Table of contents
- Be yourself
- Be honest
- Be confident
- Make eye contact
- Dress the part
- Use professional vocabulary
- Add any certifications to your LinkedIn
- Prepare and practice your presentation
- Be proactive
- Be polite
- Highlight your strengths
- Highlight your weaknesses
- Learn from past interviews
- Take notes
- Research your interviewer
- Research the company
- Come prepared with questions of your own
- Get your name out there (or scrub the bad stuff out!)
For some people, getting an interview is the easy part. Your resume speaks a lot about what you’ve accomplished.
When it comes to an interview, how do you stand out? How can you sell yourself without bragging or sounding arrogant?
In this article, we’ll break down some of the best ways to showcase your achievements and prove yourself during your job interview.
Dan and I are later in our careers, with more than a decade of experience in working in corporate, nonprofit and startup environments. Together, we’ve been through a lot of interviews at companies of all sizes. We’ve picked up quite a few tactics that have worked for us, and we want to share with you!
Let’s jump right in, so you can get noticed during your next job interview.
100% and without a doubt you should “be yourself.”
Avoid pretending to be anyone who you are not. It sounds simple, but if you start off being too personable (when in fact you’re more reserved), or too serious (when really, you’re typically tons more fun), your future colleagues will find out.
Being yourself makes the conversation with an interviewer flow more naturally and allows you to have a clear and open conversation during your interview, whether in-person or on video.
Consider this a perquisite for some, if not most, of the other ideas on this list of proving yourself during interviews.
Resumes and interviews are all about the art of embellishment. There’s a difference between making something “sound good” versus lying about something that you didn’t do.
This goes for everything from an inflated job title on your resume that does not match your LinkedIn, to taking credit for an entire project that was really a team effort.
To prove yourself, offer specifics during an interview. Show your value through the strategies you employed in the past. You can even comment on what you could’ve done better, to remain modest.
Remember: if you’re planning on leaving your current job, consider using some honesty, but never talk about your current employer negatively, as it sets a poor tone in your interview.
If you already got your foot in the door with an interview, there was something confident about your resume.
Now, the interviewer (and likely a few other interviewers as well) will need confidence in you, that you’re the right person for the job.
Talk about yourself highly. Don’t be afraid to mention your proudest career highlights. During an interview, the recruiter or interviewers are spending their time talking to you because they want to hear why you’re the best.
Show why you rise above the competition with your confidence, and avoid any type of self-deprecation.
Make eye contact
Eye contact shows confidence, and any interviewer wants to see confidence in the person they are interviewing for an important job.
Genuine eye contact is also a business skill that will prove worthy when you’re meeting with clients, your team, your manager or the president of a company.
Focus on keeping eye contact in a video interview by moving the interviewer’s Zoom window as close to your laptop’s camera as possible. This helps me to confirm that by looking at my interviewer, as close as possible to the little black dot of a camera, it will look like I am speaking directly to them.
If your interview is in person, remember to stay focused by making eye contact, especially when being asked a question and giving an answer.
Dress the part
Things have gotten pretty casual since everyone has been working from home, right?
Sometimes I’ll take meetings in a workout tank top and have my hair piled on top of my head like I just got back from a run or bike ride… oops! I’ll forget my own advice that dressing up a little bit is one of the best productivity tips for remote work.
For interviews, put on your absolute best face and Zoom shirt. If you are a guy, a collar is a good idea, or a polo, in summer months. For women, I recommend a blouse with some sort of collar, to show that it’s dressier than a regular top or tee.
For women as well, I recommend one piece of statement jewelry, no matter what kind of role you’re interviewing for. This can be earrings, but a necklace is really the best. It adds a dab of shine, or something interesting and memorable.
In the fall and winter, a nice touch on top of a blouse is a scarf, like this one from Bluffworks.
Use professional vocabulary
If you feel like you don’t currently have a professional vocabulary, take some time when you’re in meetings with senior leadership or colleagues to pick up on the language they use.
I’m serious: take notes! Keep a list of great words and phrases to use, whether they’re popular in tech, for example, or in your industry.
My other tip is to mirror the vocabulary use of your interviewer. If they’re talking about ‘unit economics and spend,’ or ‘project management overarching strategy’ (just as examples), use the words they want to hear, in your responses to questions.
Ask about acronyms you hear for the first time during an interview. I was in an interview recently that used an acronym I had never heard of before! This acronym was “GP.” I asked what it was, before it was used too many times, and learned from the interviewer that it stood for “Gross Profit,” or, one of the more important ways this company measures success.
Add any certifications to your LinkedIn
If you have any professional certifications, make sure that they are on your LinkedIn and resume. If you have a website, you can list them there, too.
Some certifications are more of a thing that qualifies you for something specific. Other certifications are relevant for the types of work that you can expect to be doing. For example, I just added a LinkedIn “badge” from completing my Morning Brew Business Essentials Accelerator online program.
When you talk about certain certifications you have, you can connect the to the specific types of responsibilities that are listed on the job description for which you are interviewing.
A quick tip for freelancers is to use our tips here for making a freelance resume stand out.
Here are a few examples:
“Because I have XYZ certification, I am more than qualified to take on this type of engineering work without hesitation.”
“I feel that now is a great time to mention that I just finished an eight-week intensive Business Leadership course, which has prepared me to make more strategic decisions in senior-level environments.”
Prepare and practice your presentation
If you have a formal presentation, make sure to run through it a few times to learn how long it will take to go through it. Practicing your presentation also gives you a chance to catch errors and make adjustments.
Reach out to a friend or family member in your industry and walk through your presentation with them. Listen to their feedback and make any necessary adjustments. This will help you to stand out and look polished.
It’s also helpful to time yourself. If you know that you’ve been sent a calendar invitation for a “45-minute Final Presentation with Company ABC,” you can assume you have 30 minutes to present and a 15-minute Q&A session, even if the recruiter did not make a note that this was the structure. You can make a smart assumption.
For a final presentation on a job interview earlier this year, I used the platform Pitch.io. I have no affiliation with this company, but I want to recommend it. Basically, there is a trove of awesome and aesthetically-pleasing templates you can use for a pitch deck or presentation on an interview. I loved using Pitch.io for a final presentation, or two.
While I didn’t get the job, I was confident that I proved my worth through a presentation I was proud of!
There was one time when I did a take-home assignment for an interview and then did not hear from the company for two…three…then four weeks.
They had basically left me in the dark. It was not impressive. I was actually so unimpressed that I took this company off my list of companies I wanted to work for and I was done with them.
I also had not been happy with my second round interviewer, who had commented on my appearance (not a great thing to do, and quite off-putting). Still, I had to be proactive in the interview process overall.
I followed up with the recruiter to say I had not heard from anyone in several weeks despite handing in my take-home assessment on time.
The recruiter replied a week later and said he had been under the weather, and then things got delayed, and then he was on vacation (or something). It was not great excuses from him for why the status of my application was sitting for four weeks, but I thanked him for his time and closed the door on that experience.
The moral of this story is to be proactive: you are the best person to stand up for yourself.
After your interviews, make sure to leave a thoughtful thank-you note recapping something you learned and something that you are excited about.
Even if the interview did not go as planned, send a thank-you note to show appreciation of the recruiter’s time.
There was this one time I had a phone screen with a company that told me the job I found on a remote job board was no longer remote, but rather, had been moved to in-office in Austin. On the phone, the recruiter asked if I was ready to relocate and I honestly said no, I’m not interested in doing that!
I sent a thank-you note immediately afterward to the recruiter, to thank her for being straightforward and also brief with me. Soon, she sent me a connection request on LinkedIn so that we could “keep in touch.” There was a positive outcome to being polite!
Highlight your strengths
To prove your worth in an interview, talk about why you’re an expert at what you’ve done in the past.
If you’ve done something in the past, chances are, you were the best person to do it.
Why were you so great at this thing? What was the outcome? Did you get promoted after this huge undertaking? Did you come up with new learnings that you applied in future projects?
One skill to be good at during interviews is naming those strengths and talking about how they relate to the job at hand. An example could be picking up a few of the expectations or requirements in the job description, and mentioning to the recruiter that you got excited about this job because of your past experience and successes in your area of expertise.
Highlight your weaknesses
There is no shame in being up front about the things that you are less good at. And, learning this about yourself provides a clear roadmap for your manager to help work these things out with you.
For example, I probably could have saved myself time in an interview several months ago by being more direct in talking about my mathematic, statistical and analytic skills when it comes to Excel.
I might have brushed the questions aside and gave vague answers, and when the time came for a practical take-home exam that was all about Excel equations and management of problems, I needed to seek help and knew that this was not the job for me. It made me nervous.
Maybe you have had a similar situation! There are ways to find out early on if the job doesn’t match you, rather than you not matching the job.
Learn from past interviews
Practice is really important. The more interviews you take, the easier it is to answer some of the common questions time after time.
I have had so many interviews that I can rattle off the “tell me about yourself” part of the phone screen or first round interview like clockwork.
I’ve gotten the hang of what my interviewer wants to hear, and how to relate it to the job for which I’m being interviewed.
I have also taken note of what interviewers think are my most important career projects. More times than not, they want me to dive deeper and explain complex past projects that I’m happy to elaborate on.
Notes can be helpful in remembering all of the details that have been discussed during your interview process.
The notes that you take can be used for you to ask follow-up questions either during the current interview, or during future interviews.
If you’re taking a remote video interview, consider that you have a few options for taking notes:
Take notes with a pen and paper
You can take old-fashioned notes with pen and paper next to your laptop. Some people prefer this to multitasking and taking notes in a document within the same screen.
Take notes in a Google doc and split your screen
This is my preferred method of taking notes during an interview and I have done it more times than I can count.
I condense the Zoom or GoogleMeet window into a horizontal bar at the top of my screen, and use a Google Doc in the bottom half of the screen to do my own note-taking. This way, I’m able to keep eye contact with the interviewer, and take notes about pertinent things they say, so that I can write a killer thank-you note afterward!
Don’t take notes at all
If you have an incredible memory, skip the part where you take notes during the interview, and jot down main ideas when you’re done.
If you are the type of person who focuses better by not splitting your attention, then go for it.
Research your interviewer
There’s a balance of using the right professional tools for research. Only sticking with LinkedIn and checking out companies your interviewer used to work at is likely where I would draw the line.
It’s easy to Google someone’s name and dig up Facebook photos from 2009. If you do that and you find something, keep it to yourself (also, yikes!).
With LinkedIn, you can see professional connections who are mutual to both you and the person whose profile you’re looking at. This is a great opportunity to relate with a shared connection, and hope that the mutual connection is a positive one.
You can be proactive and reach out to the shared connection, especially if it’s a first-level connection, and see if this person would consider being a reference for you, or if they could some recommendations on your profile.
Research the company
You should know what the company does. And, you should have a good idea about the details, expectations and requirements of the role for which you are interviewing.
Having good knowledge of these things helps you reference relevant past experience, especially in a way such that you can frame your own achievements.
Sometimes in a phone screen, a recruiter will ask, “In your own words, what do you think our company does?” Or, “Could you tell me what you’ve learned so far about our company?”
They also might directly ask, “Why are you interested in our company?” and that’s a time when you have to know what the company does, and find a way to make it seem like you’re highly interested (hopefully you are, in fact, interested).
Answer confidently, and it’s even OK to have the company website open right in front of you!
Come prepared with questions of your own
One zinger I like to use in interviews is to get the interviewer talking about his or her experience at the organization.
Remember: via human nature, people love talking about themselves, and might even consider that something went better than it really did, if they recall that they wound up talking about positive things.
One of my favorite things to ask my interviewer is what are they excited for in terms of developments happening at the company. This usually gets them started on a conversation about quarterly goals, an organizational rebrand, plans for expansion and things like this! It ends the conversation on a very positive note.
My other favorite question is to ask about company culture, and I frame it positively. I ask what are their favorite things about the company’s culture, and which aspects of it keep employees around?
In terms of more technical questions, you can feel free to ask again about the team involved with the role for which you’re interviewing, which position the role reports to and how you can expect growth to be treated and framed in the first six months to a year.
Get your name out there (or scrub the bad stuff out!)
When you apply for jobs, recruiters and interviewers usually Google you. If you have a common name like John Smith, you’ll get lost in Google spam and LinkedIn pages.
If you have more of a unique name, well, anything about you will likely show up. I mean anything.
Make sure to Google yourself and make sure that the results are what you expect. Go deep in the Google pages and see if anything old or embarrassing exists that you could remove from the Internet.
A great way to actually get your name out there is to write guest posts for a relevant blog in your field, host events, speak at local meetups or have a blog of your own. These are the kinds of things that will get pushed to the relevant parts of what shows up in Google. It will be more relevant than a community project you coordinated back in college that comes up in Google because the school paper wrote a write-up on it.
I once interviewed with the CEO of the company I was interviewing at, and not only had he perused my LinkedIn in detail, but he found this website and started reading all about me!
Dan has a really common first and last name, and when Dan was pursuing more of his photography business, he was writing guest blog posts for publications like KEH, and hosting events on Unsplash. This made it slightly easier to Google Dan’s name and ensure that the results would be more about him in a professional way.
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Last updated on July 7th, 2022