Written based on the expertise of Nicolette Johnson, Associate Director of Consumer Marketing – Kelley Graduate Career Services.
Is it the things you said or the things you didn’t say in an interview that come back to haunt you? As a former HR professional who has sat through 200+ interviews, Johnson would point to the latter. She made the transition from the employer side of the table to the person coaching the interviewee two years ago, and she has advice for applicants when it comes to what they miss.
They don’t explain their unique value to interviewers.In order to describe what they bring to the table, candidates must understand three very important and connected pieces of the story. First and foremost, successful applicants understand who they are. They know their brand and can confidently communicate that to an employer. Secondly, they point to what sets them apart.
Side note - if you’re struggling to come up with qualities that make you stand out, take time to dig deep and reflect. What have other people told you that you’re good at? Because of how often you’ve heard it (especially if it comes from mom), it can be easy to brush off and look over. But the family, friends, and co-workers who know you best can be great help when it comes to identifying what sets you apart. Another option is to get a fresh set of eyes on your resume. Something that seems trivial to you might be really interesting to someone else.
Finally, and most importantly, what’s in it for the company? Be sure to be clear about how your particular skill set will contribute to their goals in the future.
On a similar note, connect the dots.
Having passion doesn’t mean a darn thing unless you tell the interviewer how that passion will help you be better at your job. Does it mean you’ll dig in more because it’s a topic that interest you? That you’ll be more creative? Or that you’ll work harder? The same goes for experience. If you have ten years under your belt, great. So what? How will the skills and capabilities you’ve learned serve your new employer well? Don’t leave them guessing – be explicit about how your skills connect to what they’re looking for.
When they ask why this company or role, have a real answer.
Real in two forms. First, Do. Not. Be. Vague. You come across unprepared, as though you haven’t done an ounce of research on the company. Not a good look. Secondly, don’t sound packaged either. Dig deep – every company has something interesting. Find that nugget, and run with it!
Under no circumstances should you use the job description as your answer to “what are your strengths?”
Please. Don’t pretend to be the perfect match for what the company needs. Determine your unique strengths first, and then see how you align with the job description. A recruiter can tell the difference between someone who's being genuine and someone who's giving all the right answers to get a job.
Not preparing for the interview so that it’s “conversational.”
It doesn’t allow you to be “more conversational,” it makes you look like you didn’t take the time to prepare for the interview (because you didn’t). By doing the research ahead of time, you’ll be more conversational because you won’t be flustered when they ask you a question.
We get it – there are a lot of things to keep in mind when you go into an interview. But take our advice and set yourself apart. And if you do use these tips in an interview, send us a note to let us know! We’d love to hear about your progress.