Have you heard the phrase “under promise and over deliver”? It’s an important one in business, because it asserts that you are not tooting your own horn in a way that’s overblown, but that you are able to do an even better job than you have advocated.
And in almost every situation, it’s a valid system. However, in an interview, if you under promise, you might not ever get the chance to over deliver, because interviews are naturally a place where most candidates are going out of their way to overpromise. But that can get you into hot water, too, if your references don’t echo the portrait you paint, or if you are hired and the employer feels that you misrepresented yourself. Here are some ways that you can answer questions honestly while still making the interviewer feel comfortable that you are the right person for the job.
1) Mirror the Language That the Interviewer Uses
This is a top way to help an interviewer feel that you are understanding what the job entails and are equipped to perform. For example, if they call customers “guests,” then you should do the same. It’s semantics, and yet it shows that you understand the culture. If they mention skills that are important to them, try to include those exact words in your responses. So, as an example, if she talks about needing a manager who is flexible, but fair, incorporate those very words into your answers, with a supporting anecdote, even if those weren’t the words you were initially planning to use.
2) Don’t Exaggerate Skills
There could be some aspects of a job in which you don’t have extensive experience, but you don’t want to sound as though you are unqualified. So if the interviewer asks about computer language, you don’t want to say you know one that you don’t. A better response would be, “I understand Excel is critical in this role, and while I have only used it a few times, I understand the general basis of how it works. In my former position, I routinely learned new software and programs, such as PowerPoint and Basecamp, so I feel confident that I can quickly figure this one out, either by taking a class or doing online research.” The goal is to make the interviewer feel that even though you don’t have this particular skill, you are confident that you can easily acquire it, on your own time if needed.
3) Don’t Exaggerate Relationships
Sometimes an interviewer is interested in who you know at key customers, especially if you are looking for a job in the same industry. It’s tempting to claim a relationship with a customer that you don’t have. If your boss landed the client, and you just occasionally helped out as a support person, you will be aggrandizing that role if you infer that you are the client contact and that you think they might be interested in moving their account, if you move to a new position. That can get you in hot water right off the bat, not to mention even make you look as though you are not telling the truth, in case the interviewer double checks details with your current boss, or with the client themselves. You never know how the interviewer and your colleagues or even the client might be interconnected and it might be easy for them to check. However, obviously, in some businesses whom you know can be crucial for success, and might be something an interviewer is looking for. Even without naming names or making promises, you can honestly give details of your track record for building rapport with clients and building and maintaining relationships. Those are the skills that the interviewer really is interested in, at the end of the day. Bringing a client with you could be the icing on the cake, but it’s never a good idea to even mention that as a possibility if you are being specific with names.
4) Help Make the Connections by Drawing Conclusions for the Interviewer
Many times you might not have the exact industry experience that is being asked for, but you have related experience. For example, even if you have never done advertising sales, if you’ve been a top salesperson in office products, you can explain to the interviewer how the two share similar skill sets. After all, knowing how to negotiate, build relationships and provide excellent customer service are key components of any successful sales position, no matter what the product or service you are selling. The problem is that sometimes interviewers get hung up on thinking that you need the specialized experience in the exact industry. Help them see the parallels between your experience and the experience they are looking for by describing your past successes and then adding in your reputation as a quick learner who can easily and rapidly come up to speed on the nuances of this particular industry.
5) Accentuate Your Background as a Quick Learner
Even if you don’t have the exact skills that an interviewer is looking for, chances are good it will be something you can pick up easily. The goal is to show them that you are a curious professional, always eager to learn something new and that you have in the past encountered situations where you had to quickly come up to speed on an industry or specific expertise.
Meeting an interviewer’s needs without exaggerating can be a challenge. Your goal is to make yourself seem like the perfect fit for the job, but it’s not in anyone’s interest to misrepresent yourself. And of course, if you outright lie, that can haunt you by not only eliminating you from the job you are applying for, but possibly even your current job if word gets back to your company or employer. These days, with LinkedIn and other social networks, there are myriad ways for people to check out your story. The goal is to make sure it checks out, while still putting your best foot forward.
by Cathie Ericson