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Cornerstone: Proven strategies for acing the interview


November 14, 2008
By Lyle Quan

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There has been much written on how to prepare a resumé. Once your resumé has gotten you noticed and into that crucial first interview, the next challenge is how to conduct yourself in the interview. This is where you get to show prospective employers who you are and demonstrate and confirm the information you have provided (in your resumé). Now is the time to tell employers why you are the one they should hire.

There has been much written on how to prepare a resumé. Once your resumé has gotten you noticed and into that crucial first interview, the next challenge is how to conduct yourself in the interview. This is where you get to show prospective employers who you are and demonstrate and confirm the information you have provided (in your resumé). Now is the time to tell employers why you are the one they should hire.

It has been said that the interviewers will know within the first 60 seconds if you are what they are looking for. So, how do you capture their attention and sell them on your abilities? You need to do what may not come naturally, which is to brag about yourself, your background and accomplishments.

I’m reminded of when I was competing for a senior position. I felt that based on my resumé and credentials, I was the top candidate. My nearest competition had an edge in the area of hands-on experience but I had the edge in credentials, so I was quite confident. Unfortunately I did not get the job.

To improve my chances for the next opportunity, I spoke to a couple of the people on the interview panel to get some honest feedback and I was told:

  • “You are too humble. Even though I have worked with you on several projects, it wasn’t until I read your resumé that I understood the depth of your background and accomplishments. Yet in the interview, you didn’t sell yourself.”
  • “You had a good presentation that was technically correct and appealing, but you failed to come across with any real passion. You didn’t blow your own horn and even though we all knew you, it wasn’t up to the panel to fill in the blanks.”

This was a real learning experience and I was determined to improve. This led me to do some research on how to participate in an interview – participate being  the key word. It has been my experience that the more you become part of the actual interview, the more the interviewers will get to know just who you are.

As noted in Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus (2003), the trick is bragging without sounding like you are bragging. I know it sounds silly but I’m sure we have all bumped into those who either brag without any substance to back up their claims or talk about their accomplishments in a manner that seems almost humble. Confused yet? Well let’s talk about two books – Brag and 60 Seconds & You’re Hired by Robin Ryan (2000). These books will give you some pointers on how to blow your own horn and, at the same time, help you avoid some interview pitfalls by preparing your answers to some of the tough questions.

Klaus’s book on bragging tells readers how to subtly share talents and abilities with the interview panel and how to promote themselves so they don’t miss those great opportunities. For most of us bragging doesn’t come easy because we were brought up to be humble and that’s where this book helps.

The second book, by Ryan, is specifically focused on improving your interviewing abilities and anticipating some of the questions you will be asked. Some key points in this book are:

  • The three thoughts running through the employer’s mind: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you work out in their organization so they can manage you?
  • Understanding the attention span of the interviewer and taking full advantage of it;
  • Answers to those tricky questions;
  • And questions you could ask your prospective employer.

I have read these books over and over and have shared the information with those with whom I do mock interviews. I have no doubt that these books will pay for themselves as you use them for interviews in which you are involved, whether it is for a new career or a promotion.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can sell yourself. You are the expert on who you are, so tell the interviewers what you know and why you are the best person for the job. Be natural, humble and portray self confidence (without arrogance). Easy, right?

Brag, The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, by Peggy Klaus. (2003), published by Time Warner Books, and
60 Seconds & You’re Hired by Robin Ryan. (2000), published by the Penguin Group, are available online through Chapters
and Amazon.

Lyle Quan is the deputy fire chief – administration with the Guelph Fire Department in Ontario. A 27-year veteran of emergency services, he is a graduate of Lakeland College’s Bachelor of Applied Business: Emergency Services and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and Administration Programs. Lyle is an associate instructor for the Ontario Fire College, Lakeland College and Dalhousie University. E-mail: thequans@sympatico.ca


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