I was interviewing a young editor for a fairly visible and important role. He was a more junior candidate than I thought we were looking for, but his resume was impressive. He had delivered significant results for some well-known websites. The projects he had led were right in line with what I needed, so I was anxious to meet with him. I was looking forward to the opportunity to offer him a chance to step into more of a leadership role.

He looked good on paper, but in the job interview he went and basically ruined his credibility with a single word. And he said it several times.

The job I was hiring for was to take ownership of a new community platform. The person in the role would source, edit and write articles for a targeted audience and build traffic to this section of the website that was critical to the company’s business objectives.

The candidate’s resume said that he had launched several targeted, sponsored lifestyle subchannels for one of the major portals. I had looked at the sites, and they seemed well designed and engaging. There were catchy headlines on a range of topics and many comments, likes and shares on the articles. So I asked the candidate, “Since you launched these websites, what role did you have in mapping out the content strategy? Did you choose the writers and topics yourself?”

He replied, “Well, I basically launched it. I was in charge of editing and publishing all of the material.”

Me: “Basically?”

Him: “When I came onboard, the new channels were technically already live, but they hadn’t started promoting them yet, so I was basically there for the launch.”

When it comes to owning an online editorial channel, there is a big difference between “launching” a new website, and “basically being there for the launch.” The level of exaggeration he had applied to his contributions in his resume was becoming apparent.

In an interview, I’m on your side. If I’ve agreed to meet with you, it’s because I think that you can do the job, and I hope that you get it. I tried to give him the chance to elaborate more on his real contributions. “So you were the editorial lead? Tell me about how you choose your topics and map out your editorial calendar.”

Him: “I was basically responsible for the content strategy. The senior editor had me running the day to day updates and maintaining the websites. I always kept the sites fresh by having the newest stories featured front and centre.”

Me: “So you weren’t actually in charge of the editorial websites, you just basically updated them with the newest stories as they came in.”

Him: “Basically, yes.”

I suppose it isn’t necessary to say that I didn’t hire this editor for the role. His resume got his foot in the door for the interview, but he proceeded to undercut all of his alleged accomplishments by saying that he had “basically” done them.

I’ve actually not done justice in this piece to how often he said the word. It was so frequent that I suspect it may even have been a nervous tic. If so, I hope he’s overcome it by now.

Running the day to day maintenance of an editorial website is a serious job, and one that takes analytical skills, creativity, and insight as well as good writing, grammar, and technical skills. He may soon be ready for bigger roles. But saying that you ‘basically’ managed something or were ‘basically responsible’ for the results will always diminish (or even destroy) your credibility.

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Peter Harris
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