"Why are you the best person for the job?" the interviewer asks. What do you say? Some people are very good at speaking comfortably about their achievements and success; for the bulk of people, though, it doesn’t come naturally.
After all, we're brought up to be modest, to eschew arrogance, and to practice humility. These are good, positive traits and serve us in good stead as we build and navigate relationships, collaborate with our colleagues, and engage in all sorts of activities.
So, it's no surprise it can be challenging to spruik our own brilliance in the already pressure-filled situation of a job interview. Yet, the interview is precisely where we must demonstrate experience and excellence in a tight timeframe.
Go too far, though, and instead of coming across as skilful, we sound like somebody who isn’t credible, who maybe takes the credit for other’s work, or who might not meet the cultural values the recruiter is looking for.
So, what should you do? Here are our tips.
Think about your achievements, not only your tasks
You've heard the phrase about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: get into the habit of thinking about what you do in the workplace as contributing to the organisation’s goals. It doesn’t matter if you see your part as big or small; ultimately, it brings value to the business, or it wouldn’t be a job at all.
Instead of seeing your position as a series of tasks, consider its outcomes. You might have migrated on-premises servers to a public cloud, for example - and you could list that on your resume. But why did you do it? What was the drive to move to the cloud? What did it mean in a practical sense? Perhaps it removed risk from the company because the on-premises servers were old and likely to fail, and maybe your building is susceptible to flooding. Now these risks are no longer there, and your disaster recovery plan can rest easier because you’ve gone the route of disaster avoidance instead.
Perhaps it enabled the business to work from home, ensured safe business continuity, and increased staff morale even during pandemic lockdowns.
Or perhaps it's reduced the cost of your overall IT spend, cutting down licensing costs and allowing you to shrink your computing resources during periods of lower demand.
Get yourself accustomed to speaking about the work you do in these terms. Begin thinking of your work outcomes, not the mechanics or tasks themselves.
This isn't to say tasks aren't important, quite the opposite in fact. Hiring Managers will always be keen to know the mechanics of how you hit your achievements. However, your focus ought not to be on tasks alone.
Be clear about your specific contributions to a project
This can be hard; the interviewer asks you to tell them about a challenge you solved and how you went about it. Your natural tendency might be to say, “we did this; we did that.”
Yes, it was more than likely a team effort, and you rightly and kindly don’t want to take credit for the work of your colleagues. However, they’re not being interviewed, and they won’t be job-sharing the role with you.
By using "we" or phrases like this, you run the risk of leaving the interviewer unclear on how you specifically contributed and what you specifically achieved.
In these situations, take a moment to consider your answer before speaking. It can help to take a sip of water.
If your work was part of a team, that's fine; but you must also explain your role in the project. Some recruiters will drill into your answer if they don’t understand your part, but other recruiters won’t and will disregard you. Take charge and highlight your achievements.
For example, the interviewer might ask, "Tell us about a challenge you faced in a project and how you resolved it?”
You could say, "We had a significant application installed at every one of our sites, each with its own database. At the end of the month, our Finance team would take two days to log into each one of those servers, run the application, generate reports, and copy numbers to Excel. We decided a data warehouse would help us by aggregating all our data every night. Then Finance could run their reports against the warehouse and eliminate all that time spent gathering the data. However, the application vendor did not provide any documentation on their database, and we had to work out the tables and relationships ourselves when building pipelines to transfer data to the warehouse and to create reports.”
That sounds reasonable enough - except it doesn't tell the interviewer what you bring to the table. Have you ever answered an interview question like that?
Consider this response instead, after setting the same scene: "We assembled a project team consisting of an accountant, a report writer, and myself. I was tasked with building the pipelines to extract data from the distributed source databases and load it into the data warehouse. I reached out to the vendor for a data dictionary or any other documentation on the source database structure, but they said they did not have any materials they could share with customers. They confirmed we owned the data but wouldn’t provide any support for extracting data. I searched online for a tool to automatically document a database and used this to help map out and describe the database structure. With that knowledge, I could set up an ELT process to migrate the data we needed into the data warehouse and repeated this for each source database. I set up monitoring and logging to observe the process and ensure I was notified of any failure. This worked; I scheduled the ELT process to run on each system each night, loading into the data warehouse before the accountants came into the office in the morning.”
There is no ambiguity this time about what you did, and what's more, your answer is not boastful but simply factual. Speak to you did and avoid the temptation to use “we” to describe your achievements.
Look at the top three key requirements
Let's use the first two tips together in a practical way. According to Paxus Senior Account Manager, Jennifer James, candidates should always think about the top three key requirements in the Position Description. Then be ready with specific examples from your own experience that align with these requirements.
For example, consider a candidate for the role of a Project Manager. Jennifer says, “Let’s say ‘planning scope management’ is one of the top requirements. Taking an example from your own experience helps to steer the conversation on:
a) What specific tasks you undertook as part of 'planning scope management,’ such as gathering and collecting inputs to create a project management plan and identifying project requirements
b) How? Your approach, such as the methodology used and why you did it this way
c) Challenges - what obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them, and
d) What was the final outcome?"
Practice, practice, practice
No matter how many or how few interviews you've had in the past, you can predict some of the questions you’ll be asked. Tell us about your background. What motivates you? How do you keep your skills current? Why are you looking at this position? Tell us about a challenge in the workplace and how you overcame it?
Don't go into an interview without having already thought about your answers to these questions.
Think about them. Go over them in your mind while commuting, lying in bed, or in the shower. Rehearse and practice. And consider your tone - assess if you’re putting yourself forward too little or too much.
In fact, not only does this help you prepare great stories to tell and showcase your strengths but, Jennifer James adds, it shows “the candidate is keeping it specific to what the hiring manager would be interested in listening to, given time is of the essence - as well as demonstrating you’ve taken the time out to actually read the position description and prepare for the interview.”
In short, it's a plus for you all around. Make these tips your own and start each interview with confidence, preparation, and a positive impression on the interviewers.
If you are looking for a new opportunity in IT or Digital Marketing, or expert advice on interviewing – we can help! As one of the largest IT recruiters in Australia, we have many new opportunities currently available. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local branch to find out how we can help you secure your next role.