“I am really not any good when it comes to selling myself.”
That is one of the most common admissions I hear when helping candidates prepare for their job search. Candidates with interesting backgrounds and obvious skills struggle to deliver answers that are focused, on point, and have relevant examples of their success.
Some executives believe their performance should sell itself in a job interview and they refuse to consider the alternative. Others associate selling their accomplishments with bragging, a trait they grew up believing was an unseemly character flaw.
In a recent coaching session, a dynamic individual with an unusual and interesting background spent more time talking about where she had worked and almost no time speaking in the language of “this is what I have accomplished.” She was anxious to return to the active workforce but seemed unable to distill down the process to a basic winning formula:
Experience + Relevant Accomplishments = Value
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That candidates need to effectively communicate their value by answering questions with specific examples of their successes is an accepted concept, but there continues to be a huge gap for far too many of them between what they know intellectually and what they do when the interview actually begins.
In researching an article on onboarding that I am preparing for a national trade publication, I found an old post in Forbes Magazine from an acquaintance, George Bradt, Chairman of PrimeGenesis, a global executive coaching and onboarding advisory firm, that may help candidates put the whole idea of selling themselves into a different context. Mr. Bradt believes that there are three, and only three, “true questions” in a job interview:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you love the job?
- Can we tolerate working with you?
Perhaps candidates who get bogged down in the whole notion of “selling themselves” should hit the pause button in their interview preparation and think carefully about how they would ace those three root questions. Of course the phrase “interview preparation” assumes candidates actually spend time preparing/rehearsing for their interviews. Comments from other recruiters, and my own experiences, show that interview prep is either not done, or is so off the mark as to make it valueless.
Bradt, the father of onboarding and a former front line manager for several Fortune 500 companies, offers these ideas on how to improve your interview performance. Even if the person who is conducting the interview hasn’t been properly trained, “take charge in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and what they uncover about you.” His straight-forward advice, issues we have previously discussed here, is built around three points: Think, Answer and Bridge.
- Think before opening your mouth. It is a good idea to make sure you know where you want to go with the answer. If you wander off into the weeds and hit a dead end, there is probably not a graceful or credible way to exit that swamp. This is another reason interview prep is so important to the job search process.
- Answer the question that was asked. If you don’t provide an on point answer to a question, that is a strike against you. Some headhunters will push the elimination button for candidates who cannot provide focused answers to their questions. This means you have to listen carefully, stop and think about where you want to take the answer, and then be prepared to address the underlying question.
- Bridge to answer the true underlying question. Bridging to the underlying question is an art. Bradt believes that candidates must “connect the dots between your response to the question asked and the underlying question which is usually framed to identify strengths, motivation and fit. Find the link — the connection — and use it to transition you from where you are to where you need to be.”