Here's Why "Sell Yourself" Is the Worst Interview Advice You'll Get
It’s probably advice someone gave you very early on how to nail a job interview. And to some degree, it’s true. Your goal is to convince a company that you’d be great at whatever gig you’re hoping to do.
The problem is too many people confuse selling their experience and skills as right for the position with selling themselves as some kind of “must-buy-now” product. And, because of that, they come up with a whole song and dance as to why they’re the only possible solution to your hiring woes. And that means the hiring manager goes from the hiring manager to a customer—which isn’t exactly the relationship you’re going for.
So, before you turn off another person for a gig you really want, learn exactly why “sell yourself” is awful advice when taken literally.
1. You’re (Probably) Not Answering Any of the Interviewer’s Questions
I’ve met with candidates who listen intently to my first question, and then, instead of answering it, launch into a pitch outlining why I’d be a dummy to pass on them. Sure, they may weave in a buzzword from my initial inquiry, but it’s clear they’re going off their rehearsed script.
This is bad for one big, obvious (yet, somehow, not obvious) reason: Hiring managers have a list of questions and are forced to interrupt candidates to get those answers when they’re not forthcoming. So, before you turn someone off during a presentation about why you are the best person ever, make sure to listen to what’s actually being asked. Going back to what I said earlier, you can weave your skills and experience in whenever relevant—just remember that you’re not personally for sale here.
2. You Make the Interviewer Think You’re Trying to Hide Something
In my recruiting experience, most candidates who put on a full-court press and try to sell themselves during an interview didn’t leave me a lot of room to ask questions. And part of my job was to dig deeper into people’s backgrounds to make sure we were making a sound hiring decision, meaning I sometimes had to ask uncomfortable things.
The problem with the sales pitch is that if it goes on for too long, it can make an interviewer think you’re trying to hide something. Don’t want to talk about that time you were fired? Or that project that didn’t go your way? Surprise—you’re only doing yourself a disservice if you don’t discuss those things (or even give them a chance to come up), and even more so when you try “redirecting” the conversation to avoid those topics. So, swallow your pride and be honest. Know this: It takes more effort to distract a hiring manager than it does to prepare real answers to those trickier topics.
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3. You’ll Sound Like You Only Care About Yourself
Unless you’re interviewing to be the only person on a team of one, you’ll probably have colleagues. And unless you’re being asked to sit in individual cubicles and have zero interaction with each other, you’ll probably work pretty closely with those people. However, when you launch into a sales pitch about why you’re awesome, it’s easy for a hiring manager to think that you might not play nicely with others.
You might also give off the impression that you’re out for number one and therefore just want to cut to the chase about how much money the company will pay you. I know you’re not that self-centered, so don’t make the mistake of leading an interviewer to think you are. Instead, make sure to engage the hiring manager in a conversation on what you could contribute to the current team’s dynamic. This will give you plenty of room to make it clear that you would be a good addition, while also letting your interviewer know that you’re interested in collaboration.
4. You’re Possibly Selling Yourself as The Wrong Person for The Job
Here’s what all of this ultimately boils down to. By approaching an interview strictly as an opportunity to sell yourself, you’re making it much easier for a company to take a pass on you. Why? Because when you present yourself as one, solid package—it’s much easier to dismiss you in one fell swoop. However, when you focus on your skills and relevant experience, you’re giving the hiring manager an opportunity to see your strengths and weaknesses as different parts of a whole.
By choosing to discuss your qualifications in relation to the position, rather than sell yourself infomercial-style, you’re giving the conversation a chance to go in many different directions—all of which could provide you with yet another to chance to show that you’re the right person for the job.
Truth: Youre only hurting your chances if you approach your interview with the mindset that you’ll control the conversation and ultimately end up with a job offer of one million dollars a month. The key to nailing this part of the process is to treat it just like you’d approach a conversation, and if you try redirecting the discussion to make it go exactly as you want it to, the odds are that you’ll miss out on some great opportunities.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author