Job interviewers are looking to assess a number of things, including your ethics, enthusiasm and compatibility with the company. However, the most important trait to establish in a job interview is expertise. A potential employer wants to know as much as possible about your education and past experience to determine whether you possess the skills, characteristics and experience to excel in this position. Illustrate your abilities by quantifying your achievements, telling stories and answering unasked questions.
Quantify Your Achievements
Whether you’re talking about leading a team, meeting sales quotas or filling out reports, tell about your accomplishments in terms that are specific and quantifiable. Peter Pan could say that he led the Lost Boys against the Pirates, but this retelling says little about the scale of his accomplishment. Instead, he could describe how he led a team of six Lost Boys with limited weapons or experience against twenty-seven well-armed pirates on their own turf and were able to successfully evict them in a single battle. Details give the interviewer a clear picture of your abilities and set you apart from candidates who may claim expertise but lack real accomplishments to back it up.
It is relatively easy to come up with quantifiable data for some types of work. Salespeople and project managers may routinely keep detailed records and comparisons to previous years. However, any candidate can reframe their experience in specific, measurable terms. You might discuss the dollar amount of the budget or projects you managed, the number of people you trained, the number of years you have worked in a particular field, how often you met goals or beat deadlines or what percentage of customer issues you were able to resolve. However you choose to phrase it, including specific details and measurable outcomes shows that you can deliver tangible results.
Tell Your Story
Another way to add color and dimension to the picture of your expertise is to frame your accomplishments with storytelling. Begin by giving the context. What were the circumstances surrounding the project you completed or the problem you solved? Instead of simply telling your prospective employer that you improved the standardized testing scores of your thirty-five students by sixteen percent, begin by telling her that you taught fourth grade in an impoverished school where over half of the students were not reading at grade level.
Second, explain the challenges, barriers and hurdles you had to overcome in order to achieve your goal. You might explain that the school was underfunded, had limited resources and no full-time reading specialist to assist students. Then outline the steps you took to solve the problem or meet the objective. Perhaps you used unorthodox instructional methods, untapped resources or volunteers to improve educational outcomes.
At this point it may seem your story is complete, but you can really set yourself apart by adding what you learned from this experience and how it can be applied to future problems and projects. This might include explaining what worked as well as what didn’t. Employers appreciate applicants who can learn from mistakes and who can be honest about failure.
Answer Unasked Questions
Another way to establish expertise is to anticipate and answer all of the questions posed by an interviewer, asked and unasked. This includes telling what you know and admitting what you don’t know.
Tell what you know by answering each question thoroughly. That means not only answering the question that is asked, but the potential follow-up questions as well. For example, if Lisbeth Salander were asked if she has experience with a particular computer program, she could simply answer that yes, she does, and wait for the interviewer to follow up with additional queries, which might include how long she has used the program and for what purposes. A better response from her might be, “Yes, I’ve used to program for six years and have used it to uncover the banking information of criminals and terrorists.” By anticipating these questions and responding thoroughly to the initial query she demonstrates that she really does have extensive knowledge and expertise and is eager to discuss it.
It is important to note that you don’t have to be an expert in any particular field in order to have expertise. A strong interviewer can use storytelling to answer an interviewer’s questions, asked an unasked, in specific, measurable terms that convey how the skills and qualities they possess have led to success in the past and will continue to be an asset in the future.