There’s only one problem: It stops there—every time. You’re not getting any job offers.
Before we get to the solution, take a moment to feel good about the fact that you’ve already overcome some of the biggest challenges: You know where you belong and recruiters agree that you’re in the right place. That takes time—and hard work—and you deserve to pat yourself on the back: Those good feelings will help you stay positive during a long search.
OK, now that you’ve celebrated coming this far, it’s time to get down to business, and fix what’s keeping you from getting an offer. Most often, it boils down to one of two things holding you back: what you’re saying or how you’re saying it.
1. Are You Giving the Right Answers?
The first place to look is the content of your answers. For example, are the stories you’re telling about your background and work experience compelling? Or do they come across as amateurish or irrelevant?
To find out, map out your most common answers (e.g., those with key themes like leadership, communication, conflict resolution) against these bullets:
- What was the big challenge? My team was up against a major deadline and everyone was stressed out since it looked like we wouldn’t hit it.
- How did you respond? Rather than let everyone burn out and hand in subpar work, I led an impromptu outing to a local kickboxing class. And once our team got our frustrations out, we came back to the office and worked together better and harder than we ever had!
- What was the result? We not only finished our project ahead of time, but we also had 100% retention on that same team for the next two years.
Then, have a friend review your responses to make sure they’re clear (“I understand exactly what you did”) and compelling (“I understand exactly why it was important”). If she can’t explain what you accomplished or doesn’t get why it matters, you have your culprit: Your stories just aren’t up-to-snuff.
If that’s the case, go back to the drawing board and do one of two things:
If you love the example you chose, work on refining it. Strip away unnecessary detail (no one needs to know about all the weird team acronyms your last job used), add in context that you might take for granted (but they do need to understand why you were working with those teams in the first place), and try to clarify the result (even if the result was just better teamwork, was there a quantifiable outcome like “erased five weeks of deadlock”). Here’s a complete guide to transforming your stories into interviewer catnip.
But if you’re not 100% passionate about the answer, don’t be afraid to cut it. Even if a given project took months of your time to complete, it’s not necessarily going to translate into a great story if the accomplishment was shrouded in complexity and lacking a defined outcome. It’s better to choose one that’s easy to understand and has a clear result, even if wasn’t as big a part of your job.
DID YOU HAVE AN INTERVIEW THAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL?
2. Are You Saying Your Answers the Right Way?
But what if your friend tells you your examples are spot-on? If so, chances are it’s how you’re delivering them that’s holding you back. And here’s where you need to do some practice interviews.
You’ll need someone (who you can trust to be honest) to listen to you rehearse your responses. After you answer your mock interview questions, ask: Did I appear down to earth and come across positively? What did my body language say? Would you want to work with me?
As it turns out, hiring managers don’t just look for competence, they also look for warmth. Even if your stories demonstrate serious expertise, you also need to come across as an engaging human to get an offer.
If your friend isn’t getting this warmth from your responses, here are a few concrete things to practice:
Start by smiling as you answer. Psychological research has shown that the mere act of smiling, even when you’re feeling nervous, can change your mood. And it also becomes contagious to the listener, reframing the way they perceive you.
Consider building some self-deprecating moments into your stories. Think about how much people love seeing celebrities read mean tweets about themselves. There’s something innately likeable about people who can laugh at themselves. (It’s the surest way to get your interviewer laughing, too.)
Finally, use the Ben Franklin effect and ask your interviewer questions throughout. Contrary to what you might expect, asking someone for a favor doesn’t make them like you less: It actually makes them like you more! For example, “Now, I’m curious—how would your team have solved that challenge?”
If you’re getting interviews but not offers, just repeating the same mistakes over and over again is a recipe for heartache. Instead, find a friend who can provide an objective take on both your stories and your style.
And then, after you identify the issue and get your awesome new role, promise you’ll be there to help him prep during his job search.
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