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Career-focused books and online resources equip you with techniques to practice in the days leading up to your interview. However, even the most job- and industry-specific interview advice can't help you prepare for questions that are particular to your expertise and accomplishments. Giving the recruiter or hiring manager an effective response to questions about your unique qualifications rests on your ability to highlight those areas, nooks and crannies of your professional background that you believe few people have. To use a sports analogy, think of yourself as a quarterback interviewing with the head coach. What do you say to convince him that you will take the team to the Super Bowl?
Many employers conduct preliminary telephone screenings to eliminate applicants who don't have the requisite qualifications for the job. Job postings generally include required qualifications and preferred qualifications. Applicants who don't have the required qualifications typically won't make the first cut and won't be invited to a face-to-face interview with the hiring manager. Successful applicants have the basic requirements and applicants who have all of the basics and some of the preferred are likely to be at the top of the pile of resumes. It's likely that you won't have a chance to talk about how remarkable your qualifications are until you meet the hiring manager in person.
Generally speaking, preliminary interviews are brief. They don't probe specific areas of your expertise or professional background -- that's saved for a face-to-face interview. A face-to-face interview is the best setting for discussing your qualifications because both you and the interviewer benefit from the nonverbal cues, intonation and inflection that help you communicate in a far more persuasive manner than is possible in a telephone conversation. Be prepared to answer pointed questions about your qualifications and what you can contribute to the organization during your first and subsequent face-to-face interviews.
Everybody has core competencies. It's safe to assume that virtually every candidate who is meeting with the hiring manager has several core competencies, such as communication skills, organizational capabilities and relationship-building skills. Your core competencies enable you to perform your job functions, and therefore, aren't unique. When you're asked about exceptional qualifications you have, elaborate on your core competencies that distinguish you from other candidates. Also, expand on the results of your core competencies to illustrate that yours are highly developed and effective. For example, everyone has communication skills, but if you're interviewing with a multinational corporation that routinely sends U.S.-based workers on expatriate assignments, your ability to communicate in several languages is a uniqueness that separates you from other candidates vying for the position.
Presenting your qualifications quantitatively is what many employers understand because it points to your understanding of the bottom line. Employers choose candidates who can improve the company's profitability. Therefore, using numbers, percentages and rates to describe your qualifications is a unique, two-pronged approach to a persuasive answer. Showcase your qualifications and do it in a manner that translates into revenue growth or savings. For example, a human resources manager doesn't lead a revenue-producing department, but if you have accomplished significant savings in the human resources space, describe it in your interview. You could say, "By analyzing options and return on investment in outsourcing vs. joining a professional employer organization, I saved the company over 25 percent during five consecutive quarters.
Compose a list of qualifications you have to offer and add to the factors that set you apart from the typical candidate. Rehearse your answers along with the typical interview questions. Have three to five concrete, specific examples to give the interviewer. From well-thought-out responses to the question, "What unique qualifications do you bring to this position?" the interviewer can sense that you've prepared for and anticipated questions like this one and that you have prepared to put your best foot forward. This combination is what successful candidates do to impress prospective employers.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.