Talking about yourself during a job interview can feel a little awkward: You want to paint yourself in the best light to stand out from other candidates, but you also don’t want to overdo it and sound cocky. So how do you tread the line between confidence and arrogance?
The thing is, if there were ever a time to toot your own horn, it’s during a job interview. Recruiters want to talk to people who are genuinely eager and confident, according to Tamika Doolin, Career Coach and Workforce Educator at Career Karma and Guild Education.
“If you’re really connected with the work, you should be able to show a healthy amount of enthusiasm as opposed to ‘I’m the best person for this job, and you should hire me because I’m great,’” Tamika says. “When candidates lack enthusiasm — a real defined why — those are often the ones who get set aside.”
Advocating for yourself in an interview definitely takes practice and comes easier to some folks than others. But there are some tips that can help you harness this skill.
Ahead, Tamika shares steps you can take to get more comfortable talking about your accomplishments during interviews and tips that will help you make a lasting impression on a potential employer.
Make a brag list
When you’re put on the spot in an interview, it’s easy to forget all your talking points. Before your interview, write down all the ways you meet the criteria on the job posting (with examples, if possible). Pay close attention to the “preferred” section, where you’ll find specific qualities that you can highlight to stand apart from the competition, Tamika says. Then, think about how your past experience ladders up to the job you’re after.
“Say someone’s going into cybersecurity for a major retail company, and they happen to have a large background working in retail — maybe even asset protection,” Tamika says. “That’s very relevant and has a lot of transferable skills.”
Writing up a cheat sheet like this will give you an outline of key points to highlight during your interview. Plus, seeing all the ways you meet the requirements for the role can quiet any feelings of impostor syndrome or self-doubt you might be experiencing.
Use metrics to illustrate your impact
Tamika recommends weaving metrics in your interview responses whenever you can to provide tangible, measurable evidence of your contributions. Let the data do the talking — numbers don’t lie. Including metrics in your responses shows that you’re driven by results and mindful of business goals, and it also provides context so your interviewer can better understand the scope of your accomplishments and impact.
The type of metrics that you bring up will vary depending on your field or past experience. For example, have you ever finished a project before its deadline? If you’ve built an app, how many people currently use it? How did specific features you worked on increase engagement with the product? If you’re applying for a leadership position, how many team members did you manage during a project?
Focus on the company’s mission
Along with the job posting, go over the company’s mission and values. You don’t need to memorize them, but find something that resonates with you and speak to how you’d embody those qualities while on the job.
Tamika recalls a standout candidate who connected their life goals to the company’s in an interview: “They really did a great job of creating that buy-in — saying, ‘I’m here not just to be in this role, but to make an impact.’”
The key is to find something you’re passionate about to illustrate how your personal ethics and ambitions can serve you in the role. “Making that personal connection and showing that you’re really invested in this opportunity — that’s where the magic happens,” Tamika says.
Own your personal path
If you’re a self-taught developer, you might worry that you won’t measure up to other candidates with traditional degrees — but this isn’t the case. People from nontraditional backgrounds offer fresh and valuable perspectives, and learning to code on your own shows initiative and commitment (especially if you were juggling other responsibilities at the same time).
Tamika suggests exploring your potential team’s backgrounds by looking at their LinkedIn profiles or bios to help alleviate any anxieties you have about your own and empower you to speak about your journey and education more confidently. Plus, you might stumble upon mutual interests or shared experiences that you can bring up during your interview to help build rapport and establish common ground.
Rehearse your answers
Find someone in your inner circle who can practice asking you some common interview questions related to the role you’re applying to. Even if they aren’t an expert in the field, it’s good to practice telling your story and get an outsider perspective. “Most people can give you general feedback, and the people who know you best are going to be honest with you,” Tamika says.
To help you get started, here’s a list of common interview questions for popular roles in tech:
- Front-End Developer interview questions
- Full-Stack Developer interview questions
- Data Analyst interview questions
Show them you’re a STAR
At some point in the interview, you’ll probably be asked to provide examples of challenges you’ve faced or projects you’ve completed. Tamika recommends using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method as you answer questions to ensure your responses offer enough detail (without rambling).
“Talk about the situation that happened, your response, and the result or outcome based on how you handled it,” Tamika says. “Give real, tangible examples of things you’ve done in past and present roles that would make you a strong performer in the role you’re applying to.”
Breaking the story down into key points allows you to succinctly showcase your past contributions, and coming to the interview with examples already in mind will help you avoid long pauses (or tangents) when you’re asked for details.
Flex your people skills
At the end of the day, you should be yourself, because interviews are also a chance for recruiters or hiring managers to get to know you. “Companies are looking for people that can work well within a team — or even lead one — so your soft skills are just as important as your ability to get things done,” Tamika says.
Think back to stories that showcase your ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. For example, a front-end developer could talk about how they worked with other people on their team to ensure a final product was up to par.
Smiling and making eye contact go a long way toward illustrating your excitement for the opportunity. “Some people are so nervous that they forget to smile,” Tamika says. “That could be read as ‘this person’s not really interested in being here — they’re just going through the motions.’”
More interview prep resources
If you’re still feeling jittery, check out our tips to help you conquer your nerves.
And remember: Interviews are a two-way street. Consider preparing a list of questions to ask your interviewer so you can learn more about the company and ultimately decide if you want to work there.
You’ll also want to prepare for technical interviews, which involve solving coding problems with specific programming languages. With code challenges, you can practice ahead of time using real assessments pulled from leading tech companies. Not only will they give you a sense of what to expect, but they’ll also show you which topics you need to brush up on if you need a refresher. Need more help preparing for a career in tech? Check out our career center.