During a job interview, there is only one thing a recruiter or hiring manager is really interested in discovering: What will you bring to the table if you are hired for the role?
Your well-crafted resume and cover letter have given them a reason to believe that you can do the job. During the interview, it’s critical that you can prove the point with carefully crafted responses. This means trotting out your proudest accomplishments in a way that is relevant and convincing.
But how do you convey the highlights of your career in a way that will be compelling?
Learning to accentuate your achievements and proudest accomplishments is about more than just listing skills and credentials; it’s about learning to talk about your skills and credentials in a way that’s applicable to the job at hand.
In the case of job interviews, getting an A means highlighting your proudest accomplishments. Here is how to bring your A game to the interview table:
- Choose your message
- Develop your USP
- Address employer needs
- Keep responses concise
- Avoid using family and personal accomplishments
When communications professionals learn media relations, they are taught to develop one or more messages that they want to convey. They are taught to integrate their prepared messages into their response, no matter what the media professional asks them in a press conference. This is the tactic that you want to employ in job interviews. Choose a message and drive it home.
Before an interview, your goal is to develop a message or a series of messages that you want to convey about yourself. The messages may vary from interview to interview, though overlap will certainly occur. These messages are called your Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.
USP is an advertising term that describes what companies do when they are trying to determine how to market a product. To do so, they focus on the USP, or the thing that makes their product different and better than their competitors’ product.
As a jobseeker, you are selling yourself and your skill set to an employer. Your job is to convince the recruiter and hiring leader that you bring something to the table that no one else will. You can accomplish this by articulating the unique value that you bring to the role.
To do so, before each interview, review the job ad. Like you did when you learned how to write a resume, list the skills the job you are interviewing for requires and then think of an accomplishment from your past that illustrates how you’ve used that skill.
For example, if a job ad lists “stellar written and verbal communication skills” as a top requirement, ask yourself what your proudest accomplishment at work has been that utilized your communication skills.
If you are applying for a customer service representative position, you might use the following example:
One of my proudest accomplishments in my past role as a front desk associate at Travelodge was my ability to smooth over customer complaints both in person and via email. I used my written and verbal communication skills on a daily basis to ensure customer needs were met and, in some instances, to share complaints with my manager so that they could be handled accordingly. Thanks to my ability to communicate well, my customer satisfaction surveys were among the highest in my division.
The quickest way to ace a job interview is to identify a problem that only you can solve for the employer. Once you’ve identified your top selling point, it shouldn’t be difficult to identify ways that your skills, credentials, and experience can solve that problem for the employer at hand.
Again, study the job ad. A good job description lays out the employers needs and identifies the qualities they seek in their “perfect” candidate. Since the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior, give them examples of your proudest accomplishments that illustrate that you have what it takes to solve their problem.
To prepare, research your targeted employer and try to predict what the interviewer's response would be to "What's the greatest challenge your organization faces?" Next, develop an accomplishments-driven response. Here is an example to guide you as you write your own:
I completely understand what your organization is experiencing. In my former role as a restaurant manager, we were plagued by staffing problems, especially during cold and flu season. To solve the problem, I set up an on-call scheduling system to augment the regular schedule. This ensured that we always had staff ready and able to fill in if another server was out sick. Not only did the system solve our staffing woes, but it also cut down on the wait time at the restaurant, allowed us to turn tables more quickly, and increased our revenue.
Responses to interview questions should be no more than two minutes long, maximum. You want to leave the recruiter wanting more, not wondering when your story will end. Tell a rich, meaty story of your proudest accomplishments but trim the fat and don't ramble.
Particularly when asked a broad question such as, "What is your proudest accomplishment," many interviewees are tempted to respond with an accomplishment from their personal lives. This is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you have been out of the workforce for a while.
While responding that your proudest accomplishment is raising your child isn’t a terrible response, it isn’t job-related. Not only that, depending on your response, you could open yourself up to unconscious bias by revealing too much about your personal life.
To be more effective, choose an achievement that could relate to on-the-job results. Consider academic accomplishments or achievements you’ve made as a volunteer. In other words, your proudest achievements don’t have to have occurred at work, but they should relate to work.