Talking about yourself at interview – are you ready?

Successful candidates do 80% of the talking in an interview (roughly 50 mins) are you

blog - interview talk

Even the most confident of us can go wobbly at the knees at the thought of talking about ourselves for 50 mins.  This is the reality of an interview (or at least an interview where you may be offered the job!).  Granted, the interview will contain questions which will prompt you, but you still need at least 50 mins worth of material up your sleeve to draw upon in the interview.

Having interviewed 100’s candidates throughout my career and delivered interview coaching to just as many, here is an easy to grasp way to help you prepare you for talking about yourself at interview:

1) Don’t learn answers to questions you think they are going to ask you

Unless you know exactly what questions the interviewer is going to ask you! Now wouldn’t that make interviews much easier? Here is what can happen when you prepare by learning answers to specific questions that you think they are going to ask you:

  • You hear what you want to hear
  • You are more likely to give incomplete or inaccurate responses
  • You risk sounding over rehearsed – trust me, employers can tell when you have over practiced an answer
  • You are more likely to be flustered when asked a question you didn’t anticipate

2) Do work out what the employer is actually looking for

Read the job advert, job description and anything else you can lay your hands on including a person specification or by chatting to your recruitment consultant if you have one.  Identify (and take note of) the experience, skills and qualities the employer is looking for.  Also check out the employer’s website, what is their culture like? You can often tell this by the wording and style on their company website – particularly in the ‘About Us’ section. Can you tell if they are formal? Perhaps they are more relaxed – either way, you need to know so that you can pitch perfect on the day.

3) Talk through your CV aloud

If you are faced with a 1-1 interviewer for a small to medium sized business, the chances are they may not have many questions to ask you.  This may sound positive but actually in these cases you need to be able to talk about your experience fluently to enable them to see you really are the right candidate.  Here is what I recommend doing before any interview:

  • Practice talking aloud about your experience, paying particular attention to work within the last 10 years
  • Elaborate on the detail at least 4 times as much as is on your CV – imagine that the employer knows nothing about where you have worked or what you did there (quite often the employer has read your CV once and that may have been weeks ago).  It’s important that you ‘paint a picture’ for them because then it makes it easy for the employer to imagine you working for them in the future if they can visualise what you have done in the past

4) Take time to identify your strengths, skills, competences, achievements & all the parts that make you you

I recommend you take the time to talk to people that know you best and ask them what they think are your main strengths and qualities.  This could be work colleagues, friends and family or perhaps customers you’ve got a good relationship with.  These people may be able to tell you something about yourself that you never knew.   It also looks good at interview if the employer asks what you are good at, and you can respond with your colleagues feedback eg: ‘My colleagues recently told me that I am the one they come to when they have a problem because they know I will help them to sort it out’

Once you’ve asked those around you for their opinion, then set aside some time to record what you think are your main skills, strengths and achievements that you have shown throughout your career and personal life.  Here is what I recommend:

Bullet point all your skills, qualities and achievements:

Everyone has achievements, so don’t brush this off! If you get stuck, consider:

  • What have you improved?
  • What have you learnt?
  • What problems have you had to solve?
  • What have you done to help others?
  • When did you last feel brave?
  • When have you taken responsibility for something?
  • Have you organised or planned anything?
  • When have you made a difference?
  • Have you sorted out any one else’s difficulties?
  • How have you helped the team or manager you work with?

5) Make ‘stories’ from your achievements and experience that correspond with each of the skills and qualities you think the employer is looking for

Drawing upon what you have already worked on, now you are in a strong position to refer back to the skills, qualities and experience that the employer is looking for.  You need a collection of good anecdotal stories for interview that you can draw upon and use when appropriate during the interview.   You will find that 1 story covers numerous skills – your story for Organisation for example may also include team work, communication and problem solving.  Make sure you cover the situation, the tasks you undertook and the outcome.  Doing this means you don’t need to learn answers to questions (phew).

Preparing stories in advance will put you head and shoulders above the rest at interview.  Not only are stories easier to remember than rehearsed answers but they come across more naturally and really give the employer an accurate impression of you.  Many interviews have questions which are worded to elicit stories from you eg ‘Can you tell me about a time you have demonstrated excellent problem solving skills’ – all you have do is flick through your mental index and use the most relevant one at the time.

Good luck with your interviews!


This blog has been written by Charlotte Eve, CK Futures Ltd.

Charlotte Eve is a professional writer for CVs/Covering Letters/LinkedIn/Personal Statements and an Interview Coach for managers and candidates at all levels.  If you need further assistance with interviews or any aspect of your job searching you can reach her at:

Share this article