Five Tips for Selling Yourself in an Interview

Landing an interview is awesome! These days, job positions can receive a great number of candidates, many of whom are unlikely to move on to the interview stage. If you have been asked to come in for an interview, pat yourself on the back, because that means that this company likes something about what they’ve seen in your resume or application and is interested in finding out more. But when the hiring manager makes their final decision, they may only have one spot to fill. Your interview is the thing that will help set you apart from the competition. The broadest, but also, in truth, the biggest tip is to make sure you are prepared. Everything from having your answers lined up for common questions to doing research on the company itself can mean the difference between nailing the interview and floundering. If you’re fully prepared, hiring managers won’t just be impressed with your well-formulated answers or knowledge of the position, but they will also know that you possess the intrinsic virtue of preparation, which is itself a vital skill to have in the world of business. Ahead are five tips to prepare for your upcoming interview in order to most effectively sell yourself and give you the best shot of landing the job. 

Know Your Audience

The first thing you want to do to prepare is to go through the job listing (probably more than once) to carefully examine all aspects of the description of the job. Not only is a firm grasp on the actual position unsurprisingly something you will need in order to do well in the interview, but it will also help to guide your preparation moving forward. Remember, your goal in an interview is to make an effective sales pitch for yourself. You want to demonstrate to the company that it is in their best interests to hire you over any of the other candidates. In order to do that, you have to know your product, but you also have to know your audience. While both aspects are important, a lot of people get hung up on the former, spending too much time going over their own qualifications and practicing how to talk about themselves, but often skimping on the latter. In doing so they lose points when they end up unfamiliar with the company or aren’t well versed on the specificities of the position they’re interviewing for. 

In order to avoid this, you need to start by devoting a good amount of time to researching this perspective company. Don’t just spend a few minutes on the company’s own website, source your information from a variety of different websites. Get a good handle on the work they’re out there doing. Look into what other people are saying about the company. Try to pin down what about you they were most interested in or excited by from your application and what you could say in the interview to demonstrate that you would be a good fit in this company based on all that you have learned. 

Know What NOT to Say

It’s no surprise that practicing ahead of time and being prepared with what you want to say is going to help you during the interview process, but it’s also just as important to remember that there are some things you want to avoid saying at all costs in an interview. 

Don’t disparage your current/former place of work. While it might be true that you are on the job hunt because you didn’t/don’t like the company itself, the corporate culture, a coworker, etc. it’s not something you want to bring up in the interview. If anything, you should go out of your way to speak positively about the company, the leadership, the culture, and your coworkers. But that begs the question: what’s a good way to respond when they ask you why you’re looking to leave that company? While answering questions like this you want to try to focus on yourself and your goals rather than speaking negatively about the company. You can talk about how you’re looking for a role with more responsibilities, a job with more regular hours, or something along those lines. Hiring managers are looking for candidates with a positive attitude. The assumption being that if you didn’t like your previous company, how long will it be before you start to say the same sort of things about this new company? While this might not always be accurate, it’s a shortcut that can help hiring managers quickly eliminate people who are more likely to quickly find things not to like about their new position. 

Don’t ask about what you will be doing in this role. This one can be a little bit counter-intuitive because you do want to ask questions about the role, you do want to appear inquisitive and interested, but the fact is, all too often, people go through a whole interview and when the interviewer turns it over for any questions the interviewee might have, they say something like “what would I be doing in this role?” That is a question you want to avoid at all costs. All this does is communicate to the interviewer that you didn’t pay close attention to the job description, and, in the likely case that the position itself was discussed during the interview, that you didn’t pay much attention to that either. It says to the hiring manager that you didn’t do your homework, you didn’t research the role and the company, and that you, likely, aren’t qualified for the position. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask about the position, as long as you’re asking specific questions that go in-depth into the position and aren’t covered in the job description. Asking about what a typical day or typical week looks like in the position, asking how teams are organized, or asking about what major goal the company has for your first 90 days can all be great ways to find out more about the position than what was covered in the description or during the course of the interview.  

Don’t be desperate. Talking about how you “need” the job isn’t going to get you very far. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. Likewise, you don’t want to sound desperate when it comes to the responsibilities of the job itself. Saying you will do anything the company needs might sound like a great pitch, but if you go into a job interview projecting that you’ll do anything and you don’t care what it is, it can sound desperate and like you aren’t necessarily interested in this exact position at this exact company, but that you simply need a job – any job. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t something that hiring managers are looking for. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is a great alternative. Being excited about a position or willing to tackle challenges is definitely going to come off better than desperation. 

Some other, more self-explanatory things you want to steer clear from are talking about being nervous about the interview process itself, being overly cocky/acting like you have the job already, asking about pay, or admitting that you have never used the company’s product/service. While some of these might seem pretty obvious, you would be surprised by how often they play out during actual interviews. The good news is, with this tip in mind, and a little common sense, you will be unlikely to fall into the trap of doing any of these things in your upcoming interview!

The Interview is More Than Just the Interview

Many job candidates don’t realize that the interview begins the second you walk in the door. While it’s certainly understandable that your focus would be concentrated on the literal interview, you don’t want to falter when it comes to everything surrounding the interview. You should treat everyone you run into, talk to, or interact with as your interviewer because you never know what will be passed along. Being rude or short with anyone should obviously be avoided, but you should also make sure to be polite, maintain eye contact, and be friendly with everyone. 

The interview isn’t just about what you say and how you look on paper, but it’s also how you present yourself. Behaving confidently, having assured body language, dressing the part, and speaking calmly and clearly will all go a long way to selling yourself in this interview. These social positives are capable of bolstering all of the other positive aspects of your resume and interview. 

Have Answers Ready for Common Questions

From the dreaded “tell me about yourself” to the classic “what are your biggest weaknesses” common interview questions can be the bane of your interview experience. What’s surprising, however, is that for how common – almost cliche – these questions are, they’re also some of the ones that interview candidates are the least prepared for. 

Often you run into candidates who answer “tell me a little bit about yourself” with something like “Wow. Jeez. I wasn’t expecting this. That’s a loaded question.” But not only does this response demonstrate to the interviewer that you aren’t prepared, it may also have them confused about why you can’t answer what should be a fairly simple question even if you aren’t prepared for it. That’s because a lot of interviewees overthink this common question. And it’s not their fault! If you don’t practice this question, coming up with a concise and compelling answer on the spot can actually be incredibly difficult. There’s a lot we could say about ourselves, but where to begin? How much should we say? What should we leave off? Is this a trick question? 

The good news? No. It’s not a trick question, but it can be an important one, and it is definitely one you want to practice ahead of time. But, of course, you need to come up with a good answer before you can rehearse it. First, start out with a clear goal for your answers. This is usually a concise message you want to communicate about yourself, and all of the information and anecdotes within the answer should work to provide supporting evidence for that message. While the general message should always be about how you are capable and qualified and how your skills and experiences would suit the position, you should also tailor this to the position itself. 

For example, if the job would have you acting in a leadership role, you should talk about your job history as it leads up to your leadership experience, while also including a specific time when your leadership solved a problem, saved the day, accomplished a major goal, etc. Likewise, if the position you are interviewing for is a creative position, talk about your previous experience as it relates to being creative, and then talk about a time when you creatively solved a problem or came up with a new idea that really took off. 

In the end, you want to highlight something you have learned through your experience and underscore how what you’ve learned can be effectively applied to the current position. A great tip for this is to look once again at the job description itself. Find out what sort of qualities and abilities they are looking for and then use your answer to demonstrate that you possess these qualities and that you have experience with the responsibilities of the position you are interviewing for. Remember, brevity is the soul of wit. Be concise with your response and try to focus on one or two highlights from your working experience. Your answer should focus about 45% on your past experience, 50% on specific instances that showcase your virtues and competencies, and then you can leave about 5% to throw in some information about yourself as long as it at least loosely relates to the position. If, for example, you’re interviewing at a publishing house, feel free to let them know that you read five books a week or that you’re currently obsessed with X author or Y genre. As long as the information connects in some way to the position, it can showcase your passion for the subject matter while simultaneously humanizing you to your interviewer in a way that is appropriate. 

One question that you may think you are prepared for is “what are your biggest weaknesses?” While it might seem obvious that you should simply answer with a strength disguised as a weakness, like “I’m too dedicated to my work” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” the problem is that everyone has heard answers like this before. It’s easy to expect that we would be turning their question on their heads and surprising them with a well-crafted answer about a strength disguised as a weakness, but the truth is quite the opposite. Every interviewer has heard answers like these time and time again. 

So how do you answer this question? Well, for starters, even though you shouldn’t answer with a cliched response about a strength disguised as a weakness, you still don’t want to give them any actual flaws that might nudge them away from considering you, especially if these weaknesses relate to the skills and responsibilities of the job in question. So what are they after? For starters, they want to know that you’re a person who is capable of recognizing places where there is room to grow and striving to improve. They want you to exhibit some self-awareness, showcase that you understand that you aren’t perfect, and finally they want to see that you have the capacity to work on those imperfections. So you do want to give an actual weakness, but not one that is directly related to the position in question. For example, if you are up for a leadership position, you don’t want to start going on about being shy or unassertive. Instead, find a weakness that isn’t closely related to the skills and competencies required for the position you are interviewing for, and then go on to talk about how you are working on improving that weakness. 

As well as these very common questions, you also want to think about what sort of questions are likely to be asked about the specific position you are interviewing for. You can practice all day how to respond to questions like “how do you handle conflicts in the workplace?” or “what are your greatest strengths,” but if you aren’t prepared for questions that relate directly to the position, you aren’t likely to impress your interviewer.  

Get Ready to Improvise

While coming prepared with answers to common types of questions is a must, so too is being able to think on your feet. Even if you practice an answer to every question you can think of, odds are you’re still going to run into a curveball or two. There will always be questions you didn’t directly prepare for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare indirectly. Preparation isn’t just about memorizing answers it’s also about knowing your stuff. Go through the job listing again and look at each of the individual elements. 

If, for example, the job listing says you must be proficient in Excel, then you need to brush up on Excel terms and functions, get some practice in, and make sure you know how to use Excel. If you know your stuff, it doesn’t matter if the interviewer asks you “how would you use Excel to organize expenses” or “what are some of the best ways to utilize Excel” or even more indirect, open-ended questions like “How would you go about organizing expenses.” While practicing for common questions and knowing which topics to avoid are great ways to prepare, there simply isn’t a way to know ahead of time everything that will be covered in the interview. So, once you’ve locked down the basics, you need to still devote a good amount of time to memorizing your work history, understanding the company and their expectations, and being well-versed on the job itself, as well as all of the skills and competencies the job demands.