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How to ‘sell’ yourself in an interview (without seeming too promotional)

There’s an art to sharing your accomplishments without sounding too aloof.

How to ‘sell’ yourself in an interview (without seeming too promotional)
[Photo: Tomwang112/iStock]

With so much employment turnover these days, many people are tasked with the job of finding a new job. And, given the fact very few people actually make it to the interviewing part of the application process, it’s important to keep refining your skills.

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To succeed at this stage of the game, you’ll want to sell yourself. That means pitching yourself effectively, while avoiding sounding too promotional. Here are four strategies for doing just that:

Listen more than you speak

While it’s tempting to want to share all your accomplishments, you’ll come across better if you make sure that you’re doing a lot of listening.

We humans like to talk about ourselves. In fact, a study by the Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab revealed that people spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves, and when they’re not talking about themselves they are thinking about what to say next. “The process of talking about ourselves releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone,” says business psychiatrist Mark Goulston.

But as you blather on, imagine how the interviewer feels. She has the same desire to talk about herself as you do, so if you talk too much, she may feel left out of the conversation.

Instead, put your listening skills to the test, and let her talk. Ask a lot of questions, and listen while she explains the job, the company, its culture, and its successes. You’ll be perceived as someone who is keenly interested in what the interviewer has to say and what the company can offer.

Focus your answers

When you do speak up, keep your answers short. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span of human beings is eight seconds—and falling. So be mindful to focus.

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If the interviewer’s attention starts falling off after eight seconds, you’ll want to cut to the chase and make your point within that short time frame. For example, say your interviewer asks, “Why should we hire you?” Within the first eight seconds of your reply you’ll want to say something like, “I believe my deep experience in this industry qualifies me for this position.”

Once you’ve stated your message, give a few clear supporting points. In this case you’d give two to four proof points to show how you’re qualified. To keep your listener focused, call out each point with a number. “First . . . Second . . . Third . . .” or “To begin with . . . Next . . . Finally.” This way the interviewer will stay alert to what you’re saying. (For a fuller description of how to structure your comments in a job interview, see the scripting template in my book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment.)

Beware of too many “I’s”

In selling yourself you’ll want to steer clear of too many “I statements” (like “I did this” and “I did that”). Of course, to be effective, you’ll want to lay claim to accomplishments, but using the first person too much can erode the goodwill of the listener.

I once interviewed a candidate for a position in my company, and my gut told me not to hire him when he used the “I” word too often. In fact, I received a thank-you note from him after the interview and each of its eight paragraphs began with “I.” Despite my gut feeling, I hired him, but I regretted it afterward. He did not last.

To avoid saying “I” too much, find substitutes. For example, say “my role was to help build the sales performance of our group, and we did just that.” Or instead of saying, “I have extensive experience in this area,” say, “My background is a great fit with this role.”

Focus on your leadership, too, instead of yourself. If your team accomplished something, say so and show that you led them to success. For example, say, “My team delivered the best results in our division. I’m very proud of them.”

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Show gratitude

It’s always good to show gratitude, and doing so will naturally soften the tone of your self-promotion. I’m not suggesting that you eat humble pie and applaud everyone else but yourself. Instead, clothe your accomplishments in recognition that they were attained with the help of others.

For example, you might say, “My success as a project manager was grounded in some great mentoring by my boss. From him I learned to structure every project with seven fundamentals in mind.” Show gratitude for your company’s commitment to your growth. Say, “I couldn’t have asked for a better startup experience. It whetted my entrepreneurial appetite.” Praise your team for making you look good. Say, “They were amazing and worked so well together. It was a privilege to lead them.”

Showing gratitude also shows that you are a person with good values and that you have a collaborative mindset. It means that you will work well with colleagues and bosses in the new role. These interpersonal skills are critical in most jobs.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors

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