How to sell yourself without being too “salesy”

Posted by Amanda Augustine

August 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Prepare for behavioral interview questions using the STAR Method.

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Q: What are you selling when you are at an interview?  What is a single sentence that one can convey what you are selling? - Brandon L. of Daly City, CA

How do you prove yourself to be capable during a job interview?  You don't want to over sell yourself which would end up sounded like a sales pitch, but at the same time how do you get the balance to be practical but proven and determinant? - Karen I. of San Ramon, CA

A: What I really think you’re asking is how to not come off sounding like a used car salesman. You’re going to sell yourself in an interview, but no one wants to sound cheesy or cliché.

To do this right, I recommend using what is known as a “value-based” or “needs-based” selling approach. Basically this means you shouldn’t go into an interview and rattle off everything that’s great about you. You want to position your abilities as the answer to their current challenges or needs.

When you’re prepping for the interview, carefully go through the job description again and review the core must-haves for the role. What are the 3 most important things they want in this candidate? If they’re hiring for the role, it means there’s an unmet need or a challenge they want this candidate to help with. At the end of the day, what do they hope this person will accomplish?

Think back to the initial phone screen – which of your skill sets or experience did the interviewer seem most interested in? That could be a clue. If you’re working with a third-party recruiter, don’t be afraid ask them for insight – often times they can provide specifics that can’t be found in the job description.

Put together 3 short phrases or talking points that speak to how you meet the core must-haves for the role. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” phrase that everyone can use. It has to be specific to your experience, your key strengths and passions, and the job at hand.

I also recommend using the STAR method to write out succinct stories that back up your skills as it relates to their needs:

  • Think of a Situation or Task where you demonstrated that skill set.

  • Identify what Actions you took to resolve the matter.

  • Discuss the Results of your actions – did you save the company money or increase revenue, or bring the project in on (or ahead) of time, under budget and with great results?

Use this method to write out at least 2-3 stories for each of the 3 main requirements for the role. Use this exercise to help organize your thoughts, but don’t try to memorize the stories word for word. You will end up sounding like a robot – no one wants to hire a robot.

And don’t forget to take a consultative approach during the interview. Ask probing questions in the interview that help you better understand the company’s needs (there’s only so much you can get from the job description). The more you understand about the role and the company’s pain points, the easier it will be to frame your accomplishments as the answer to their problems. Here are a few sample questions you can use:

  1. What are the 3 most important things you’d like the person who gets this job to achieve over the next year?

  2. Why is this position open? Who was previously in this role? If it’s a new job, why is it being created?

  3. What types of industry/functional/skills-based experience and background are you most interested in for this role? What would the perfect candidate look like for this position?

  4. What type of person is successful at your company? What type is not?

  5. If this department has a very successful year, what would this look like? What would have happened or been accomplished? How do you see this position helping to achieve that?

At the end of the day, show confidence in your skills, be passionate about the work you do, and be genuine. If you can do those things, you won’t have to worry about coming off as too “salesly”.

Click on the following link for more information on preparing for interviews.

AmandaAugustine_JobSearchExpert_TheLadders_1Amanda Augustine is the Job Search Expert for TheLadders. She provides job search and career guidance for professionals looking to make their next career move. Have a question for Amanda? Submit your question here for a chance to have it answered in her weekly column, and be sure to follow her at @JobSearchAmanda on Twitter and “Like” her on Facebook for up-to-the-minute job-search advice.

Topics: Ask Amanda, Interviewing, Networking, Personal Branding