Reading an article on Inc. today I came across a great piece of advice from Google recruiter (and author of Purple Squirrel), Michael Junge.  Though he focuses on recruiting for a very large, Fortune 500 Company, he has a few tips that companies of any size can use to find great people.

All of his tips are great, but the one I (and the grammar nerd inside) found most interesting revolves around the concept of active and passive verbs.  I immediately flashed back to my days as a grammar and composition teacher—even remembering the exact lesson I used to illustrate this same notion.

Hashing out the whole lesson isn’t really important, but the concept is.  Suffice it to say that I showed the difference in verb types by throwing my textbook on the floor and asking students to describe what happened.  In general, it was described as either, “You threw the book on the floor” (active), or as, “The book was thrown on the floor” (passive).

In the first description (the active voice), it gives the impression that I took charge, grabbed the book and threw it on the floor.  It was my choice and my effort that landed it there—I did it!  In the second description, there was no real thrower of the book, no one to take the credit or make the decision; the book simply ended up there (the passive voice).

So, as Junge points out, you can tell so much about a candidate by their language choice—active or passive.  An old mentor taught him there is, “A significant difference in the productivity of people who described their work in terms of accomplishments and results compared to those who talked about responsibilities and duties.”  He goes on to say that, “To this day, I’m much more likely to call someone who has designed, built, delivered, initiated, earned than someone who has been ‘tasked with’ or ‘responsible for’.”

Employers, you may already be using this method to tell the great candidates from the rest.  And, if you aren’t, maybe it’s time you start.  As Junge also says, “As an employer, it makes sense to focus on people who want to deliver and perform, not those who feel like they have to.”

And candidates, how are you describing yourself?  Are your bullet points and experiences filled with things you’ve done, or things that you were made responsible for?  If you aren’t sure, it might be worth your time to check before you submit another application (especially if it’s one to Google).

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