Don’t Like Talking About Yourself?

Job interviews are often viewed with extreme negativity for many, and one key reason is a lack of comfort when it comes to talking about ourselves. To be successful, we have to come across as the very best applicant interviewed, and being the best means we did the best job at selling ourselves. Ironically, it’s this very idea of being not just really good but actually better than everyone else that most people can’t come to grips with.

I mean it’s just not in most people’s nature to believe we’re better than all the other’s we’re up against; not just for a job, but well, for anything. There’s great inner conflict you see, when we go about our lives with humility, believing that being our personal best is what we should strive for, rather than being better than all those around us. Then suddenly we walk into a job interview and we’re supposed to turn on some switch that transforms us into extolling ourselves as the best choice to hire; better than all the competition; the one, the only, the obvious choice. Then once we’re hired, feeling we’re better than all the nice people we’re to work with is going to be frowned on? Odd looking at things this way.

It’s not surprising as I’ve laid it out that many have this loathing of the interview process. It starts the moment you sit down and they ask if you wouldn’t mind just telling them a little about yourself. Right off the bat, there you are, expected to talk about yourself, emphasizing your strengths, highlighting your education, showcasing your experience, lauding your accomplishments; all in an effort to impress. But impressing people isn’t how you go about your daily living.

One person I had a conversation with not long ago told me that when they were asked the question, “Why are you the best person; the one I should hire?”, they had great conflict because they couldn’t be sure they were the best person. Without knowing who they were up against, they really didn’t know, Then they went further and said that there probably was at least one person who would be better in the job then they were. Who’s to say without meeting them?

Now as an Employment Counsellor I would hope you always come across as the best applicant to hire. This interview process is after all the employer’s opportunity to meet future potential employees and select from those expressing interest the one or one’s who will best contribute to the organization’s needs. That being said, I do understand this nervousness and great lack of comfort in what many see as bragging about one’s abilities.

As I’ve said many times before, so many influential people in our lives – in YOUR life – have sent you the clear message that bragging isn’t a very attractive quality. Parents, Teachers, characters in movies we felt drawn to and admired, all gave us the message over and over that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as better than others. These people, in positions of influence and authority kept giving us the same message so often we imbedded it, and so we act accordingly as we go about our lives. Funny then that Teachers gave us tests and told us who got the highest mark, those same movie characters were played by actors or actresses who came across the best at auditions, and even our parents likely told us we were, “simply the best little boy or girl.”

A question for you: would you feel comfortable telling someone about the excellent qualities you find in a co-worker or best friend? Likely you would. It stands to reason then that your co-workers and friends if asked, would also be comfortable telling an interviewer about your own good qualities and accomplishments. They might say how well you carry yourself, how you show up every day with a positive attitude and you’re always punctual. They’d likely be happy to say you’re trustworthy, dependable, good at what you do and well-liked by the customers who appreciate your service. Would you agree so far? Good.

Okay, with it settled that others around you would speak favourably about you just as you would speak favourably of them, let’s go back to the interview and the idea of presenting yourself. When asked why you’re the best, or even the question that typically starts the whole interview; the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself”, breathe, smile and begin. Begin with these words…

“Sure I’m happy to tell you about myself. My co-workers appreciate my positive attitude and willingness to lend a hand whenever asked. My supervisor has noted my ability to manage multiple tasks well, and customers often compliment me on my excellent service.”

Not once in the above are you actually speaking about yourself or bragging. You’re simply sharing what other’s have appreciated about your work habits and the results you achieve. The co-workers speak to your positive attitude, the boss to your multi-tasking and the customers to your service. While it’s all about you, there’s no, ‘me talking about me’ in there.

While you don’t know who you’re up against, you do know what you’re up against – it’s you and this opportunity. If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t choose to be there. As you are there, it logically follows you want it enough, and want to be chosen. That means you do want to be seen as the best.

What Would You Like Me To Know About You?

50 seconds ago you were seated in Reception, waiting for someone to come out and take you in for the interview. The door opened, and for the first time you saw him or her walk purposely a few steps in your direction, smile, introduce themselves with a handshake and thank you for coming in.

25 seconds ago you were ushered through the door, and once on the other side, taken into an office where the interview is being conducted. After some ice-braking comment about the weather, you both plunged in to the interview; this being a job you really want.

It’s now been 1 minute and 15 seconds and you’ve been asked to essentially introduce yourself. What, you wonder, should you reveal and what your worry, should you conceal?

Okay let’s pause; let’s think about this seriously. What do we want the interview to know about us? Honestly, this shouldn’t be the first time the question crosses our mind. If it is, highly unlikely we’re going to share something brilliant. No, more likely we’ll say something and then later we’ll wonder why on earth we chose to share what we did. Without some forethought, we might even blurt out something which, gauging from their reaction, snuffed out any chance of getting the job right at question one. From there, our confidence and the job were lost, neither one to be ever regained.

So what do we want them to know about us? Hmm….

Well, this isn’t a casual conversation between friends. This is a job interview; one of those times we need to be at our best – professional and personable. We’re being evaluated on both fronts; from a professional standpoint how are we qualified and from a personable standpoint, how are we likely to fit in? This make sense to you? Hope so, because you’ve got one shot at this first impression, and not to get you all anxious, but these first few seconds and minutes are crucial. If they like you, you’re off to a good start, but if you fail to make a good impression early on, it’s going to be an uphill challenge to change their mind and time is of the essence!

If you think about the posting or job ad, it’s probable that it contained something like, “Here’s what you bring”, “We’re looking for…” or “The ideal candidate will…”. If you’ve read these summaries prior to the interview; a few times in fact, hopefully you’ve found yourself matching up well. It would stand to reason that if what you’ve got is a close match to what they’re looking for, the odds of things going well is in your favour. So choosing to state your education, experience and personable attributes as they relate to the job makes sense.

Be genuine however! A good interviewer will have heard enough other people use the old, “I’m the perfect fit you’re looking for”, introduction when they’ve been everything but. If you only pay lip service to the requirements and are a poor fit, they’ll know by assessing your body language, darting eye contact, and they’ll listen for inconsistencies and weaknesses in your answers.

Those who interview well know the importance of sharing their education and experience as they align with the requirements of the position. However, it’s not just saying, “I’ve got a degree in Engineering and my Health and Safety training” that’s going to impress them if those two are job requirements. What sets you apart from others who have similar qualifications is stating what you’ve got AND how those translate into a benefit for the employer.

“I’ve a recently obtained degree in Engineering and my Health and Safety certification. The Engineering Degree covered recent changes and best practices in the field, and the Health and Safety training updated and replaced some older practices. Both the Degree and the Certificate assure you I’ll be operating at industry standards.”

Notice the difference in the two answers. The first is simply stating what you’ve got as it relates to a job posting. The second answer not only states what you have, but responds to WHY the employer wanted them in the first place and HOW these benefit them in meeting their needs.

The second answer is still not complete however. You’d do well to share some of your current and past experiences as they relate to the job. This is your opportunity to talk about the motivation that brought you to the interview, and some genuine excitement for the position would be welcome.

Now, think too not just about the content of what you share but the way you share it. If you’re excited about this opportunity and really want it, communicate this not only with your words but your facial expression and your body language. As you speak of  accomplishments you’ve had, your strengths and things you’ve overcome, you want to smile as you recall pleasant moments when your skills were recognized, and your achievements appreciated. Employers want to hire people who will be a pleasure to work with.

Examples that show and prove your claims of experience are crucial. My own experience is that this is the one key area people generally fail in. What they think are examples are really just summations and general practices. Zero in on specific times you demonstrated what you’re talking about.

What would you want them to know about you? This is your chance!

“So Tell Me About Yourself.”

You’re fortunate if the job interview starts off with this question. Not everybody agrees of course; in fact, this question seems to rank pretty high up there on the list of questions people dread in an interview. So let’s look at this question; why it’s asked and most importantly how to answer it intelligently so you get off to a positive start in the job interview.

To begin, imagine yourself as the interviewer; sitting on the other side of the table and meeting job applicants for the first time. Presumably the number of applicants has been reduced from all of those who applied down to a few people who – at least on paper  – meet your stated qualifications. After all, whether your company used applicant tracking software or human eyes, it’s highly probable that the reason you were invited in to meet with company personnel as a potential new hire is that you have done a good job matching yourself up with their needs as stated in the job posting.

At this point, you as the interviewer are coming face-to-face with people for the first time. Your job is to meet these candidates, listen to them respond to your questions, confirm their credentials, expose any liabilities and in the end, determine the best of those you meet in terms of finding a fit for the organization. Make the right choice and you add to the overall strength of the company; choose the wrong person and you have two problems: a) you let the right person walk away and b) you’re going to have to release the person you’ve hired and return to the interview and selection process costing you time and money.

As the interviewer, you can look at the resume of the 5 or 6 finalists for the position you are interviewing people for and compare education achievements and professional development. If the job requires a diploma or degree, presumably all the people you are meeting will have this credential. Not much point wasting valuable time confirming that in person, unless of course you’ve requested they bring in the original document for confirmation. Even so, that would take less than a minute to verify.

What you’re really interested in is getting information from the meeting itself which you will compile in order to form a complete picture of the person you are interviewing. Your ears will pick up the person’s vocabulary, ability to express themselves, hesitations and uncertainties and quality of their answers. Your eyes will provide information you’ll use to form a first and last impression based on their clothing, their grooming, posture, facial expressions, gait, smile etc. Your hands will note their handshake quality and will relay information you’ll interpret as their confidence, nervousness, confidence etc.

Leading up to the interview, you’ve no doubt sat down either alone or with someone else and come up with the questions you plan on asking in order to best extract the information you want and need to know in order to make the proper job offer to the best candidate. Some of these questions will focus on technical skills, past experiences, future plans and all the while the interviewer is listening and gathering information they’ll need to determine the right person.

In addition to the objective education (your formal schooling), experience (have you previously done the work required of you now) and skills (how well or poorly have you performed) the interviewer is focused on determining the right personal fit. From your words, tone of voice, visual cues, body language and your own questions, they are sizing up your attitude, values, personality and visualizing how you might fit or not in the environment that makes up the workplace. They know the other employees in the department you could be assigned to, the supervisor you’d report to, the qualities of the best employees they currently have who have made a success of the work. They are in short, measuring you up against this unique knowledge they possess, trying to determine not only if you have what it takes, but the impact of your hiring on the existing workforce and ultimately the services and products they produce for their end-users. Whew! No pressure there!

Okay, so upon first meeting you and the other candidates, they only know what they’ve read on your CV or resume and in the 23 seconds they first eyed you and you took your seat across from them. They are now ready and take the lead on the conversation welcoming and thanking you for coming in to meet them. The opening question is really the ice-breaker; the in-depth questions are yet to come but in the beginning there’s one question that’s really just designed to hear you speak and give them some lead data from which to add to a first impression.

To answer the question intelligently, respond to their stated needs as outlined in the job posting. Get them checking off their own needs based on your answer. You’re a proven professional in your field with the required years of expertise. You’re passionate about your industry and identify your strengths as they relate to the job at hand. Ensure your body language and words reflect your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

Personal hobbies? Avoid these unless they add to the position. Family situation? Irrelevant and could expose liabilities. What’s your motivation, what will you add?

Look at the job posting; don’t wing your opening answer or you may find by their reaction you’re going to be spending the rest of the interview in damage control.

Job Interview Help: Features And Benefits

So you’ve got to the job interview stage again and you’re feeling the typical nerves you always feel. If only they would look at your resume and hire you based on that, but instead they want to meet you and conduct a job interview. Ah well so be it.

During the interview you just know they’ll likely ask you about your strengths, why they should hire you, why you’re the right person for the job or something similar. Why is it that for some reason you feel you never do a good job selling yourself? Maybe it’s that you were brought up to believe you shouldn’t brag about yourself. Possibly your just not comfortable doing so, and honestly, you wonder how you could possibly convince them you’re the best person for the job when you’ve never met let alone talked to the competition. Maybe you’re not the best person for the job in the end.

I can help you with an exercise so that you can talk with confidence about yourself without feeling boastful. For this exercise you’ll need a pen; just a standard ordinary pen you’ve got no doubt nearby. Please go get one now and then resume reading.

Okay let’s look at this pen you’ve got before you. First I want you to name some of the features of the pen; it’s construction. Hold it in your hand and you may notice its light weight. Perhaps there’s a clip on the pen, the ink is black, and it may be slim or have a soft spot near the end that your thumb and index finger hold onto. The pen might have a retractable tip that appears and disappears with a click or twist. Finally you surmise that another feature of the pen is that it’s relatively cheap to buy.

Now that you’ve identified the features of the pen, I want you to go back and identify a benefit for each feature. So as its light weight, you can use it longer without fatigue. The benefit of the clip is you can attach it to a pocket or notebook thus freeing up your hands and reducing the chance of losing it. The benefit of the black ink is that it’s a standard for many contracts. Being slim, it’s easy to grip, and the soft spot to hold onto makes it comfortable to hold for long periods. The benefit of the retractable tip is that there is no cap to misplace, and when you put it in your pocket, you’ll avoid staining your clothes. Finally, the price feature means if you lose it, it will be easily replaced at a low or fair price you can afford.

Now, you’ve completed the exercise in identifying features and benefits of the pen. You should have a good idea of not only what goes into the pen but the benefit of ownership. The next thing to do at this point is to turn and think about yourself and the job opportunity before you.

Consider your features and your benefits. Look first at your academic qualifications; your masters, degrees, diplomas and certificates. Once you name them, consider of each of these of benefit to you; how they will enable you to do this job you are considering better than had you not received them. They have provided you with knowledge and a perspective you would not otherwise have.

Think too of your soft skills; personality, overall demeanor, your philosophy as you go about your day. How do these features that make up who you are, translate into a benefit the employer would realize should they hire you? Perhaps your positive attitude would be a breath of fresh air in the organization, especially when interacting with clients and customers.

This is also where you can look at a topic most people are coached to avoid talking about at all costs; your age. Your age is your feature. How I put it to you, would your age benefit the employer? As an older person, perhaps your age would approximate your target customer base; and older customers might identify with older employees. Maybe your age has brought you wisdom, an appreciation for diverse ideas, the experience and maturity that translates into a solid attendance record. Maybe the employer will benefit from your stability on the team and your ability to mentor its younger employees.

Should you be young and find you’re not taken seriously by employers, your youth is your feature, and the benefit to the employer might be your up-to-date knowledge and use of technology. Your employer will benefit from your experience with social media; you’ll have the energy to work productively the entire day without a letdown in the afternoon. The employer will also benefit from your enthusiasm and good health; for you won’t have declining health issues for years.

Okay so back in the interview, the key to this exercise is to highlight for the interviewer exactly how the employer will benefit from hiring you. This isn’t boasting but rather marketing. Market yourself to the employer’s needs; here are my features and here’s the benefit of each feature.  So don’t just say in answer to the question, “Tell me about yourself” that you have a degree. Instead say you’ve got a degree and the benefit of this is that you’ve acquired a deep appreciation for the field of work, and that translates into better performance.

Quick! Give Me Two Words…

Quick, if I asked you right now to name two words that described yourself, what would they be? Got them? Don’t go any further until you do. Okay, now take those two words and see if they apply to you in the context of your personal life, your work life or perhaps they are words you’d use in both contexts. Me, I’d choose resilient and creative. In both cases, I know I was thinking work context as I chose them.

Now do these two words you’ve selected come to mind if someone in a job interview asked you to share your strengths? What about, “Tell me about yourself”? The next thing I’d ask you to do is to see if you can come up with examples that prove you have whatever two words you selected. So can I for example come up with examples of my creativity and resiliency on the spot? The good news is that in the context of a job interview, I don’t have to come up with these on the spot. No, I can anticipate this question in advance, and come up with these from the comfort of my home.

How about you? Are you able to come up with an example or two of each word that came to mind? Don’t change the words by the way to suit now that you know what you are to do with them. No that’s too easy, and in such a case you aren’t being genuine.

But what if you chose two words like, ‘playful’ and ‘considerate’? Surely you might be thinking these are not two of the best words to describe yourself in the context of employment – especially if you are seeking a job such as a Police Officer or a Lawyer. In other words, you might be one of the people reading this who understand the value of this exercise, but it doesn’t apply to you personally because of the field you are in.

In truth, some qualities are better than others when you think of good job fits. As an exercise in stretching yourself and working on improving your thinking power however, this is a good activity. So how could being playful be a good trait for a lawyer for example? Well, given the number of lawyers I’ve witnessed on television, I’d say many ‘play’ games at catching the other side in mistruths and lies. You know, playing at being someone sympathetic and then turning tables and pouncing in order to catch somebody off guard.

Still, were I someone applying to be a guard in a federal penitentiary, I might opt not to use the word playful in my opening of an interview. I’d choose another word that is better suited. How then to go saying the right thing. The answer might just be found in doing some research into the position itself. If I looked up, ‘prison guard desired qualities’ on the internet; I might be on to something that would give me some options. The real key here is to find qualities of the position that I myself sincerely possess. No sense saying after all that I’m extremely disciplined if that quality isn’t something I really am. In such a case, I’d have to rethink if I’m cut out for the position at all. Yet if I truly am disciplined and all my research keeps coming up with this word, it may be a good quality for me to share in my opening, “Tell me about yourself” answer.

This is the key isn’t it? The key to answering the first question with confidence so that you’re interview is off to a good start and you can build on that initial confidence. So you might find a Server in a bar is friendly, attentive and able to multi-task. A Librarian is organized, efficient and courteous. An Assembly Line Worker craves routine, structure, teamwork and what others find monotonous, they embrace. In other words, you’d want to share that the qualities you possess are the same qualities of many of the successful people in the field you want to enter.

Now suppose you found that the qualities you possess; the qualities that first come to mind in describing yourself, aren’t shared by the majority of people who are successful in the field you are interested in. You’d be smart to ask yourself why that is; then see if you and the job are really going to be a good fit. Sometimes what we imagine a job to be is not the reality of the job, and best we find that out before we take it, or worse yet spend a lot of money and time in school training for a career that in the end we’ll come to realize isn’t for us.

Still, let’s assume the job is a good fit. It still makes good sense to research the job, talk to people already in that job, and find out what personal qualities are good fits. If you aren’t a good listener, hopefully you steer clear of counselling! If you have a poor memory, don’t pursue acting!

Look, like everyone else, you’ve got a lot of desirable qualities. Choosing which ones to highlight in an interview becomes easier when you understand which ones the interviewer is likely to see as a logical fit for what the job demands and also the culture of the workplace.

Personification Exercise: Try It On

Get yourself a pad and a paper for this exercise. Got it? Great. You can do this yourself and then if you are in a position that works with others, you can of course see how it works for your clients. While the exercise itself might take some thought and the benefits not immediately obvious, you should come to see that by completing it, you have a method to quickly articulate some of your best qualities when you need to most.

Make three headings on your sheet: Personality Traits, Strengths and Values. Under each heading write down the personal traits you have, your key strengths and some of your work or life values. If you are doing this as a work-related exercise, use work values; if it’s more of an all-encompassing life exercise, use some of your broader life values.

Okay, so now that you have some of these things on paper – and this requires some imagination on your part – see if you can come up with an inanimate object which encompasses some or most of what you’ve got on the paper. Of course the more items on the sheet of paper, the more difficult it might be to find something that hits every one.

In my own case, I ended up thinking of a lighthouse. A lighthouse to me shows others passages which move them from their current position to their destination. While the safest route is pointed out, so too are the impending dangers, but the lighthouse itself doesn’t have the power to make the ones it is guiding alter their path. It’s up to the people.

And so for me the lighthouse as symbol works for me in many regards. Being a beacon of hope for others; pointing out opportunities and potential hazards is something that I value tremendously in my job, but like the lighthouse, I can’t make those decisions for others, and nor would I want to. Oh sure from time to time my colleagues and I might say to each other, “If I could only get them to do what I want them to, things would be better.” But it’s not my life is it?

Okay so what’s the value in this as an exercise? Fair question. But first let me provide one other outcome. Suppose you ended up with a list and a fire station came to mind or even a bird’s nest. The fire station might work for you if you are in a job where you deal with people in crisis primarily, save lives through your work, while the bird’s nest comes to mind if you provide comforting shelter for others, a place of refuge and rest.

So, to answer the question posed. The value in the exercise comes when you are asked, and potentially the job interview is a good example of a time and place, to come up with your strengths, your values, or to share what motivates you, how you see yourself etc. Sometimes the best of us will either draw a blank, or share things which later we regret not because they were poor responses, but because they didn’t represent us at our best.

So if presented with any of the above types of questions, instead of remembering several key strengths, my work values and relevant personality traits; a list that could be 20 or more items long, all I really need to think of is the lighthouse. The image of the lighthouse then makes it easier for me to recall all the items I want to speak about, because of what I do that is like the lighthouse; the guiding, the navigating, standing firm in the face of much adversity, giving hope to others. I can also speak of others who in their darkest times seek me out for counsel and when times are good, I’m less needed.

By using an association with an object, some people may find they can better recall their best assets and qualities. So even in a situation where you meet someone for the first time, you might find out what it is they do for a living and then follow it up by asking them what they find most rewarding or challenging in their job. If that same question was then posed to you, you could come back to this exercise in your head and recall your central item and by association, speak confidently about your challenges and how your personal characteristics allow you to thrive in the position.

Did you notice the examples I gave; the lighthouse, birds nest and fire station all have a common thread running between them? There’s an element of refuge in all of them; either providing that themselves or ensuring others are sheltered safely. But it could be you choose something different like a traffic sign, a cross walk, a river or campfire. All of these images could mean different things for you than the person beside you. So you could choose the same thing but see if differently.

Look around you today. How are you like the stapler on your desk? What do you have in common with the rug on the floor that provides warmth, is often taken for granted but must be durable and resilient? Oops, may have just given a few things away there to get you started!

Like I said, try it out and see if it helps you or your clients to better recall, values, strengths, traits etc.