The Interview: Compel with Your Character

The most quietly compelling way to impress at an interview is to display your character while highlighting what you can bring to the table.

When our perspective shifts to giving rather than receiving, the interview experience for both sides will immediately change for the better. Here is how to apply this method to three of the most popular interview questions:

“So tell me about yourself.”

Stepping into the interviewer’s shoes > Pulling out your “sell yourself” answer cards.

Ask yourself, how would the company and interviewer benefit from hiring me? Scott Ginsberg’s article addresses that one of the most effective ways of answering this question is to pinpoint three words to describe yourself with. If you pick the right words, you may also be hitting two birds with one stone when the interviewer tries to gage your soft skills.

How do we exhibit solid soft skills and humble character when trying to impress an interviewer? The key is to employ the “show, not tell” approach in our word choices.

  1. Aim for descriptive, specific, and active words or even phrases. Don’t just tell your interviewer that you are “smart.”
    • You can say, “I am an inductive, quantitative thinker,” “I work quickly but methodologically,” or “I am boldly logical in my reasoning skills.” These types of words show what kind of thinker you are.
  2. Don’t just say you’re “personable.” Pick words that describe specific traits that have helped you become more personable.
    • You could say, “I always try to be a considerate colleague and friend,” or “I tend to be an optimist even in the worst of situations,” which you could further back up with specific stories or examples:
    • “I once worked on a project with a colleague who was struggling with severe anxiety after experiencing a traumatic event. Instead of asking my supervisor for another project partner, I decided to encourage and work with him the best I could since I understood where he was coming from. Despite some difficulties, we ended up finishing the project together successfully.” This story would immediately show your interviewer a clearer picture of your character and that you have humility, instead of you having to directly tell them.

“What has been your greatest weakness/failure?

Exhibit humility and self-awareness without selling yourself short.

While you should certainly avoid the eye-roll-inducing “perfectionist,” also try to predict what angle the interviewer is coming from when asking this question. Usually it is not to jar you, or trick you into answering brutally honestly. Rather, as Rob Sullivan wrote in his article, the interviewer wants to know what it is that you could improve on, as we all have something. Don’t just try to say what you think they want to hear. Know that they are asking for a meaningful answer.

  1. Be refreshing; reveal something that people who don’t like you would say about you.
    • You could say, “people who I have had trouble getting along with in the past would probably say that I tend to assume people always know what is going on in my head, which can lead to miscommunication.” Think of times when you have been seen as unappealing to those who didn’t know you well, which may have resulted in social tension at the office.
  2. Tell a story about a time when you underperformed.
    • “One time I got so nervous during a presentation that I completely dropped the ball and costed my team a contract with an important client. Ever since then, I’ve been doing all that I can to calm my nerves in such situations.”
  3. Give buildable and genuine examples. Always follow up with how you’ve learned and intend to continue improving. Be self-aware, reflective, and honest, but not self-condemning.

“What questions do you have for us?”

Top priority: seek out what ways you can give to the team of thinkers that you’re hoping to join.

This question is oftentimes the trickiest and most telling of the candidate’s character and intentions. Red flags will pop up when the candidate replies with questions about the pay, the vacation, perks, promotions, or other self-seeking “what can I get from this” types of questions.

  1. The best questions tend to be thoughtful, professional ones concerning the team you’d join, and optimally, the interviewer.
    • Find some inspiration from Marc Cenedella’s list of questions, such as “What keeps you up at night?” or “How can this position help achieve success for the company?”
  2. Ask the obvious but thoughtful question: what are they looking for? Don’t be shy to ask questions about what they are looking for as well, so you have a clearer picture of how you could better optimize your skills for their greatest needs.