16 Ways to Sell Yourself in an Interview, According to Career Experts
Use this list as a guide to help you book your next job.
Selling yourself in a dating app bio is one thing, but selling yourself in a job interview is another beast entirely. That’s because, when it comes to the professional world, there’s so much to consider when walking (or, in the case of the digital world, clicking) into a one-on-one interview that could very well determine your future.
What should I wear to a job interview? What should I say my strengths are in a job interview? What things should I say to sell myself in an interview? These are just some of the questions folks swarm to Google in hopes of answering. While the search engine has a plethora of job interview tips, we thought it might be helpful to read an example of how to sell yourself in an interview, firsthand.
That’s why we chatted with three career coaches to learn how to sell yourself in a job interview.
Tips for selling yourself in an interview:
1. Give yourself plenty of time beforehand.
One of the first ways you can make a positive impression on your interviewer is by simply showing up on time. When I was in DECA in high school, I learned that this doesn’t just mean being there on the dot but being seated and ready 15 minutes prior to showtime.
While many interviews are virtual these days, career coach AJ Vollmoeller, the president and owner of Future Force Staffing & Résumés, says that it’s helpful to log into the video chat program ahead of time to make sure you’re familiar with the functionality of the microphone and camera. On the other end of the spectrum, he says that for in-person interviews, it helps to drive to the place of the interview the day before to make sure you can find it.
2. Do your research.
You should never walk into a job interview knowing nothing about the company. Furthermore, career coach Julia Lynch of Smarter in a Sec says that you want to show that you did your homework beyond the homepage of a company’s website. “Have they been in the news lately? Made some new key hires? Have client case studies prominently displayed on their website?” she suggests asking yourself. “Make sure to bring a strong knowledge of the company—and exactly how you’ll contribute—into the interview.”
3. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
As much as we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover when it comes to job interviews, Vollmoeller says that you should always dress professionally for an interview, even if the place you’re applying to isn’t super professional. “Don’t try to mimic the company dress code—for example, don’t wear jeans and sneakers if your interview is on a Friday just because it’s casual Friday in the office,” he says. Instead, opt for a business-professional dress or pantsuit.
4. Be clear about what sets you apart.
You should always go into an interview knowing that you’re not the only one being interviewed for the job. With that in mind, Kyle Elliott, a career and life coach who specializes in interview preparation, says to powerfully—yet concisely—connect the dots between the position you’re interviewing for and your experience, knowledge, and skills. “Make the interviewer’s job easy by highlighting what sets you apart from other people applying for the role,” he says. “Be specific with your examples. Consider phrases such as, ‘What sets me apart from other applicants is…’ and ‘I am unique from other [applicants] because…'”
5. Prepare a compelling elevator pitch.
Just like you need an intriguing pitch to sell an idea, you need one to sell yourself in an interview, too. “An interview isn’t Shark Tank, but it kind of is—you’re pitching yourself and what you stand for in the hopes of being selected by a Shark (the hiring manager),” Lynch says. “And just like aspiring entrepreneurs, you need to have an airtight elevator pitch that speaks to who you are, what your strengths are, and what you hope to bring to the company you’re interviewing for.”
For maximum impact, Lynch says to lead with how you can contribute to the company, “such as, ‘Throughout my professional career, I’ve built expertise in project management, product management, and sales. Though the B2B Sales Associate role at Google would be primarily focused on sales, I would also be able to add value to these other two teams, as I know how heavily these three teams depend on one another,'” for example. “You need to connect the dots for your interviewer as to what you can bring to an organization and spell it out explicitly in your elevator pitch.”
6. Tailor your résumé for the job you’re interviewing for.
Just as you should tailor your cover letter for a job application, you should do the same with your résumé. “When asked to go over your résumé, make sure to mention at least two or three highlights from every job,” Vollmoeller says. “This will show that you don’t just go to work and do your job, then leave, but rather it says that you don’t mind putting in the added effort and get recognized for it.”
7. Go beyond your résumé.
While it’s great to tailor your résumé, you still want to be able to talk about more than what can fit on a single page of paper. “You should tell the story of your career, not just reiterate words off your résumé, which will keep the interviewer engaged and wanting to learn more,” Vollmoeller says. “Be sure to talk about not only what your job duties are but also how you successfully complete them.”
8. Come prepared with three strengths.
Just about every interviewer will ask you what your strengths are. “I always recommend that candidates list three strengths because groups of three convey organization and efficacy, in adherence with the ‘rule of three,'” Lynch says. “Candidates can list out their three strengths at the outset so that the interviewer gets a sense of how they’ll answer the question and then elaborate on each one.”
9. Aim for relatable weaknesses.
Weaknesses are trickier than strengths because you don’t want to divulge something that the interviewer could take as a sign that you’re not a fit for the role. Because of this, Lynch says it’s important for candidates to mention a common weakness that’s relatable but doesn’t cause alarm. “I don’t recommend mentioning any weaknesses like a lack of time management, lack of organization, inability to get along with team members, or continual procrastination,” she adds. “I typically recommend that candidates say that they ‘take on too much at work and sometimes have trouble deciding what to delegate to team members.’ While these are weaknesses, they are relatively inoffensive ones that show a candidate takes great pride in their work.”
10. Be enthusiastic.
No matter the topic or question, Vollmoeller says it helps to be enthusiastic in your response, as it will show some of your personality even in the most mundane moments of the interview.
11. But don’t talk too fast.
While being enthusiastic is a good idea, Elliott says you don’t want to be so enthusiastic that you’re talking at lightning speed. “Talking too fast is one of the biggest mistakes I see job seekers make in interviews,” he says. “Show your confidence by talking slowly.”
12. Quantify your impact.
Don’t just talk the talk; show that you can walk the walk. After all, as Lynch reminds us, actions speak louder than words, and in interviews, numbers speak even louder. “Make sure to weave quantitative information into your interview anecdotes wherever possible,” she says. “For instance, ‘The new customer followup process I pioneered ultimately increased monthly software sales by 11%’ is much more compelling than ‘The process ultimately increased sales by a lot.'”
13. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
So often we’re taught that asking questions shows a lack of understanding, but when it comes to interviews, showing that you’re willing to inquire for clarification actually proves to be a strength. As such, Vollmoeller says to ask inquisitive questions that show you have a vested interest in the position. “Questions that show you are thinking about a future with the company are ideal—i.e. what have previous employees done in this role to be successful? How has this position evolved since it was created, and how do you see it evolving even more in the future? What is the top priority for the person in this position in the first three months? And so on,” he explains. “Your final question should always be, ‘Do you have any questions or hesitations about my qualifications?’ and then answer appropriately if they do.”
14. Talk about something other than work
Just like how our high school counselors taught us to list more than just our academic accomplishments when applying to college, Lynch says you should harness that same mindset when applying to a new job. “Yes, an interview is your opportunity to demonstrate why you’re a fit for a particular role—but also show that you’re a cool, relatable person that anyone would want as their coworker,” she says. “I always recommend adding a ‘Hobbies & Interests’ section to your résumé to show interviewers who you are outside of work, which always sparks interesting conversations in interviews.”
15. Don’t feel like you have to answer every question.
When you’re put on the spot in an interview, it may feel like you have to answer every question thrown your way. But Vollmoeller wants you to go into your next interview knowing that’s not the case.
“Interviewers should never ask you exactly how much you are making,” he says. “This is because your pay scale should be determined on the going market rate, not what you were previously getting paid.” Additionally, he says that personal life questions—about your children, marital status, age, sexual orientation, etc.—are also a red flag.
“Should any of these ‘red flag’ questions come up, it is completely up to you how to handle them. If you feel it was presented in a way that didn’t turn you off to the company but you just didn’t feel comfortable answering that specific question, you can redirect or lightly brush it off (the reviewer will more than likely be able to read between the lines, and that is fine). But if it was blatant and with no disregard, that is an insight into the company culture, and you probably want to wrap up the interview in a professional manner by thanking them for their time [and] saying you don’t think the position is the right fit for you. It is never a good idea to speak your mind in a professional setting like an interview; that’s what Glassdoor is for!”
16. If you don’t get the job, follow up for feedback.
Last but not least, if you aren’t selected for a role, Lynch suggests using it as an opportunity for growth. “Most companies just send a generic ‘rejection’ email without providing any additional information,” she says. “However, if you had a strong rapport with your interviewers, you can send them an email thanking them for their time and letting them know that while you weren’t selected for the position, you’d so appreciate any feedback as you continue your job search. For legal reasons, some companies may opt out of providing feedback. But if you felt that an interviewer took an interest in you, they may be willing to provide you a few helpful tips as your search continues—and in some cases may even connect you with personal contacts of theirs.”