How to sell yourself in interviews

Interviews in the United States or in American companies require that you talk about your strengths, which is also called selling yourself or self-promotion.

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What does "sell yourself" mean?

Selling yourself” in an interview is the process of talking openly, clearly, and directly about your strengths – your skills, experience, and personal qualities - and explicitly stating how these strengths can help the company.

It’s a form of marketing, but the product you’re marketing is you.

Why is self-promotion hard for some people?

In your daily life you don’t usually get asked about your strengths or what your greatest achievement was, right?

Probably not. That’s not something that happens to us normally, except in interviews.  

So self-promotion is a skill that most of us just don’t use very often.

Can you improve your self-promotion skills?

 “But I don’t know how to sell myself!” is something that I hear often in my interview coaching work.

I love hearing this because I know I can help. It’s easy for me, because my clients are usually smart and successful in their work, but they don’t know how to express this. I can teach them how – and it isn’t very hard.

Interviews are a type of communication that isn’t like anything else. They’re like a game you have to learn to play. If you’ve never played the game before, you won’t know how, but if you learn the rules and practice, you’ll be able to play.

Why do I need to sell myself in my interview?

You’ve probably heard that you need to sell yourself in interviews but you might not understand exactly why.

Here's why: an interview is a very short time frame. The interviewer needs to make a decision about you quickly. They’ll know more about your skills and experience if you tell them.

Can’t they just read your resume? Yes, your resume is a document you use for self-promotion. In your interview you need to assume the interviewer hasn’t read your resume (because sometimes this is true) so you will need to tell them your selling points. Even if they have read your resume, they’ll remember things better if they read it and hear it from you.

I’m sure you’ve known someone who got a job that you didn’t think they were qualified for. You may have even seen someone in your office get promoted before someone else who was better for the role. Why does this happen? Sometimes it happens because the person was a good interviewer.

If you don’t sell yourself well, you might lose the job to someone who does, even if you would be better at the job.

Selling yourself isn’t being fake

I’m not saying that you need to go into the interview and do an “elevator pitch” or a sales pitch.

These pitches have a bad reputation because they’re what’s known as the “hard sell,” or being very aggressive with marketing.

That’s not what I mean by marketing yourself. That kind of marketing yourself can be a mistake because you aren’t telling the interviewer what they need to know, just what you think they should know.

That type of marketing is too aggressive for an interview because it’s one way – it’s you talking (and talking). An interview should be two people talking, like in a conversation.

I think it’s possible to market yourself in a natural way. I’ll try to teach you to figure out what your strengths are and communicate them. That’s what I think selling yourself is.

Sell yourself in your interview by focusing on your core messages

You don’t want to go into an interview and tell them everything about yourself. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know every detail.

They don’t need to know about every major deal you’ve closed, every job you’ve had, every certification you have, or every single programming language you know.

In your interview you need to focus.

This is a huge problem for people.

When I ask my clients, “Tell me about your background,” which is an alternative way to ask the common question “Tell me about yourself,” some of them go on and on. I’ve heard answers to this question that were over five minutes long. This is much too long.

No one can listen for this long.

I know you’re thinking that you need to give a lot of info here so the interviewer knows your skills, but the interviewer has a limited attention span.

Stick to giving shorter answers that focus on a few core messages.

Plan your core messages

Core messages are your strengths. They are also known as your key selling points.

They can be your skills, your education or training, your experience, your key accomplishments, soft skills, or your personality traits.

How many core messages should you have?

I think three to five core messages is the best number. If you use more, it may get hard for you to remember and you may confuse your interviewer.

Your core messages should be on your resume already

If you’re not sure what to list as your strengths, look at your resume. If you’ve done your resume correctly, everything you want to list in the interview as your selling points should already be listed there.

If you aren't finding your core messages on your resume, do a brainstorming session. Write down everything you can think of that is one of your strong points and then narrow down the list to the most important.

Check your core messages against the job description

Before you finalize your list, look at the job description right now and see if your core messages, or something related to them, are on the job description. If not, you need to rethink your messages. There is no reason to try to sell your interviewer on your skills if the skills don’t relate to the JD.

But understand the job description first.

Sometimes job descriptions aren’t written very clearly. Have you ever read one that was a page long and realized that it was the same thing written in different ways?

In some cases you might need to translate the JD into simple English before you start building your core messages around it.

I was helping a client with one recently that we both had a hard time understanding. The job was Associate Director of Sales and Operations for the Global Sales and Operations Planning and Optimization product team at Wayfair. He asked me if I could help him go over the JD to make sure he understood it before we started practicing for his interview. And it was so hard to understand I couldn’t believe it (no offence Wayfair, but you need to work on your JDs). In the end the job boiled down to being a liaison between the people who tracked customer demand and the logistics people. But it absolutely did not say that in words that were easy to understand.

Before we could even start practicing answers to questions we had to make sure we understood what the job was so he could target the right things with his core messages.

Examples of core messages

In case you aren’t sure what I mean by core messages, here are some examples I’ve taken from client resumes. I’ve divided them by role.

Digital marketing:

  • Grew community from 2 million to 4.5 million, grew influencer advocate program from zero to 3,000, and drove 100,000+ webinar registrations in 2017
  • Own $4+ million paid advertising budget with Krux DMP segmentation reducing CPA 31% & increasing conversion 54%
  • Transformed conversion rates by 845% in trial software downloads; reduced 2300+ landing pages into 1 dynamic page

Private equity and tech investing:

  • Quadrilingual: fluent in English, French, Polish, and Russian
  • Responsible for 300M€ spread between LP stakes in venture funds, direct equity stakes and a GP, spanning across the US, Europe, Israel and China
  • Wrote blueprint for a pan-European impact investing fund in the tech area

Solutions Architect:

  • Expertise in Cloud and Hybrid technologies
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional
  • Implementation, support and evolution of the external website for the regional airport authority hosted in Microsoft Azure leveraging IaaS and PaaS technologies
  • Proficient in designing and implementing integration solutions for legacy, Cloud-based and on-premise applications using different integration patterns.

Business Development:

  • At Siemens I led the cross-divisional Smart City initiative, engaging at the CXO level with Smart Dubai and major stakeholders in the Dubai infrastructure space.
  • Business development and key account management of strategic enterprise customers
  • Work with teams to create a strategic plan to grow existing customers or acquire new ones.  Formulating pursuit strategies around customer needs and Aricent’s unique propositions.
  • Building and leading cross functional teams that won large transformational deals.

Product Management:

  • Hands-on product management executive with a passion to build products that delight people
  • Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI
  • Lead product vision, strategy, and building of next-generation cloud hosting using containers, AWS and Google Cloud
  • PM for large-scale text processing built on custom NoSQL with GraphDB and Lucene indexing with NLP and ML for SNA apps

These are some examples of core messages/selling points that you could use in an interview. They're all good ones, as long as the job description is calling for these qualities.

If you say that you are an expert in “Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI” that’s fine as long as the job description mentions at least some of these technologies OR you know that the job requires them.

You absolutely need to target the job description or your knowledge of what the role requires. It can be easy to list your strengths because you’re proud of having certain skills, but maybe the job doesn’t require most of them.

I was just working with a client named Rajan. He was having a problem focusing his core messages. He had a lot of experience, and it ranged across sales, operations, and digital marketing roles, but he was applying for a senior level product management role. He did actually have the right experience, but he had so much other experience that it was hard to understand that he was right for the job. In his case we had to remove a lot of things he wanted to say and really focus the things he should say into a few key points.

Rank your selling points in order of most important to least important

Okay, so remember the example I just gave of some of these technologies?

  • Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI

This is a great selling point (as long as you need these in the job), but should you list them first when you’re talking about why they should hire you?

Well, probably yes if the job requires you to be working directly with one or all of these every day. But probably not if you’re applying to be the VP of Product. In the VP role you will need to understand the technology, but it isn’t the most important thing you need for the role. It might not even make your list of top five selling points.

Say the most relevant selling point first in your interview.

Make up general statements or examples for your core messages

You need a general statement and an example for each message.

If your core message is that you’re an expert in Java, that’s your general statement, so you need an example to back it up. Also, show that you are able to use that expertise to deliver results.

You can say “I’m an expert in Java. At my current job, I've written tens of thousands of lines of code for projects that reached a large, enterprise user base. As a result of my expertise, I was asked to lead the Android development team, and we shipped the company's first mobile app in under four months. The app currently has a 4.8-star rating in the Google Play Store, and has helped our company gain marketshare."

If your core message is that you are a “Hands-on product management executive with a passion to build products that delight people” that’s your general statement and you need an example to back it up. Again, try to focus on results. Use numbers to bolster your case.

You can say “We just rolled out a new video player that has five thousand daily active users just two weeks after launch, up from just a few hundred users last month.”

How do you use these selling points?

Once you know your core messages, you need to say them at certain points during the interview. The key is to bring in your core messages as part of your answers to the interview questions.

Which questions can you use your core messages in?

Tell me about yourself.

Tell me about your background.

Walk me through your resume.

What are your strengths?

Why should we hire you?

Why do you want to work at Amazon?

Why do you want this job?

What are the responsibilities of your current job?

And last but not least, in the stories you use to answer behavioral questions

 

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.