One of the most common questions I am asked by candidates who are seeking interview coaching is about how they can show their true self in what seems like an unnatural setting — the job interview. Oftentimes candidates feel pressured to “put on a show” and manufacture the perfect answers, trying to predict what the interviewer wants to hear.
Not only is this futile, but it also defeats the purpose of an interview - to show your best, authentic self. An interviewer is less concerned about how “perfect” your answer is, and more interested in understanding three core aspects about you:
- Will they enjoy working with you?
- Are you genuinely excited about the opportunity?
- Do you have the core capabilities to do the job?
And, the best way to answer these questions for the interviewer is to present your authentic, true self, and here are some techniques to help you just do that.
1. Clearly highlight the aspects of the job that excite you most
One of the most common mistakes candidates make when answering the question “tell me about yourself” is they list out their prior roles and accomplishments like a set of transactions. In doing so, you are missing out on an opportunity to talk about why you pursued certain opportunities and what excited you about those roles. For example, a marketer explaining that they enjoyed engaging with customers while building out campaign strategies will be more compelling than simply stating they have worked on 10 marketing campaigns.
Moreover, talking about aspects of the job you enjoy will naturally bring out your enthusiasm, and generate a smile and positive body language, while also humanizing the conversation.
2. Be precise about your interest in the company and role
One of the most common interview questions candidates get asked is why they are interested in the opportunity. And, often, candidates will answer by simply praising the company in a vague manner. For example, “I think your company is doing great things in the industry.”. An imprecise answer like this lacks thoughtfulness, and can also be construed as ingenuine.
Instead, it is better to give specific reasons you are interested in the opportunity, which can include discrete aspects of the company culture, the impact on others, and the specific problems you would be solving.
Additionally, candidates do not have to wait to be asked this question, but rather can proactively answer it, albeit briefly, at the end of answering the Tell me about yourself interview question. This is also a good way to differentiate yourself in an interview process that is increasingly comprised of passive job-seekers that may not offer up a specific reason.
3. Do not be self-deprecating in the pursuit of humility
There is a common tendency for candidates to be self-deprecating and point out imperfect aspects of their candidacy. For example, they may discount how much they contributed to accomplishments they listed on their resume, or diminish the importance of a prior role.
This is a common instinct from candidates who are trying to protect themselves from being “grilled.” But, instead, this creates a disconnect between the pitch you are making to get the job and the evidence you are sharing in support of your candidacy.
Given this, a helpful exercise to do before an interview is to go through your resume and make sure you can confidently describe the actions you took in delivering the results you outlined.
4. State your value clearly, without exaggeration
Conversely to the point above, some candidates feel the need to overstate their accomplishments. This could be in the form of exaggerating the scope, actions, or the impact. And, it is important to recognize that each candidate’s accomplishments are contextual to their prior company and role, so it is counter-productive to tell a narrative that does not fit that context. Most interviewers will see through and exaggerated narrative, and more importantly, this will distract you from highlighting the best parts of your candidacy, and providing true clarity on the context of your role so the interviewer can translate the applicability to their organization.
5. Embrace uncertainty
When candidates answer one of the top 8 common interview questions on “where they see themselves in the future”, they often feel the need to be overly precise and paint a loftier vision than they are truly seeking. For example, a finance manager may feel compelled to say they see themselves as a VP of Finance at the company they are interviewing with, to signal ambition to the interviewer. But if this is not a true goal, it will likely not be received as genuine. Instead, you are better served by stating the characteristics of the role you desire in the future, rather than force-fitting an answer that lacks conviction.
6. Acknowledge your development areas
One of the toughest interview questions is “tell me about your greatest weakness.” The two biggest mistakes candidates make on this question are answering it with a playful answer like “I need 5 cups of coffee before I get started in the morning” or sharing a potential strength framed as a weakness.
Employers expect candidates to have weaknesses, and the intent of the question so you are better served by answering the question frankly. A candid answer will show your prospective employer your growth-mindset and will demonstrate a sense of self-awareness and honesty.
Jeevan is the Founder and CEO of Rocket Interview ( www.rocketinterview.com ) where his team helps job seekers ace the most competitive interviews. He was an Associate Partner at McKinsey and Company and a VP of a Tech Startup where he regularly interviewed job candidates. Since then he has helped clients land jobs in roles ranging from product management to marketing. His clients have landed jobs at Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and other competitive companies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org