Interviews are intended to allow employers to find the best candidates for a job by talking through each applicant’s skills, attributes and experiences. This is the opportunity for an employer to determine how your skills distinguish you from other applicants. So if you don’t tell the interviewer what is so great about you, they’ll never know what distinguishes you from the other candidates. On the other hand, nobody likes a cocky or arrogant candidate. So how do you balance these conflicting objectives and make your case without sounding high on yourself?
Here are a few pointers to help you walk this thin line:
What to Talk About
The first thing you should do is review the job posting. You did keep the job posting, right? Okay, maybe keeping jobs postings that you apply for should be the first pointer. A job posting is a good start on what to expect for questions from the interviewer.
When reviewing the job posting, make a list of the preferences and requirements, then go over them and do your best to match them with your own wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences, listing as many examples as you can think of for each preference or requirement. Knowing how your past experiences fit well with a job can make you feel more confident when walking into an interview. This will allow you to portray yourself as somebody who is intelligent, insightful and well prepared.
Aligning yourself with specifics in a job posting is a good start, but you likely have many more experiences from your past that would be of benefit in this new position you are seeking. The best way to sort through your past experiences that are not touched on in the job posting is to do some research on the company conducting the interview. Visit their website, search for news stories and press releases, etc. to give you an idea of what they are all about, and how some of your past experiences would help you do the job better. Remember, the employer is looking for the best candidate for the job. Going beyond the scope of the job posting is a good opportunity to separate you from the other applicants. Only discuss those experiences that are relevant to the job. Yes, it is tough to do, and yes, you may have to leave out what you believe are some of your most impressive accomplishments. But if these skills, accomplishments or experiences have no relevance, it does nothing to help you rise above the other candidates, and could even be interpreted as bragging, which would set you back.
One final thought on drawing on past experiences. Many younger job applicants - like recent college and university graduates for example - tend to limit their discussions on college coursework and projects. This can be a big mistake. Volunteer work, extracurricular activities, fraternities and sororities, as well as work experience in retail, fast-food restaurants and grocery stores can all go a long way in demonstrating you aren’t afraid of hard work or getting your hands dirty.
Tell Some Intriguing Stories
All right, so we have the basics laid out above, but just listing off past experiences and accomplishments makes for a short and rather boring interview. It is now time to take those experiences and accomplishments and prepare stories for each of them. This will help keep the interviewer interested in what you are saying. People are naturally drawn to stories. After all, we all enjoy a good book or movie. These stories allow you, the job candidate, to show the interviewer your skills and knowledge, rather than just tell them and hope they take your word for it. Stories help back up your specific examples.
There are a few benefits over and above those already stated. First, for you as the storyteller, they should be fairly easy to remember as they come from your past. It also allows the interviewer to better assess the skills and knowledge after the interview is over. Finally, it allows you to strut your stuff without bragging. Saying you are a good leader is boastful. Telling a story about how you were a leader in a particular situation is commendable.
Ok, so you sat down and created a list of skills and requirements from the job posting and your own research on the company. And you came up with a few stories that will demonstrate each of them. But what about the other stuff - education, degrees, academic specialties, GPA, etc.? Don’t worry, you need not devise stories about these. Of all things on your resume, these sorts of things should speak for themselves. Interviewers might touch on them, but likely will not spend too much time on them because there are likely hundreds of things that went into your 4.0 GPA. The fact that you have a 4.0 GPA speaks volumes on its own.
That said, don’t be so quick to avoid storytelling in areas that might not seem appropriate at first. For example, just saying you have knowledge of a particular software seems pretty straight forward. But it would have a little more impact if you were to tell the interviewer how you used that software to complete a particular task or project.
Remember to keep your stories short and the point. This isn’t a public speaking competition, and the longer you speak does not mean you will receive more consideration for the job. Your best bet is to try to to keep each related story to one minute or less.
It is sometimes difficult to come up with stories or examples for use in an interview. Friends, family, coworkers and professors are all great resources for stories about you. Your skills and attributes are often more apparent to those around you than they are to yourself. Asking for a little help never hurts.
Finally, try and avoid telling employers about skills you don’t have unless directly asked about a particular skill. Of course honesty and integrity are admirable traits, but there is no need to volunteer information about why you might not be good at the job. Stick to the reasons why you would be good at the job. Moreover, be enthusiastic and show how proficient you can be. That’s what employers what to know.