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How to Sell Yourself in an Interview

Male professional smiling and engaged during an interview

An interview is unlike nearly any other situation you’ll encounter, both in business and your personal life. You’re tasked with trying to be self-serving but also humble. You want to look like you know what you’re talking about but don’t want to seem arrogant. It’s like a first date where only one person is on the date!

The good thing is that no matter what job you’re interviewing for or in what industry, you have one main objective: to leave the interviewer convinced of your potential to be a great hire. To do this, you need an action plan to sell yourself and your skills, just like a salesperson goes into every meeting with a plan of attack in mind to close the deal and sell the product.

Follow our tried and true tips below to land the job of your dreams by acing your interview.

Land your dream job with these interview tips

1. Do research to tailor your answers

The first mistake people make when going into an interview is to underestimate just how challenging it will be. Yes, you’re talking about yourself. But it’s so much more than a simple conversation.

Technically, an interview is a conversation that is designed to elicit information about a candidate’s experience and skills. It is usually structured to some degree and may include more than one interviewer and one or more scheduled sessions. If you go into the interview without preparing, you’re bound to fail.

Learn as much as you can about the company and practice your interview answers in a way that’s specifically tailored to this company. For example, your answers when interviewing with a nonprofit will be different than if you’re interviewing with a Fortune 500 company because the organizations’ goals are different.

Also, find out the name of the person (or people) you’ll be interviewing and do a little light cyberstalking. Learn their role in the organization and how it’s connected to your interviewing position. For example, if they’d be your direct boss, you’ll want to be prepared to talk more about your capabilities for this specific role than you might need to if you were interviewing with an HR rep who doesn’t have much direct contact with the position.

2. Differentiate yourself with your skills and personality

There’s a very good chance that you aren’t the only qualified candidate for the job. Imagine a folder with multiple qualified resumes waiting on the interviewer’s desk when your interview is complete. That’s one of the reasons you need to differentiate yourself from others! Make sure your qualifications are clearly visible on your resume and make sure they’re the exact ones listed in the job description. For example, if the position calls for experience with C++, make sure your resume says C++ and not just something generic like ‘knowledge of programming languages.’

On top of highlighting your skills, you should also be likable. When your interviewer is going through your qualifications, make sure you remain humble when describing your accomplishments. For example, “The achievement I’m most proud of is being named the top salesperson in my region last year. I couldn’t have done it without help from my amazing support team.”

Remember, the interview determines if you’ll fit in well with the other work-family members. After all, you will spend more weekday hours with them than with your own family. Try to look into the company culture beforehand to craft answers that align with it.

3. Know the answers to difficult questions

One of the ways to sell yourself in an interview is to be prepared for some of the seemingly innocent questions that interviewees sometimes don’t handle well. Like, ‘why do you want to work here?’ or ‘why are you leaving your current job?’

These may seem like straightforward questions, but they can really cause you to eat your words if you haven’t given your answer some thought ahead of time. Nervous candidates tend to talk and divulge more, so the danger here is the potential to say too much of the wrong thing.

Reciting your entire work history isn’t what the interviewer is looking for. They have your resume/application in front of them and will ask specific questions at some point. They want to see how you respond when you’re in the hot seat and if you can step up and take the lead. It’s a definitive opportunity to sell yourself by showing that you’re cool under pressure, even when the stakes are high.

Check out our ultimate interview questions and answers list to prepare more in this area.

4. Know your strengths and weaknesses–and be able to talk about them with poise

We all have strengths and weaknesses, but it’s important to be able to explain them in a way that doesn’t hurt your chances of getting the job.

Believe it or not, in a misguided attempt to be forthcoming, a significant number of people actually give the interviewer weaknesses that will eliminate them immediately. This is not the time to talk about misadventures on spring break or when you couldn’t seem to wake up early enough to arrive at work on time.

When asked about your weaknesses, the solution is to turn a previous weakness into a strength. Notice the emphasis on “previous.” Pick something that was an issue in the past and explain how you identified it (vs. someone else having to tell you to fix it), what you learned from it, and why that has never been an issue again. This shows that you’re adaptable. Present it so that it’s clear that you’re insightful (because you identified it yourself) and share how that experience further strengthened your qualifications.

When it comes to talking about your strengths, you obviously want to highlight what you’re good at, but that also has the potential to backfire. You don’t want to be viewed as arrogant or as the lone wolf who doesn’t give credit to the factors and people that helped you to develop that skill.

So, what can you do? Pick a skill, preferably one pulled directly from the job description, that you have a high degree of competence. Describe it factually, like how you identified the need for the skill and the steps that you took to obtain it (education, working with a mentor or someone who already had the skill, volunteering for projects that used that skill) and why you enjoy using that skill to accomplish something.

There’s a very wide valley between confidence and arrogance. Arrogance is usually off-putting and, in an interview especially, usually only sounds like “I” vs. “we.” It is important to know your strengths and why they’re useful to this job and organization and how to present them factually and collaboratively.

5. Lead with humility

Ultimately, this can actually eliminate the possibility of bragging. In some highly competitive fields, being more aggressive about skills may be acceptable, but arrogance generally has no value in most workplaces.

6. Look the part

Though this may not be the most important way to sell yourself in an interview, it certainly matters. You need to look the part. You should be professional and dress as if you’re about to secure the position (because you are!).

Make sure you take time choosing what you’re going to wear and how you style yourself. It helps greatly if you can find out the organization’s dress code beforehand, so you know exactly how formal to go when dressing to impress.

What should you wear to an interview? Check out these tips on how to dress, plus the differences between business casual vs. business professional.

7. Practice, practice, practice

As with any skill, practice is what sets the amateurs apart from the pros. Practice answering questions in the mirror, with a friend, and in a mock interview. Record yourself and play it back to catch nervous habits (it’s okay to be nervous; it’s what you do about it that counts). Refine it until you have a comfort level with your performance. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the interview day.

Review standard and not-so-standard interview questions and prepare your thoughts. You don’t need to memorize canned answers, but you should feel comfortable enough to provide an honest and thorough answer to every question.

Practice answering questions using the STAR approach – Situation, Task, Actions, and Results. The interviewer may use STAR or behavioral/competency-based questions to ascertain how you would handle similar situations in this job, so use this approach in your practice sessions.

Improve your interviewing skills by enrolling in Coursera’s Advanced Interviewing Techniques course.

When executed correctly, an interview is an opportunity for both sides, the company and the candidate alike, to determine if the requirements, skills, and personalities make for a good fit. Remember to be yourself, but be the warm, likable you who is comfortable and knowledgeable about your skills and potential to be successful in the job….and expect a great outcome!