Can I, like, ruin a job interview if I, like, say ‘like’ too often?

Can I, like, ruin a job interview if I, like, say ‘like’ too often?

As an old school grammarian, hearing the word “like” used other than as a verb or a comparative has always had the effect of fingers nails down a blackboard. I have often wondered if the liberal use of that term would ever have an impact if someone demonstrated that penchant in an interview.

I got that answer, from at least one hiring manager based on an interview he conducted last week.

I have a friend who is an Engineering Director for a major software firm who recently interviewed a software engineering candidate, who had solid academic credentials and was referred by an employee. My friend decided to pass on the candidate despite showing some promise from a coding perspective.

The knockout came because the candidate’s lexicon was littered with the liberal and inaccurate use of the word “like”.

I asked my friend if this was just a personal peeve or if he could explain a practical justification for eliminating someone who could probably handle the technical execution of the position. His reply was pretty clear.

“As I was interviewing him, I was trying to put myself in the position of two different people: A colleague and a customer. As a colleague, I am picturing the team listening to his explanations in the daily stand-up. We are an Agile shop and live by the stand-ups, so I can see him losing people who are not taking him seriously.

“As a customer, I am picturing some seasoned IT manager who may have a Master or a PhD listening to this guy who is saying “like” to the point of distraction. I am imagining what a customer is thinking: ‘Wow, this guy sounds very young and immature‘ or ‘have these guys lowered their hiring standards because he is not coming off sounding professional.’

“If a client thinks either of those thoughts of someone in my organization, it is a non-starter.”

Is this an outlier or does this happen under the radar all the time? Try this as an experiment: The next time you are at a large gathering like a party, a professional sports event or walking through a busy mall – any place you will get a large percentage of people under 50 – listen for the word ‘like’ being used as a verbal filler.

I recently attended a trade show in a major city and grabbed lunch in the food court of a mall that was connected to the hotel hosting the show. I sat one table away from three women who were in the 21-23 age bracket, actively engaged in a spirited conversation about daily life in their respective jobs.

In the 5-7 minutes I took to eat a sandwich, I would estimate that the trio was inserting “like’ into their dialogue about every 6 to 7 words. I found myself listening in stunned amusement at the sophomoric verbal barrage and I recall the observations of my friend: I didn’t take one of them seriously from a professional perspective.

That may be the opinion who remembers rotary dial phones and changing channels by hand, but I sincerely wonder how many times there is a repeat of what my friend experienced. Saying “like” may seem like a harmless verbal habit, but I wonder how often it unknowingly cost someone a job?




Mark Knowlton

Mark Knowlton is the CEO and Founder of TechScreen, a SaaS company that lets a recruiter conduct, score and document a detailed interview of an IT candidate without needing to know the underlying complexity.

1 Comment
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