You have your dream job in sight and you’ve spent hours crafting a great application. You detailed skills and accomplishments with a list of points clearly conveying your knowledge and authority. In fact, you’re almost starting to sound like … an expert. But be warned, while it’s tempting to use powerful language to make a big impression, your claims need to ring true.
You can quickly finesse yourself out of an interview by using titles such as “expert” and “recognized authority” if you don’t have the credentials to back them up.
“An ‘expert’ is typically someone with a proven track record that is peer acknowledged,” says Dr. Jack Muskat, an executive career coach at Rotman. “They don’t have to have grey hair, but their accomplishments have to rank pretty near the top of their field. It’s better to use the word ‘expertise,’ which connotes ability and humility at the same time.”
Don’t worry if you’re a new grad and you lack ‘real-world’ experience? That’s okay — there are fundamental skills employers are looking for that can be learned outside of a 9 to 5 gig. Ask yourself how they fit within the context of the job description, and demonstrate how they’re applicable.
To supplement your application, ask for letters of reference from your professors. These can tell an employer much about your aptitude and work ethic. Skills learned through volunteer work also count.
“New grads tend to undersell their non-paid work experience,” Dr. Muskat says. Look at the volunteer work you have done and leadership experiences. Nothing is too trivial.
“Even working as a theatre usher teaches you a lot about customer service, facilities management and conflict resolution.”
New grads aren’t the only ones misrepresenting themselves. Even experienced pros can lose themselves in the wrong title.
“I’ve worked in many industries and I find that titles can mean different things,” says Amanda Lynne Ballard, a freelance marketing strategist. “I was the ‘head of community’ for one company, and for a similar role at another I was a ‘social media strategist.’ I’ve walked into interviews where an employer thought I had a certain skill set because of my title.”
The best solution is to be honest with yourself. That way, your future employer will know — honestly — why you’re the best person for the job.