Interview tips beyond the usual

  • Stephanie Clark

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How to ace your interview: Own your talent, skills, and accomplishments

Posted by Stephanie on July 15, 2012

This weekend I am coaching a senior professional who is anxious about an upcoming interview for her dream job. And once again I am amazed (and this happens all the time so I should be used to it) at how someone with great skills and real accomplishments proven through  a few decades of a stellar career, becomes quite inept at communicating value when trying to reply to an interview question.

Two questions that my client asked were particularly revealing. Let’s call this client Joan. Faced with a telephone interview, Joan asked of me:

“How do I greet the HR Manager on the phone?”

I am very much for a common sense approach, and I am also dedicated to being as authentic as possible – taking into account that nerves and being on one’s best behaviour are a normal part of “meeting” someone for the first time – and so my reply reflected this. I said,

“Well, my advice is to stay true to your own nature. If you are normally quite formal, be formal and if you’re more on the friendly side, be friendly.”

For me to say “It is indeed a pleasure to meet with you, sir, and I extend my gratitude for your time,” would be odd. It would be far more my style to smile a lot and say less, a la “I’m so glad to meet you.” If I were to go with the former, and the company was a Google-style easy going, shorts at work, pets sleeping under the desk kind of place, they’d sense a disconnect in working style and rightly pass me by in favour for that candidate that fit the culture with the casual version. It’s always best to be yourself and let the right company take notice of you – leave the company that doesn’t fit your style for another candidate.

The second question was actually a reply to a question about how Joan’s career had evolved. She was ready to give credit for her hire for 9/11. For more than one reason I cautioned her not to do this. First of all, given who her audience is, they would not be left feeling warm and fuzzy to this reference (sorry I cannot give more details but trust me, the interviewer might just cut the interview short and she’d be right out of the running!). But mostly, she is giving away a perfect opportunity to “own her stuff.” To toot her horn a bit, share her passion for her second career, and showcase why she, rather than another, was offered a promotion . She could then build on her answer with a reference to accomplishments since. “And I’m always reminded that my career move from sales to human resources was a good one as I love going to work every day, and have made significant impacts with improved staff retention, reduced sick days, significantly improved customer service training, enhanced the working environment – all of which come from the belief that today more than ever HR must and can be a valued business partner. My company has grown from an insignificant player to now holding 3rd place in market share and we’re still moving up. I know that my work has played a role in that growth.”

Own it! Own your communication style, your working methodologies, your staff, budget or account management … and certainly own your accomplishments. If it was your idea and your work, say so; if you delegated to a team, give credit where it’s due. But don’t obsess over being “perfect” as you wouldn’t know whose definition of perfection to use anyways and you’re not going to succeed in changing yourself even for a job, and don’t credit your hire to anyone or anyone else.

– Working to your career success, Stephanie


3 Responses to “How to ace your interview: Own your talent, skills, and accomplishments”

  1. There are many ways to get a hiring manager on the phone. However, timing is usually the most important. Knowing that most hiring managers will be “protected” by their “gatekeeper”, timing your call for late afternoon and lunch hours might help you reach the right ears. In addition to this, adding a read receipt to your email will alert you to when your submission was sent. However, perhaps the most important advice when calling a hiring manager is “don’t be annoying”. Inundating an employer with emails is a great way to never hear back again. So be kind, be formal, just check in at a reasonable interview.

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