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Hit The Ground Running

4 Rules For Self-Promotion During Job Interviews

Here's the right way to toot your own horn and test how well it's working.

4 Rules For Self-Promotion During Job Interviews
[Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

A job interview is its own artificial environment—with rules and mores that differ quite a bit from most "normal" situations. One thing many people struggle with is knowing how much to toot their own horn. Interviewing for a job requires you to show off traits that you think the company is looking for.

But that can feel uncomfortable or embarrassing—you don't want to sound like your mother holding forth on your brilliant high school years. To help you strike a compelling balance, keep these three rules in mind.

1. Hear Yourself As Your Interviewer Hears You

Consider this: The interviewer you're speaking with probably has 10, 50, or even 100 or more candidates vying for the same job, depending on the sort of position you're being considered for. The only way to winnow down that roomful of people is to search for reasons to eliminate candidates—for lack of experience, education, or even their enthusiasm, confidence, energy, and attitude.

Just as resume and cover letter writing advice usually includes "power words" to add energy to your written qualifications, it's important to bring the right vocabulary to your conversation, too. Talk about how you "communicated," "developed," "excelled," "managed," "produced," "solved," and "won." These sorts of terms highlight outcomes, not actions, and while they may sound dry and artificial in isolation, in the right context they can make your achievements really sing.

And don’t just "talk the talk," be ready to "walk the walk." From the moment you pick up the phone, log on to Skype, or walk into the office, show the positive energy and attitude that all companies are looking for. By making sure the interviewer can see that, and considering your impression from her perspective, not yours, you'll actually be making her job easier at the same time that you make yourself a stronger candidate.

2. Everything Is A Test

The interview isn’t just the time you spend across the desk from an HR professional or hiring manager. From the moment you walk in the door, your every move may well be evaluated.

In a recent New York Times interview, Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, revealed how he gives candidates a schedule for the time they'll spend at his company—then switches it around with no warning. Why? "I want to see how they react," he explained. "You’re going to be thrown curveballs all the time. It’s a question of how you respond. Don’t get frustrated over it. Roll with the punches."

It's a safe bet that everything you do and say is being evaluated at some level, even if you're under the impression that the interview hasn’t even started. Candidates sometimes think the first person they meet—a receptionist or assistant—isn't who really matters, and either treat them dismissively or chat with them too revealingly. Then they wonder why their "interview" with the hiring manager was much shorter than they'd expected, or even got abruptly cancelled.

You may not think of this as part of the self-promotion puzzle, but if you keep that in mind, it can help shape the impression you leave in your favor.

3. Be Enthusiastic About Yourself

Modesty is a virtue, but not on a job interview. There are candidates that have gone before you or are coming in right after you, and they won't hesitate to show off what they've got. The shyer you are, the more you have to fight your natural tendency to downplay your qualifications, educational and experiential accomplishments, and be ready to shout them (or at least announce them confidently) from the rooftops.

Can you go "over the top" in your confident attempt to impress the interviewer? Well, enthusiasm doesn’t mean over-caffeinated displays of self-aggrandizement. But when given the choice between being too modest and bragging about everything you’ve done, you'd do better to err on the latter side.

One way to keep you from sounding arrogant is to show genuine passion and enthusiasm for what you've accomplished. That can help you project confidence and energy that isn't all directed at your own, inborn qualities. Instead, it's more about what those qualities have led to.

4. Watch And Listen—Don't Just Talk

And the best way to test how well your self-promotion strategy is working is to reflect in real-time about what you're seeing and hearing around you. Does your interviewer still seem engaged and friendly? Or has the conversation taken a more pointed turn?

Finally, you still have to decide if you're as enthusiastic about the job, company, and potential boss as you're pretending to be. Does everyone you meet seem to be dragging themselves through the day, showing little enthusiasm for their work? The more you hear about the job's day-to-day duties, are you still interested?

A helpful counterbalance to the pressures of self-promotion is to remember that you're interviewing the prospective employer as much as they're interviewing you—and you have every right to be just as selective.

Ron Fry is the author of 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, 25th Anniversary Edition

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