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Your Job Interview Bragging Rights: Selling Yourself

For the most part, modesty is an admirable trait. But it's of little use during a job interview.

By Chris Enstrom

The purpose of an interview is to find the best candidate for a particular job. Employers want to know about the knowledge, skills, attributes, and experiences that distinguish you from other job candidates. And they won't know what makes you special unless you tell them. However, most employers won't go out of their way to hire someone who comes across as cocky or arrogant either. So how do you balance the two? How do you put your best foot forward without seeming arrogant or egotistical?

Choose What to Talk About

Start with the job posting and make a list of all the preferences and requirements that are listed. Then try to match them with your own knowledge, skills, and experiences. Make sure that you have examples ready for as many of the preferences listed as possible. If leadership experience is preferred, scrutinize your past for examples of it. If the job requires good teamwork skills, be prepared with examples from your past. But also be prepared to talk about things not listed specifically in the job posting. Find out all you can about the company and the job you are interviewing for. If you have certain experience or knowledge that you think would make you do the job better, don't hesitate to talk about it. The employer is looking for the best candidate for the job. Looking beyond the job posting could help separate you from other applicants.

Make sure that everything you discuss is relevant to the job. It's not easy to do, but you may have to leave out some of your most impressive skills and achievements. Talking about skills, accomplishments, or experience with no relevance to the job does not help the interviewer identify you as a strong job candidate, and could easily be interpreted as bragging.

Many recent college graduates make the mistake of limiting their discussion to their college coursework, or jobs that directly related to the one they are applying for. But this is a mistake. "Students should be willing to talk about any type of knowledge or skills that they have acquired that are relevant to the job they are interviewing for," says Micael Kemp, director of Career Services at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Volunteer experience, leadership positions in a sorority or a fraternity, extracurricular activities, and even work experience at retail or fast-food jobs can be sources of information. "Many students underplay work experience gained at places like grocery stores or fast-food restaurants," she continues. "But employers deeply appreciate people who have gotten their hands dirty and aren't afraid to work hard."

Story Time

Reading off your past experience and accomplishments makes for a short and boring interview. Your job during the interview is to keep the interviewer interested in what you are saying. Many career advisors suggest that job candidates prepare a reservoir of stories that they can pull from during the interview. People are naturally drawn to stories. It's why we read novels and why we watch movies. Also, stories allow job candidates to show interviewers their skills and knowledge instead of just telling them. "Interviewers need more than just your word that you have a particular skill or attribute. They need specific examples, and stories are a good way to prove that," says Cynthia Redwine, director of the Engineering Career Resource Center at the University of Michigan, College of Engineering.

Stories have the added benefit of being easy to remember-for you, as you use a particular story to demonstrate your qualifications during the interview-and for the interviewer who must access your skills and attributes after the interview is completed. Demonstrating a particular job attribute through a story has the added benefit of sounding less boastful than stating the qualification directly. Saying that you are a good leader sounds boastful; explaining how you led a team of volunteers during a record food drive is admirable.

Once you have created a list job skills and requirements from the job posting and your own research of the company and the position, sit down and try to come up with stories to demonstrate each. Of course, certain things cannot really be demonstrated through a story (a high GPA, or a certain degree or academic specialty), but that information is already apparent to the interviewer from your resume. However, stories can be used in situations that at first might not be apparent. For example, instead of simply stating that you are proficient with a particular piece of software, you can tell the interviewer how you applied the software to accomplish a particular task.

Keep your stories short and to the point. An interview is not a creative writing class. There is no need to supply vivid descriptions or unrelated background information. In fact, many career advisors suggest that students keep their stories limited to one minute.

Final Advice

Take time to prepare for the interview. Never walk into an interview with the intention of "winging it" no matter how qualified you think you are for the position. If you are having trouble coming up with stories or examples for the interview, make sure you talk to friends, family members, coworkers, professors and career advisors. Often those around us can see skills and attributes that we do not.

Students sometimes make the mistake of telling employers about job-related knowledge or experience that they don't have. While candor is an admirable trait, such frankness is out of place in a job interview. Employers don't want to know why you can't do the job, but why you can do it.

Employers want to hire people who are excited and proud of the work that they have done. They want to know that you will bring that same type of proficiency and enthusiasm to their company. "You have a responsibility during the interview-not to brag, but to give the employer the best picture you can of what they will get if they hire you," says Kemp. "It's your responsibility to make sure they get that information, whether or not they ask good questions."

Chris Enstrom is a career counselor at the Career Resource Center of Brown County in Nashville, Ind., and a former senior editor of Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers.


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