listening for, and are more likely to hear, is a candidate discussing what they value in a company and in a career. Listen for the values that they align with, and determine if they match with those in your company’s mission statement.

Synonyms: alignment, appreciate, mission

Passionate: Education, skills and other similar qualifications are all necessary to discuss, but can also be found by quickly scanning a resume. What you should be listening for instead is if the candidate can articulate what they are passionate about in their career. This will give you an idea of where they would take the role- should you extend an offer to them.

Synonyms: driven, eager, excited

Thank you: Although a candidate’s body language and voice inflection will likely tip you off to their level of interest or excitement about a job, vocalizing their appreciation for your time and consideration is just as crucial as those nonverbal cues. What may seem like a simple sign of appreciation is also an acknowledgement of the time and effort that is spent ensuring that the right person is hired. Isn’t that the type of person you want on your team?

Synonyms: appreciate, grateful

Throughout every interview that you conduct, you should check these words off of your list as you hear them. However, simply hearing the words is not enough. Make sure that candidates assign meaning to these buzzwords words by incorporating them into personal anecdotes from previous work experience.