I’ve been told many times by job-seekers that the interview questions they find most difficult are the ones along these lines:
• Tell me about yourself
• Name your top strengths
• Why should I hire you?
Yet I am told by hiring managers that, really, these should be the easiest questions of all. Why? Because they offer you the opportunity to sell yourself: to show an employer exactly what you have to offer that makes you stand out.
Why do people find these questions hard? With the first question, people have told me that they’re not sure what the employer wants to hear (and some interviewees have even answered the question that way: What do you want to know?). They’re not sure what the employer is looking for here: their life history? Their education? Their work experience? Which? Or all three?
If you answered ‘work experience’, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s what the employer is interested in – but not just that. They want to know what makes you special. Why they should hire you over the half-dozen other people with similar qualifications.
(And if you’re wondering why employers aren’t interested in your education, it’s because this is mostly taken for granted. You’re expected to have education relevant to the job, but it’s what you’ve actually achieved that matters. This is why, in Canada, education is almost always at the end of a resume. It’s just not as important as your accomplishments in employment).
Consider the difference between these two answers:
“I have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and ten years’ experience as a company accountant. I worked in two different companies. My first job was as an assistant in a accounting consultancy company. and then I moved to another company as a senior in-house accountant, and then got promoted to accounting manager. I’ve now immigrated to Canada and I’m looking for a job in my field.”
“I’ve been a chartered accountant for ten years, after getting my bachelor’s degree and then my licence. I prefer to work as an in-house accountant rather than for a consultancy, although I worked for a consultancy company earlier in my career. I have a reputation for finding ways to save money – for example, last year I found out about a new program that would allow my company to claim particular expenditure against tax, and we cut our bill by $3 million as a result. I’ve now moved to Canada as the next stage in my career. I’ve put a lot of time into learning about the Canadian accounting and tax framework, and I’m currently looking for an opportunity to contribute to a well-established company where I can quickly show my strengths and build a career.”
Less than five minutes into the interview, who would you want to hire?
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – and, yes, you’re likely to be asked about your weaknesses in an interview as well. But here I’m focusing on strengths. What are you REALLY good at? What is your USP? That’s your Unique Selling Point, by the way, a term used in marketing but every bit as important in job-searching. If you can’t tell an employer what makes you better than the competition, you’ve already ruled yourself out of the race.
So start thinking about your career. What are your successes? What have you done that makes you proudest? What do you think you do that makes you stand out from your co-workers? Everyone is better at some things than others, and it’s those things you’re really good at that employers want to know about when they ask you to tell them about yourself, or why they should hire you.
Remember, also, that it’s YOU they’re considering hiring, not the team you work with, or used to work with. This means that a job interview is the place where you have unlimited permission to say I, not we. If you keep talking about your past experience as a group effort, the employer has no way of knowing how much of it was your contribution and how much was other people’s work.
Make a list – your top five strengths and achievements. What have you most often been praised for? What do clients or customers or managers or co-workers like about you? What makes you able to succeed where others might fail?
Your USP could be one – or more – of the following:
• You save money
• You save time
• You create new processes that make people’s work easier
• You bring in new customers
• You’re innovative and invent new products/services/ideas
• You find solutions for problems
• You have excellent attention to detail and never let potential problems turn into real ones
• You can sell anything to anyone
• Your designs/other creative work have won awards
• You can build good working relationships with even the most difficult people
• Your projects have always come in on time and under budget
...and so on and so on.
Remember, though, that you need to follow up these strengths with EXAMPLES. So along with this list think of times when you have excelled, and be prepared to tell your story – in summary in your answer to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, and in more detail later in the interview. This is most effectively done in this format:
“I took on a new opportunity three years ago, as sales manager for a brand-new product which we believed was better than the competition, although the market was already crowded. I developed a strategy to promote it to existing customers and to win new customers. I cold-called, visited customers to demonstrate the product, offered free samples and also special discounts for large orders. Within a year, we were outselling the competition and making almost twice the profit on the product we expected. All that, and my marketing costs came in under budget.”
Here, I described the SITUATION: launching a new product in a crowded market. The ACTION: developing a sales strategy and what it was. The RESULT: the product became the market leader, earning higher profits than expected.
In a real situation, you would likely give more details about your strategy and the results, but for this example here you can see how a story can be told simply and effectively to demonstrate achievements.
And you can see why an employer would want to know more about a candidate with this track record!
Finding a job really is about selling. The ‘product’ you are selling is yourself, and you are the sales representative. In order to make the successful sale, you have to convince the employer of your strengths and unique qualities – and you’re the one who can make or break the sale, depending on how well you know yourself and can get this across to an employer.
Once you’ve identified what makes you stand out, use that information. Turn it into your ‘elevator speech’ or your ’30-second commercial’. Imagine you’re on an elevator ride with someone who has the power to hire you – or at least offer you a job interview. What can you tell them about yourself in 30 seconds to achieve that outcome?
You can also use that ‘pitch’ at networking meetings, as the profile statement at the top of your resume, and even on your LinkedIn profile. See this profile as an example of one which does that very well: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/socialmediacoach
Under the person’s name, you’ll see his USP:
***Social Media Coach | Helping businesses develop successful social media strategies to grow and prosper.***
At one glance, you know what he does – and that he does it successfully. That’s his USP. What’s yours?