How To Sell Yourself In An Interview: 5 Tips From Personal Branding Guru Meredith Fineman
Let’s face it, job interviews are never anyone’s favorite activity — You get all dressed up, you freak out a little bit inside, and finally you head into a room to talk to a stranger (or three) who it feels like is there specifically to judge you and your achievements. Yet women often find the concept of “selling” yourself in an interview to be even more difficult than our male counterparts do, as we tend to be inclined more towards modesty than bragging. So, ladies, how can we overcome our own worst instincts in the next big job interview?
CEO and founder of personal branding company FinePoint (and general kickass lady) Meredith Fineman is focused on empowering women around the world, showing leaders and newbies alike how to brag and find their voice.
“Women tend to do a lot but not talk about it,” Fineman tells Bustle. “Historically, societally — it’s just a lot more complex to be a woman out there. There’s just a lot of mixed messaging, you sort of feel like you can’t win. You’re too ambitious, you’re not ambitious enough, you’re too loud, you’re too quiet… there are all these other factors that really make it kind of scary for a woman to be out there in general. And then you add in, historically, women being told to be more modest, particularly in the workplace, and then it just adds a whole crapload of insecurity.”
So how can women of the world overcome this so-called “crapload of insecurity” and present their amazing accomplishments to a prospective employer? Here are Meredith Fineman’s five tips to help ladies sell their best selves, in a job interview and beyond.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Interviewing, like many things in life, is a learned skill-set, and “job interviews definitely take practice,” Fineman says. There are a variety of ways to perfect the art. Fineman suggests role-playing an interview, or running examples by friends. Having notes on-hand can also be helpful when it comes to feeling ready for anything that may be thrown at you; the more prepared you feel, the more confident you can be in your abilities going into the unknown of an interview. “Job interviews definitely take practice,” Fineman says.
Finally, Fineman suggests even booking a few interviews for positions which aren’t your top choice can give you a chance to practice in a less pressurized situation. Plus, you never know, you may fall in love with the role.
2. Cultivate a “Projected Self”
One of the best ways to make an interview less terrifying, Fineman notes, is to “separate the work and personal.” To do this, she suggests “cultivating a projected self,” a version of you that exists solely for the purpose of job interviews and other professional scenarios which is distinctly different, in your mind, from your true self.
“I think when you remove it from you, and you say ‘OK, this is a professional version of myself,’ and get really strategic around that version of yourself, it’s less scary,” says Fineman, “Because you’re not actually promoting you as who you truly are.” Once you separate the two versions of yourself, you can come to realize that a job rejection is not about who you are at your core, which can take some of the sting out of the situation (please note: ice cream is also good for this).
3. Know Your Strengths — and Own Them — Even If They’re Not a Perfect Fit
When it comes to hiring, “I’ll glance over their resumes, but what I really want to hear is what people have done that they care about, because that’s more important,” says Fineman. Most companies today, she notes, are less focused on finding someone who hits every last requirement in a job listing (a frequent misunderstanding among applicants) and more on “looking for someone who has the qualities to be good at whatever you’re going to throw at them.”
In this scenario, Fineman says, it’s about owning your achievements and “getting really strategic around how you want to present yourself.” To do this, she suggests picking out a couple of projects or experiences that you’re particularly passionate about or proud of, and practicing presenting them with enthusiasm as you prepare for an interview. By keeping the conversation grounded in experience, interviewees have an opportunity to really shine. “If you’ve done the work, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with shouting about it, and with bragging about it."
4. It’s All About Spin
There are many ways to talk about your experiences. Take, for example, unemployment, or getting fired — they're tough life moments many people unfortunately go through, whether it’s right out of college or later in life. But having a gap on your resume is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, Meredith notes, it’s far less uncommon than you’d think. “People get fired from jobs all the time… people move around a lot,” says Meredith. “It feels bigger and worse than it actually is.”
Instead of trying to hide any less-than-flattering bumps or bruises in your past, own those experiences as a part of who you are and spin them to focus on the positive. Perhaps while unemployed you started a blog or embarked on a life-changing trip across the world. By embracing how all the steps you’ve taken have brought you to that interview, you can address any concerns the employer might have in a positive way.
5. Forget About Being Cool — Be Respected
It's a common misconception, Fineman points out, that candidates should try to become best friends with their interviewer. But rather than a “cool” potential hire, most executives “want to see what you’re made of in a professional context.” This, however, gets at a deeper issue. “For women, there is so much pressure to be liked that we let that overshadow what we do to be respected,” says Fineman. Put your most professional foot forward by presenting your accomplishments with confidence and gusto, as opposed to downplaying your achievements in an effort to be friendlier and bond. Sure, you may have both attended Coachella ‘12, but that matters a whole lot less than your workplace abilities. Focus in on what will get you the job, not on acquiring a new bestie.
In the end, Fineman points out, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. “I see it at every level: people who want to intern for me, peers, very high-powered people... they all have a hard time talking about themselves,” says Fineman. “It’s something that everybody struggles with.”
Plus, Fineman says, “If you don’t get the job, it probably has nothing to do with you.”
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