Instead of Selling Yourself During an Interview, Do This

John Krautzel
Posted by

One of the most commonly given pieces of advice to job seekers is to "sell yourself" during the interview process. However, this may not be the best way to go if you want the best shot at landing the job. Selling yourself by bragging or pushing your accomplishments onto the hiring manager can come off as disingenuous and obnoxious. Try the following method instead.

Probe for Pain

The "Probe-for-Pain" interview approach is recommended by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan. The idea is to ask probing questions in an attempt to uncover the company's specific problems--problems you can help solve. Using thoughtful questions to demonstrate your expertise is more effective than using canned interview responses to highlight your accomplishments and experience. This approach is best used during the interview with the actual hiring manager, as a front-line recruiter or HR screener will not be as knowledgeable or responsive about the company's specific problems.

The Art of Subtlety

When using this approach during the interview, subtlety is key. You can't expect for the hiring manager to completely open up to you, a relative unknown, about the company's issues and concerns. Therefore, direct questions can be off-putting. Instead, conduct thorough research prior to the interview in order to gauge the company's primary needs. Get clues from the job description, company website and current press releases or news articles. Consider what the company needs most in a new hire. If you possess these skills or attributes, focus on highlighting those.

Ask the Right Questions

It's important to ask the right questions during the interview. Before you dive in, make sure you've answered the hiring manager's questions first, to the best of your ability. Ask if it's okay to ask a few questions before proceeding. You need information about the company's immediate and long-term needs so that you can position yourself as the best person for the role. Asking for more clarification on the position's responsibilities and expectations can help you get there.

Benefits of This Approach

One of the key benefits to using this approach during the interview is you get to have a real conversation with the hiring manager. Let's face it: interviews can be uncomfortable. Many hiring managers loathe having to read from a script of questions, so getting to answer a few questions from candidates lets them off the hook. Moreover, you're asking questions about the company's problems and how best to solve them, topics that are of interest to most hiring managers.

Using the "probe-for-pain" approach during the interview can yield far better results than simply bragging about yourself and your accomplishments. By engaging the hiring manager with the right questions, the interview becomes more of a two-way conversation where you can still highlight your relevant skills and abilities. You end up selling yourself in a more natural and appropriate way.

Photo courtesy of natemancini at


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Scott MacDonald thanks for that. Lot of work went into your interview prep!! Wow! But it sounds like it paid off. Maybe we don't have to go that in depth to learn a little about the interviewers. What I have found is that if you have a little bit of info about the interviewer, you can find out more once you are sitting in the office. Look around. What do you see? Maybe the interviewer is into biking of hiking, etc. Bring it and ask about it. Or maybe they are into plants and have a lot of them around the office. Bring that up. You can gain a wealth of information just by looking around the room. @Ken G so sorry about the accident. Sometimes that stuff does have a ripple effect. Once you recover and are about ready to go back into the workforce - that's the time to start looking. Don't let your age get in the way. Once you are physically able, start applying. Most larger companies have policies in place to assist those who have handicaps. Wishing for a speedy recovery after your next surgery. All the best.


    Small tip from some of my many interviews I believe help me land job offers. I always lookup all the people that will be on a call, or personal interview with. I have had things in common like they workout, a city they lived in, etc. I even had a conversion about say yes to a dress show because I'm watched it with my 14 year old Daughter.

  • Ken G.
    Ken G.

    I am at a crossroads...I was forced to move on from a job that was my career, I felt very close too and was very good at. I left because a personal relationship gone bad and it had a ripple effect...saying that, the road brought me into an accident on the road where I have become disabled and am waiting for recovery surgery which will leave at going back towards an office type role and only at 75 percent physically fit..and the other road is I am not getting any younger, I am 47 yrs old....I see how older people get stuck in the seven eleven type jobs now...I need a lead...I have a tonne of transferable skills...just trying to find my way

  • SETH B.
    SETH B.

    Good stuff!!

Jobs to Watch