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The importance of being yourself in job interviews

We are a culture that, by and large, does not welcome self-promoters.

Many of us are good at what we do in work. But we’re not good at telling others how and why we’re good at what we do. We’re taught not to brag to others about our accomplishments or achievements. Which, in a way, is exactly what we must do at every step of the job search process–and especially in interviews.

Hence, most people are uncomfortable with having to ‘sell’ themselves. Lacking practice, far too many job seekers come across in interviews as stiff, uncomfortable, anxious, nervous–not who they are in a normal conversational exchange.

As a recruiter, I interview a lot of candidates. I quickly assess whether a candidate is being their genuine self with me or not. It’s not the only factor that matters to me; I’m assessing whether they have the right mix of skills, experience, education, and knowledge as well as whether there are any potential red flags regarding compensation expectations, etc. But as I am evaluating the 5-7 people I’ve phone screened for a position–all of whom are similarly qualified–I will often give the edge to someone that I know is going to present themselves well to a hiring manager.

An interview loop assesses if you can do the job and whether you will work well with the team/manager. Hiring managers and their teams want to know if you’ll add value and not be high maintenance. If  a candidate comes across as overly nervous, talks too much (or too little), or is a self-important, arrogant ass (I’ve seen all three recently) they’ll likely be given a no hire–even if that’s not who they are most of the time. (Remind me to tell you the story of the guy who once said, “Unlike women, I understand numbers” to an SVP in Finance during an interview…)

Do you know how you come across in an interview?  You need to. Here’s how:

  • Go to a WorkSource center or your college career center and take their mock interview workshop. Ask that they video record the interview so you can watch yourself. Ask for feedback from the interviewing professional as well as other workshop participants. No, it’s not easy to hear that you used the word “literally” 22 times in a 5 minute interview. But if you don’t know you’re doing it, guess what the only thing a hiring manager will remember about you will be? (That’s a real-life example.) Also ask if they have access to web-based tools that would allow you to practice video interviewing from home.
  • Ask someone you know that interviews people as part of their job to help you practice. Use your smartphone or digital camera to capture it on video. Ask them to give you honest, constructive feedback and review the video with them for specifics. (I know–nobody, including me, likes seeing themselves on camera. But it’s a hugely useful tool.)
  • Consider asking for constructive feedback after you complete an interview loop.  A thank you note is a good opportunity to do this.
  • Practice. There are a number of common interview questions, including the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself?” Ensure you know what you’ll say to them–but don’t rigidly script it as it will sound canned (and will ruin any chance of coming across as your real self in the interview).
  • Research–the company (using tools like Glassdoor, Yahoo/Google Finance, Hoovers, WSJ, their Investor Relations website, industry blogs/sites like GeekWire, etc ), the hiring manager (review their LinkedIn/Facebook profile; see what a Google search produces). The more you know, the more any anxiety you have (which is fear of the unknown) will be reduced. The in-person interview loop is the final exam of your job search: Prepare accordingly.

More than anything, though–remember this: An interview is a conversation. It’s a two-way dialogue where both parties should be looking for information from the other. You need to assess whether this is the right job, type of manager, company/team culture, etc for you just as much as they are assessing you. Always have that thought top of mind in every interview situation; it should be empowering to you. The more you can strike a balance between being professional but genuine, the more the interviewer is likely to think positively of you.

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  1. Pingback: YOU are in charge of your career. Don’t ever think otherwise. | The Right Candidate - June 19, 2013

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