At its skeleton, a resume is a scattering of dates and skills: utilitarian, but lacking personality. Companies, however, hire humans, not data, so conveying personality plays a major role in hiring. We are emotional, biased creatures, and the most successful candidates use their unique stories and personalities to their advantage. They bring their professional backgrounds to life by weaving assorted qualifications into carefully crafted stories, strung together in an arc designed to engage and compel a specific audience. Great experience is important, but presenting your story well is one of the most vital skills you can add to your candidate toolkit. Here are three interview tips to make sure you stand-out as a person, rather than a flat set of skills.
Above all else, your narrative MUST be true. Creating a great professional story is all about working with what you have and never about fabricating or exaggerating your experience. Most employers do background checks, call references and Google candidates, so it’s no use trying to cover up your past. Hiring managers value candor and directness; if you can’t speak confidently about your experience, it will show, and you likely won’t get the position. To make your story powerful, you have to connect your experiences in the right ways, highlighting the right aspects and presenting setbacks as learning opportunities.
Let’s say this is your professional timeline. Following a four-month social media internship, you are actively seeking a marketing role at a tech company. Your experience prior to your internship does not explicitly demonstrate the skills you will need in your prospective role, and you spent a six-month period out of work. You may be tempted to downplay the amount of time you spent out of work and to exaggerate the relevant skills you acquired in your internship. Instead, discuss the learning process that led you from your focus on Spanish and teaching to marketing and the tech industry: What skills will transfer from teaching to marketing? How might fluency in Spanish benefit a tech company? What did you see and learn during your period of unemployment? How did you grow? Most importantly, how has your experience fueled your desire to work in the prospective role?
Never Emphasize a Negative!
One of the most common (and damning) mistakes candidates make is trying to justify a hiccup in their career history by speaking negatively about some aspect of it. You might be tempted to point out a fault in your previous company or tell a story about a prior boss, but it is never a good idea to dwell on this type of experience. As a candidate, you have yet to establish the trust of your prospective employer. If you had, you wouldn’t need to go through the interviewing process. Regardless of the situation, tying yourself to a negative incident almost always raises a red flag in the eyes of a recruiter. He has to consider the best interests of an employer, so he will be far less likely to consider a candidate with a risky history. It’s fine to mention a negative experience if it played a role in your narrative, but follow it up with something positive that came from the encounter.
Let’s say you a had a bad experience. You’re a Software Developer at a startup and work on a team of eight. Despite pushback, your boss just instituted a new method of delivering software that you feel slows down your output and disrupts your normal process. You expressed your concerns but felt unheard. As a result, you’re now exploring new career possibilities with a number of similar startups. The incident is still fresh, and it plays a role in your story, but you shouldn’t let it dominate the narrative. It’s easy to let your negative experience overshadow the fact that you are well qualified for the prospective role. Rather than harping on the hardship you’ve had to endure, focus on the skills you gained and the ways you’re excited to apply them in this new role. Project an attitude of positivity and you will reassure the recruiter that your bad experience will not follow you to this new role.
Make the Prospective Role a Destination
Recruiters like to see ambition in a candidate, but they also have to consider what’s in the best interest of their employer. Most employers don’t want to hire a job hopper or someone who doesn’t seem willing to invest himself in the company. Conveying a trajectory that extends well beyond the position in question can be off-putting. Instead of speaking about the prospective opportunity as a rung on your career ladder, present it as a destination: something you’ve been working towards. Emphasize how your planned professional growth will benefit the company. A recruiter wants to know how your energy and drive will benefit his employer, not how it will lead to a future opportunity.
In the end, even the best professional narrative is only worthwhile if the prospective opportunity is right for you. The real you. If you focus all of your attention on molding yourself to the role, you’ll miss your chance to evaluate your fit with the company ― presenting an exaggerated or unrealistic version of yourself can backfire. Once hired, you are the one who has to fill the shoes. So put your best foot forward and dazzle companies by highlighting the experiences and skills most relevant to their open role. If you’re right for them and they’re right for you, the fit will be evident.