Some interview questions you just know are coming. So why are they still so difficult to answer? One classic example is, “Why should we hire you?” It requires the art of self-promotion, which most job seekers (and people in general) fail miserably at accomplishing. Veer too far into humblebrag mode, and you risk not giving a clear and concise answer to the question. Throw out your inhibitions and be your own best cheerleader, and you might come off as arrogant.
What’s a job seeker to do? Research suggests being true to yourself.
“People evaluate others more positively when they try to be themselves. This is because people experience greater anxiety and inauthenticity when they cater to another person’s interests and expectations rather than being themselves,” reports Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and professor at Harvard Business School. “After all, authentic people who are willing to show vulnerability are likely to be the type of candidates interviewers most want to hire.”
Another piece of advice is to focus on details that will truly help the employer understand how you could fit in and the impact you could make in their organization.
“As a recruiter, a very common mistake people will have in both their resumes and interviews is to default to what tasks they’ve done rather than the overall impact they’ve made as a whole in their jobs and for the companies they’ve worked for,” says Dave Benjamin, Practice Director of Professional Services at The HT Group.
You can lean on some helpful tools and techniques that could take the pressure off the need to brag about yourself. For instance, you could:
- List your relevant/favorite accomplishments and awards in your resume and/or cover letter as appropriate so that you can dive more deeply into details—and do less bragging—during the interview. You can reference those points, or the interviewer may ask something like, “I see that you were employee of the year five straight years. Tell me more about that.”
- Rely on numbers to tell your story. The more you can quantify your results, the better. Saying you surpassed sales goals by 125% in three months sounds more impressive and less of an empty brag than saying you’re the best salesperson who ever lived.
- Be honest. It’s OK to admit when you’re thrown by a question and need a moment to collect your thoughts. This article from the Muse offers several ways to proceed, including taking your time to answer and thinking out loud.
Now let’s get specific. We complied advice on answering some of the most popular humblebrag questions around. They usually start with the all-too-familiar “Tell me about yourself” icebreaker (which we offer tips about answering here) and goes from there. These questions seem so easy to answer, but they’re not. Hiring managers know that, and they have in mind a clear picture of how they’d like you to answer.
Why should we hire you?
The good news is that this question is meant to help you sum up what you’ve already told the interviewer. Of course, that’s the bad news, too: It’s your most significant (and usually last) chance to clearly state what makes you the right fit for the job.
Interview Coach Pamela Skillings offers comprehensive advice on answering the “Why should we hire you?” question here. She says that the biggest mistakes job candidates make when answering is being too modest and general.
“If you’re not comfortable making value statements about yourself (i.e. ‘I am the perfect candidate.’), you can stick to fact (‘I have ten years of experience, got promoted, broke the sales record, won the award, delivered on time and on budget, received kudos from my manager/client, etc.’),” she says. “Another way to ‘sell’ yourself with facts is to quote other people’s opinions. Quote your manager, ‘My manager told me that he’s never seen anyone with more advanced Excel skills.’ You can also reference your general reputation: ‘I have a reputation for always closing the deal’ or ‘I have a history of always completing my projects ahead of schedule.'”
What’s your superpower?
This play on the more classic “What is your greatest strength?” interview question may sound corny, but it serves several critical purposes. Yes, it will help weed out overly arrogant (or, conversely, excessively modest) folks, but that’s not usually why it’s asked.
“The main reason interviewers ask this question is to identify whether your strengths align with the needs of the company and the job’s responsibilities,” says job search expert Alison Doyle, adding that your superpower should always coincide with the job description. “It’s important to show the interviewer that you have the qualities the employer is seeking.”
A related question is the dreaded “What’s your biggest weakness?” It may seem like an unfair question but, again, it’s a good way for employers to identify whether your skills and personality match the rest of the team.
Answering “I don’t have any!” isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s sure to harm your chances. Indeed’s Career Guide offers alternative answers to consider. An answer like “I have a hard time letting go of a project when I’m done” could signify you care deeply about your work or “I feel I could use more experience in X…” indicates that you welcome professional development.
Tell me about an accomplishment you’re most proud of
This question practically screams BRAG ABOUT YOURSELF! But don’t fall for it. Instead, have an example or two ready that follows the STAR method of explaining the SITUATION, the TASKS you determined needed to happen, the ACTIONS you took to complete those tasks, and the RESULTS. Wayup offers additional tips here.
But that’s not all. Interviewers aren’t just looking for clear answers; they’re noticing the language you use.
“Me first” language—defining success using “I” instead of “we”—can be a sign that you’re not a team player. Another red flag would be to talk about an achievement or an award you received without including the process as part of the success. That could indicate that you’re overly focused on rewards or personal gains.
In the end, it’s essential to be prepared enough to have a catalog of answers ready in your mind but to be present in the moment enough to answer each interview question thoughtfully and sincerely. That requires research and practice. Know the job description and the company you’re interviewing well and tailor your answers accordingly. Research interview questions (you might even be able to find specific questions asked by the team you’re interviewing with on Glassdoor) and work with your recruiter or a friend to conduct mock interviews.
“I always advise, especially in a tight job market, that setting yourself apart is key, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with highlighting where you add value,” Benjamin adds. “Doing so in a tone that reflects confidence but also the ability to walk into a situation ready for all challenges is some of the best advice I’ve been given and that I frequently coach the candidates I represent to do.”
Don’t let a simple question ruin your chances of grabbing that perfect job because you’re afraid to shine.
Don’t let a simple question ruin your chances of grabbing that perfect job because you’re afraid to shine. If you would like more help with interviewing, talk with one of The HT Group’s temporary staffing, technical staffing, or executive search recruiters to get one-on-one personalized help.
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