Q: I am struggling with the interviewing process and issues that I’m not sure how to handle, including how to promote myself without bragging and how to keep the interview focused when it gets off track. Are there guidelines that address these concerns?
Deb Koen says: The purpose of an interview is to help an employer to determine if you are the best person for the job, so it is an opportunity for you to present the positive attributes that you have to offer. Likewise, you can expect those interviewing you to promote the best features of their institution so that you can assess how desirable it is as a place to work. To make an informed decision about your candidacy, a search committee needs to know about all that you have to offer, and it is your responsibility to communicate this information. You must bring to life your résumé or CV by sharing specific examples of your research results and your teaching strengths, along with other personal qualities and accomplishments that are likely to distinguish you from a competing pool of candidates.
If your style is more reserved, as your question would indicate, consider the following approaches that will allow you to present yourself in an honest yet humble way:
■ Focus on your tone of voice. Rather than using the boastful air and endless stream of superlatives favoured by some candidates in describing themselves, you can quietly and respectfully offer your responses. Using a positive tone, without gushing self-praise, you will remain true to yourself while clearly stating the value you would bring to the position.
■ Speak of your successes by simply presenting your activities and accomplishments. Rather than bragging about or pointing out the grandness of your achievements, allow the employer to interpret their worth. If asked about your strengths, you can paraphrase others or refer to comments you’ve received on performance appraisals, which is more subtle than commenting about yourself directly. For example, you might say something like: “On evaluations, my PI stated that I consistently go above and beyond what’s expected in my role and that others on the research team look to me as a leader.” Be careful not to sacrifice the confidence that employers appreciate in candidates. The goal is to strike the right balance with a style that allows you to be true to yourself without diluting your message.
■ Identify your key messages beforehand in case the interview goes off track. Prepare these messages by researching the needs of the organization and the role for which you have applied. If you go to the interview with clear information about the key points you need to make, you’ll be able to redirect a scattered interview. With your strengths in mind, you can select the messages and examples that are most likely to convey to the employer that you are the best candidate to meet his or her needs.
Whether you’re trying to keep an interview on track or following up afterwards, you can tailor the content of the conversation and help shape the flow of the interviewing process. If you have any doubts, remember that no one is more qualified than you to represent yourself to an employer — so don’t miss this opportunity to shine.
You say: For each of the things they ask for in the job description, think of examples of what you have done that match that before you go to the interview. It’s not bragging, it’s just showing you can do the job!
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