Unless you’re actually in sales, the very concept of selling yourself during a job interview can be daunting. You don’t want to sound arrogant or corny, or worse, desperate. But learning how to self-promote in a convincing manner is what the job interview is all about.
The good news is you can learn how to confidently talk about yourself—specifically your skills, knowledge, and career achievements—with a little effort. These tips can help you close the sale on a job offer.
Look the part
Many hiring managers will form their first impression of you based on what you’re wearing. Granted, the right interview attire depends on the company you’re auditioning for and the culture of the organization, says Portland, Oregon–based career and job search coach Vicki Lind. “You want to dress up one notch above what the employees are wearing,” she recommends.
In addition, you need to physically project confidence. “Your body language has to reinforce what you’re selling,” says Atlanta-based career coach Gia Ganesh. In other words, your nonverbal cues—mainly your eye contact, hand motions, posture, and tone of voice—are critical when selling yourself to a hiring manager.
Tailor your elevator pitch
Ganesh says you should have a 30- to 60-second self-introduction prepared in advance, but this elevator pitch has to be customized to the job you’re interviewing for.
“You can’t create a single elevator pitch that will work for every audience,” says Stamford, Connecticut–based executive coach Anne Marie Segal. “You have to be speaking to the pain points of the company.” After all, your goal is to present yourself as the solution to their problems.
Look closely at the job posting to assess the company’s needs and the job responsibilities, and then tweak your pitch accordingly. Do your research and find what matters most to the company—go to their website and social media pages and read their mission statement, recent press releases, and any initiatives they’re undertaking—and then tailor your pitch.
Prepare meaningful anecdotes
No matter what industry you’re in, you can expect to be asked behavioral job interview questions. Essentially, these questions require you to come up with examples from your past work experiences—for example, “Tell me about a time when you suffered a setback,” or, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker.” Unfortunately, this is where a lot of job seekers stumble.
“Many people can tell a decent story, but almost everyone leaves out the impact the story had on you, the participants, and the business,” says executive coach Bill Cole, author of The Interview Success Guide. In other words, don’t forget to talk about the results of your actions.
To craft a compelling anecdote, Cole recommends using real feedback to highlight your contributions: “Use actual dialogue of how people raved about your solutions and how it affected the business. Describe any awards or visibility you received. Talk about how your former boss still raves about you on that project to his colleagues and how your project is still in place, years later.”
Ask unique questions
The secret to distinguishing yourself from other job candidates is simple: Ask good questions that offer value. “These pointed, yet uncommon questions mark you as an in-depth, curious, persistent researcher,” says Cole.
Make sure at least one of your questions expresses interest in what the company is currently working on and then tactfully weigh in. For example, you might ask, “Will your new product have x, y, or z features and capabilities?” Then, after the interviewer answers, you’d follow up by offering your creative thinking on the subject, says Cole.
Always quantify your achievements
“Metrics sell,” says Cole, which is why it’s important to use hard numbers when describing your accomplishments. So, instead of saying, “I led a successful project,” say, “The project I led reduced costs by 35%, shaved four days off from start to finish, and landed us seven huge new clients in the first 10 days,” Cole recommends.
Also, avoid using empty clichés, like saying that you’re a “team player” or “hard worker.” Instead, back up your claims with relevant stories that show how you’ve applied your skills in the past.
Say the right things
If you’re not especially comfortable talking about yourself, the job interview is going to feel much more awkward than it really needs to be. The key to finding your rhythm? Practice.