The Honest Boss: "How can I sell myself in a job interview, when I haven't had one in 10 years?"

“I’ve got my first job interview in 10 years but have forgotten how to sell myself!”

Job interviews can be tough, especially if you haven’t had one in a while. Here, The Honest Boss helps one woman how to get back in the zone.

“I recently applied for a new job and have just been told that I’ve been shortlisted for an interview. I’m really pleased as I want to move on, but I’ve been in my current role for 10 years and have totally forgotten how to ‘do’ interviews and sell myself. I’m naturally quite shy, and meeting new people in a formal setting is my idea of a nightmare. Even though I’m confident I can do the role I’ve applied for, I worry I’ll be a huge bag of nerves and the interview will be a disaster. Can you share any tips on how to handle this?” 

Lea*, 33

One of my favourite tasks as a boss is interviewing candidates for a job. Of course, it’s something easy for me to enjoy as I’m the one in control. Even when I was the applicant, though, I enjoyed doing interviews. I was always nervous but well-prepared. And my experience has taught me the key elements that make for a great interview. While on some level it is about selling yourself, it’s really more about giving an employer an idea of who you are as a person. 

I remember once interviewing a broad range of people for a junior position. Although quite far down in the hierarchy of any business, I always insisted on doing these interviews myself. Juniors are the leaders of the future and, if chosen well, could become a major influence on the team. 

On this occasion, I had been given a salary to hire one person, but after I’d finished the interviews, I was torn between two brilliant candidates. Jack was more qualified and I knew he would fit in very well. The other, Chloe, was less qualified but had such a bright spark about her that I was blown away by her personality. She was instinctive, warm and funny. She had innate confidence that gave her the nerve to make me laugh. Her CV was thin but the work she’d prepared for me was brilliant. In the end, I persuaded my bosses to release more money and I was allowed to hire both Jack and Chloe. They turned out to be two of the best appointments I’d ever make in my career and both went on to reach the top of their professions.

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You probably read that thinking I was drawn to Chloe because she was naturally confident. And, yes, you’d be right in a way, but the truth is that Jack, who I chose first, was actually painfully shy. That they were such polar opposites had been part of my dilemma. The secret to their success – for both of them – was that they had each prepared so well in advance of meeting me that they had plenty of interesting things to say and ask about the role. The main point here is that both Jack and Chloe came across as sincere. They gave me a genuine flavour of who they were so I was easily able to picture them mixing in with the rest of my staff. And thanks to their prep work, they demonstrated they would be hard-working and dedicated.

It’s why, instead of worrying about selling yourself, I suggest you shift your focus to researching the company you might be joining and the role for which you’re applying. Write down any interesting observations and questions you may have for your interviewer. It’s important to remember that you have been shortlisted based on the strength of your CV. You have over 10 years’ experience so your challenge will be to edit it down to a list of your best and most interesting achievements. That doesn’t mean you should walk in and bombard the person with your highlights. This prep work is to remind yourself of your capabilities so that you have some pertinent things front-of-mind when feeling under pressure. 

What you may not realise, and what I would tell anyone going for an interview, is that it’s important not to bore your interviewer with overly long answers that are not relevant. That is a major no-no, for me anyway. Please don’t worry about being shy, though. It’s a common trait and simply part of who you are. But if you want to learn how to compose yourself when feeling nervous, a useful tactic is to simply pause for a moment before answering a question. Seriously, it works. This will show you’ve really listened to the question and are being thoughtful in your response. Then, try to answer as succinctly as possible – perhaps giving one or two examples of something relevant to illustrate.

It’s also fine to admit if you don’t know something or can’t think of an example on the spot; it shows you’re neither a robot nor a show-off. You might be able to think of an appropriate answer by the end of the interview or even follow up with the answer afterwards. Believe it or not, this could make you memorable. Another tip, which so many people don’t do, is to maintain eye contact and speak slowly and clearly. A chatty person may be enthusiastic, confident and extroverted but can also run the risk of losing the patience of the interviewer with their babble. Trust me, your shyness will not be held against you if you speak with substance and honesty.

Remember, your CV has put you in front of them so try not to repeat too much of what you’ve already supplied in writing. They’re looking for what you are offering that makes you unique. And, lastly, if you don’t succeed this time, I know it’s disappointing but try to spin it as a helpful experience in helping to get the interview ball rolling for you again. You can ask for feedback from your interviewers and (ideally) throw yourself more enthusiastically into applying for other opportunities in the future. Good luck!

Images: Getty