Author Topic: Interview advice needed please - balancing "selling myself" and arrogance  (Read 9920 times)

Marigold

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Hi

I am going for an interview on Friday. I am really excited. It is for a public service job in an area that would be a great fit for my skills and academic background.

I am currently a public servant in another area, but my commute is up to 1.5 hours one way (I take the bus). This new opportunity would be about 20 kilometers from my house, which would drastically cut my commute by car (25 minutes and free parking!) and give me the opportunity to bike to work as well.

Is there any way that I can highlight during my interview what an asset I would be without coming across as arrogant?

I really want this dream job, but I don't want to turn them off either...

arebelspy

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Be completely confident.  You're selling yourself, there is no need to be humble.  It's better to err on the side of being a bit cocky, IMO, than try and be humble and not sell yourself.
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Cwadda

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I know exactly how you feel! I had a difficult time applying for colleges because I would constantly sell myself short. What you need to do is have confidence, but not a negative, overbearing confidence.

Be positive, brush up on niceties, act like you really want to be there. "I want to join the company because my skills will contribute to the team."

Add value to the team
Teamwork
Responsibility
Success

Any positive words you can think of. Positive, positive, positive word choice. Anything to get their heads nodding. It is psychologically proven that head nodding influences people to think positively. Tell them all about your academic background and WHY that background is a good match for the job. It's fine to be honest.

It is better to market yourself than to sell yourself short. You will not come across as arrogant if you give off a pleasant demeanor the minute you walk in. Shaking hands right away, learning names, asking your own questions, etc. A solid 10 minutes of niceties.

You'll be absolutely fine.

Sonorous Epithet

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Arrogance says, "me me me!"

Confidence says, "you you you!"

In my experience hiring managers are concerned with two things.

First, they have a problem that you are the solution to. Sussing out what their problems are is one of the goals of your research into the company (or agency, I guess, in your case), and then you should demonstrate how you solve that problem.

Second, they don't want to get burned. Most hiring managers are conservative. Most would rather hire a mediocre candidate who is a completely known quantity than a superstar with potential downside. They spook easily.

Be confident and enthusiastic. Ask lots of questions and LISTEN to the answers. Good salesmanship involves understanding a potential buyer's needs, then showing them a product (you) that meets their needs, at a cost that is worth it, with little risk of regretting it.

Remember, they are entering the marketplace looking to buy. They want to be sold the best product that meets their needs! Think about when you are buying and when you feel most confident about a purchase. That's what you want to inspire in them.

gimp

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They will give you openings where they expect you to tell them about accomplishments and skills. One good way to do this well is to put numbers to the story - you weren't "involved in x", you "took up x responsibility and saved the department an ongoing $y/year." Or whatever. Be quick to share credit while making it obvious you're really the guy who knew the project inside and out.

rocklebock

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+1 to everything Sonorous Epithet said, especially about the "me" vs. "you" distinction.

I interview people and serve on search committees regularly, and I've seen lots of people lose an opportunity because they came across as meek, or lacking confidence, or just not able to advocate for themselves. I've seen zero people lose out because they came across as arrogant or over-confident.

Some of the best interview advice I've heard is that you should imagine you've been invited to be a guest on a late-night talk show. The audience is excited to meet you and find out about all the cool things you're doing. The host has some prepared questions to draw out an interesting conversation. Everyone wants to hear from a friendly, interesting, confident guest who makes them want to find out more.

penny

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As a public servant, at least in the circles I roll in, there has been has always been that predilection to modesty. However, as times have tightened and competition has gotten steeper, i believe things have taken a turn more towards "corporate" type protocols and you need to be willing to sell yourself. I struggle with this myself, but all the advice above is golden, and you need to be comfortable if not selling yourself, not afraid to spin what you have to offer in a positive way.  Never say anything negative, and if in a bind, ask a question about the interviewer or job.
It is highly unlikely that as someone who is concerned and self aware enough to ask advice on a message board, that you would ever have it in yourself to come across to a stranger as arrogant. Good luck- we've all been there before, just be yourself.

arebelspy

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I interview people and serve on search committees regularly, and I've seen lots of people lose an opportunity because they came across as meek, or lacking confidence, or just not able to advocate for themselves. I've seen zero people lose out because they came across as arrogant or over-confident.

This matches nearly everything I've heard/read as well.  There's exceptions, I'm sure, but they're rare.  Err on the side of overconfident if you're not sure.
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
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Cressida

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I remember when I had the opportunity to interview for my boss's job after she left the company. I had never been a boss. The head of HR interviewed me first. I was yammering about something, about how important it was to get along with people, or whatever. HR guy interrupted me and said basically, Look. No one doubts that you can get along with people. Emphasizing that doesn't help you. What we want to hear is that you can handle tough situations and lay down the law and even fire someone if they're not performing.

It was really counterintuitive, but it makes sense. We think being humble presents well, but on balance it's better to err on the other side. ESPECIALLY if you're a woman and everyone is already looking for a reason to discount you.

[Edit: I did eventually get the job.]
« Last Edit: June 10, 2014, 10:50:15 PM by rolando74 »

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First, they have a problem that you are the solution to. Sussing out what their problems are is one of the goals of your research into the company (or agency, I guess, in your case), and then you should demonstrate how you solve that problem.

I second this. You need to show them that you understand their needs, and that you are uniquely qualified to meet those needs.

And whatever you do, don't mention the shorter commute when they ask you why you want the job.

MDM

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All good advice above.  One thing that was hinted at, but not explicitly stated: provide examples.

Everyone can talk about being a team player, having initiative, good work practices, etc.  The most memorable candidates, however, are the ones with good examples to illustrate their points.

E.g., see http://careers.theguardian.com/careers-blog/star-technique-competency-based-interview and search for similar articles if you want more details.  Think about the times in your life (school, work, family, friends, whenever) that you did particularly good things, and be ready to use those as "for example"s when the appropriate question comes alone.

Also make sure that you do enough homework on the organization to which you are applying, especially so you can answer with a "for example" (detect a pattern?) if asked "why do you want to come work for us?"

Good luck!

Bikesy

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All good advice above.  One thing that was hinted at, but not explicitly stated: provide examples.

Everyone can talk about being a team player, having initiative, good work practices, etc.  The most memorable candidates, however, are the ones with good examples to illustrate their points.

E.g., see http://careers.theguardian.com/careers-blog/star-technique-competency-based-interview and search for similar articles if you want more details.  Think about the times in your life (school, work, family, friends, whenever) that you did particularly good things, and be ready to use those as "for example"s when the appropriate question comes alone.

Also make sure that you do enough homework on the organization to which you are applying, especially so you can answer with a "for example" (detect a pattern?) if asked "why do you want to come work for us?"

Good luck!

I will second providing examples.  Instead of waiting until the interviewer asks you about a time you did such and such to think of an answer... Think of your best career stories ahead of time so you have an arsenal of examples you can shape to match the questions.  This takes a ton of pressure off during the interview and ensures that you get to share your highest scope stories.

Also, your verbiage should include lots of I's and very few us's.  Interviewers want to know you impacted whatever situation you were in vs. feeling like you just went along with the team.

Best of luck!

Brian Fellows

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Providing examples is the most important thing.  It's important to go into the interview with several different examples in mind that can fit any context.  You'll probably need an example of a time you saved money, an example of a time you made a tough decision and why you made it, an example of how you navigated a crisis, etc. 

The only guy I've ever heard in an interview that rubbed me the wrong way was a guy that came in saying "I'm going to get more out of your workers, I'm going to get a higher yield off of the line" etc etc.  And you know what? That would've been fine if he'd just been less obnoxious.  Even throwing an "if you hire me" in front of everything and then giving an example of one time he'd done just that would have worked.  I just didn't take too kindly to the ASSUMPTION that I was going to hire this guy, and the attitude came off as "You screwed this up, but I can fix it.  Don't worry about how."  The attitude you should be giving off is "I want to help you with these issues, and I'm the guy that can do it because I've done it before."

Franklin

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+1 on self confidence and examples.  The best people I've hired had confidence and from the moment they opened their mouth you could tell their confidence came from their experience.  Another tip would be to clearly articulate the why.  For instance, you said it was public service.  Why did you mention that?  It probably has special meaning to you.   

DoubleDown

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Here's a specific way of how to build and show confidence, beyond the nebulous advice of "Be Confident":

When I was a job-seeker getting out of college long ago, I got hold of a list of the "20 Most Common Interview Questions and Suggested Answers." That thing was gold. I would not be exaggerating to say that 95%+ of the questions asked of me in every interview I went on (and I went on dozens since I was casting a broad net at the time) were covered by that list. That means I was prepared with good answers for at least 95% of the questions that were asked, out of hundreds.

The answers are not necessarily canned -- you can and should tailor and practice them around your own experience and skills. But having good, confident-sounding answers at the ready makes all the difference. I got offers from at least 80 - 90% of the firms I interviewed with, no doubt in large part because I was ready with solid answers.

I also reviewed updated lists over the years, sometimes tailored to specific employers or industries. It's amazing to me how many people are just unprepared like this when they go into interviews. By practicing these lists, I've been chosen for highly selective positions, beating out dozens of other candidates that likely had even better qualifications than me. But they weren't prepared with good answers.

So, I advise looking up the most common interview questions and winning answers for them, and memorize and practice them.

Here's just one example of something that was completely counter-intuitive to me at the time of a good answer to have on hand for a very common interview question:

Interviewer Question: "What is your biggest weakness?"

Answer: "Sometimes I really work too hard. It can be difficult for me to balance work against home life, to stop working on a problem and go home. When I'm faced with a challenge at work, I just want to keep working on it until I've solved it."

Now, that's some "weakness" isn't it, working too hard! Had I not read that list, I would not have been prepared with an answer like that, which of course an employer loves to hear as a "weakness." Holy crap, we've struck gold -- this person is qualified and their biggest weakness is they are a workaholic!! And it matters not one bit that the answer is not true for me or you. If you want the job, that's the answer. Or, you can tell them the truth that your biggest weakness is you're lazy, or you're difficult to get along with, or you hate administrative tasks, thereby ensuring they give the job to someone else.

Weedy Acres

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As a long-time hiring manager, I disagree with a few of the above opinions.

"I don't know of anyone that hasn't been hired because of arrogance."  I have passed on people that were too arrogant in the interview.  My filter: someone who denigrates others to prove they're better.  If they talk that way, they're not going to get along with the rest of the team, and that won't work in our culture.  Avoid that at all costs.  Show that you're good, and you shouldn't have to talk about how others compare.  A recent example: "I would estimate I'd be the supervisor within 6 months."  We weren't hiring a supervisor, we were hiring a worker.  That guy already knows he'd be the best one on the team when he hasn't met them?  I don't think so.

"Talk about 'I' and not 'us'".  Too much I tells me the person can't play well with others, or takes credit for their successes and blames them for his failures.  No thanks, not here.

"Use a "false" weakness."  Personally, I'm looking for someone who's self-aware enough that they know their weaknesses and have behaviors that minimize their impact.  So if you're lazy and have time focusing on your work on Fridays, say "I can tend to get weekend-happy on Fridays, so I save my mindless work for that day so it won't impact the quality of my work."  (being facetious in this example, but you get my drift.)

Numbers Man

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Be able to verbalize your accomplishments with who, what, when and how and relate that to the key requirements of the job.

Brian Fellows

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I agree with not trying to use a "weakness" that's blatantly you giving the hiring manager something that would be positive for the company. 

You'll probably want to give a real weakness, a specific example about when it came up, specific ways you deal with it, and you definitely want to mention that you've gotten a lot better. 

I've got two honest weaknesses that I go back and forth with between interviews:

1) I can have trouble tailoring reports to my audience sometimes (IE - if I'm presenting to another technical person I don't use enough technical detail, or if I'm presenting to a high level manager sometimes I'll throw numbers and stats around that they don't care about).  It's easy enough to edit the report once the person's seen it, but it happens sometimes.  I've gotten a lot better about it though - now I just tell the person what I'm planning on putting in the report ahead of time, so they can let me know whether that's the direction they want me to go in or not.

2) I'm a good multitasker, but sometimes I get too focused on one project out of five and want to keep working on it until it's perfect.  So what I try to do now is keep an updated, prioritized list of tasks that I work off at all times.  If I've got two tasks that are equal priority, I'll block off two equal amounts of time on my calendar.  When I'm in Task A's time block, Task A is the ONLY thing I'll focus on.  Then I move onto Task B when its time comes up.

Just real-life examples in my case.  Both things that could be a weakness, but they're easily dealt with (in specific ways that I mentioned) and in neither case is it me FAILING at something - it's me getting a little off track.

rocklebock

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"I don't know of anyone that hasn't been hired because of arrogance."  I have passed on people that were too arrogant in the interview.  My filter: someone who denigrates others to prove they're better.

Well, right after I posted that I remembered there was somebody I passed over years ago for coming across as arrogant, but it was incredibly egregrious. She complained about her previous employer for insufficiently appreciating her. Then mentioned that another department of my organization had interviewed for a position a few months ago, and belittled them for not hiring her.

So, it does happen. But in my experience, it's arrogance that points to extremely negative or destructive behavior. But I've seen a lot more people screw themselves over by underplaying their hand.

Bikesy

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As a long-time hiring manager, I disagree with a few of the above opinions.



"Talk about 'I' and not 'us'".  Too much I tells me the person can't play well with others, or takes credit for their successes and blames them for his failures.  No thanks, not here.


Just be careful here...if you say we/us the whole time you will get many follow up questions like "but what did you do specifically?"  Or worse the interviewer may not bother to probe.  I work for one of the biggest companies in the US and we specifically teach our hiring managers to probe if the candidates generalize or talk about themselves using we/us.

CommonCents

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Arrogance says, "me me me!"

Confidence says, "you you you!"

In my experience hiring managers are concerned with two things.

First, they have a problem that you are the solution to. Sussing out what their problems are is one of the goals of your research into the company (or agency, I guess, in your case), and then you should demonstrate how you solve that problem.

Second, they don't want to get burned. Most hiring managers are conservative. Most would rather hire a mediocre candidate who is a completely known quantity than a superstar with potential downside. They spook easily.

Be confident and enthusiastic. Ask lots of questions and LISTEN to the answers. Good salesmanship involves understanding a potential buyer's needs, then showing them a product (you) that meets their needs, at a cost that is worth it, with little risk of regretting it.

Remember, they are entering the marketplace looking to buy. They want to be sold the best product that meets their needs! Think about when you are buying and when you feel most confident about a purchase. That's what you want to inspire in them.

+2

I've contemplated writing a short ebook to help people with interviewing, but haven't really gotten around to doing it.  PM me your email address and I'll send you an interview prep sheet and a list of questions that you could be asked, which is broken down into categories of what the interview is likely trying to get at with the question, and questions you could ask.

I think of confidence in interviews as figuring out how to put your best foot forward.  Models claim one side of their face photographs better than the other I've heard.  Well, you don't ever want to lie (or misrepresent) but you want to tell your stories so that you present your best possible self.  As mentioned, answer questions with examples when possible (STAR: describe the Situation, the Task you were given, the Action you took, and the Result).

One key I've found is to not dismiss the "Do you have any questions" part of the interview.  This is your chance to 1) learn more about the job/company (you are interviewing them too remember!  You want this to be a good fit) and 2) to show them you are smart, capable, etc.   Ask questions that show you've done your research.  If you must, ask "why did you choose X company" but that's a really bland and generic question and a waste.  Think about what matters to you most: organization culture, type of work or level of responsibility, resources, supervisorís approach, etc. and ask the questions that will get to the heart of those issues.  And target your question to the other person.  For example in law (my field), ask appropriate questions of a junior (e.g. supervision, type of work, mentoring), midlevel (e.g. culture, business development, training), partner (e.g. partnership prospects), management partner (e.g. strategic), and senior partner.

Finally, think of it as a conversation rather than an interview.  You WANT the interview to mentally put away the sheet of notes and just start conversing with you (and imagining you in the job) rather than have an awkward back in forth where they read out loud a question on the list of questions they were given.

DoubleDown

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In my answer above, people seem to be focusing on the so-called "false weakness" answer. This is missing the forest for the trees. The bigger issue here is to research the most common interview questions and the positive/winning answers for them. I did not invent the answer of "I work too hard sometimes" or any of the other suggested answers to the common interview questions -- professional hiring managers and interviewers did. Anyone who wants to do well in an interview would be wise to prepare in advance with them.

Regarding the so-called "false weakness" answer: It is a winning answer in an interview, and anyone saying otherwise is contradicting hard evidence to the contrary. It came recommended by hiring managers, and I've used it repeatedly in the past and have gotten many job offers after these interviews. In one case, that question came up in an interview for a position with 4,000 candidates. I got the job. I've been an interviewer and hiring manager as well, and would give high marks to that answer from a candidate.

Pegasus

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Regarding the arrogance point, we passed on a campus recruiting hire who was rude to the young woman from HR who organized the recruiting day.  In the recap after all the interviews, she commented that she wasn't sure it was important but that one candidate had treated her rudely.  It was important to us!

genselecus

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I'd second the comment to make sure you have plenty of questions to ask. I don't know if you'll be interviewing with only one person or with multiple, but I would plan to have at least 5 questions that you can go to towards the end of the interview(s). Depending on the level of the person, you'll ask different questions, but you should have at least 2 interesting questions for each person you interview with. Also, if you feel like the interview is going really well, you can be a little more bold and thought provoking with the questions, and depending on their answers, you'll get a good feel of how they think the interview is going. The ultimate goal is to have your interviewer do a shift during the interview where they stop interviewing you and start selling the organization so that you'll join.

Good luck!!!

gimp

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Here's a specific way of how to build and show confidence, beyond the nebulous advice of "Be Confident":

When I was a job-seeker getting out of college long ago, I got hold of a list of the "20 Most Common Interview Questions and Suggested Answers." That thing was gold. I would not be exaggerating to say that 95%+ of the questions asked of me in every interview I went on (and I went on dozens since I was casting a broad net at the time) were covered by that list. That means I was prepared with good answers for at least 95% of the questions that were asked, out of hundreds.

I gotta know what field you work in. Most of the questions I had were much more like "Okay, here's a problem [one we have, or a synthetic problem] let's talk about the components of the problem and how you might go about solving it. Okay, now let's throw in this monkey wrench, and let's say that this method won't work." A couple problems were standard, most were specific to the team and to the person interviewing me. Especially in those 8-person interview days, probably at least half wanted to talk specifically about a problem or test case they came up with.

DoubleDown

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Here's a specific way of how to build and show confidence, beyond the nebulous advice of "Be Confident":

When I was a job-seeker getting out of college long ago, I got hold of a list of the "20 Most Common Interview Questions and Suggested Answers." That thing was gold. I would not be exaggerating to say that 95%+ of the questions asked of me in every interview I went on (and I went on dozens since I was casting a broad net at the time) were covered by that list. That means I was prepared with good answers for at least 95% of the questions that were asked, out of hundreds.

I gotta know what field you work in. Most of the questions I had were much more like "Okay, here's a problem [one we have, or a synthetic problem] let's talk about the components of the problem and how you might go about solving it. Okay, now let's throw in this monkey wrench, and let's say that this method won't work." A couple problems were standard, most were specific to the team and to the person interviewing me. Especially in those 8-person interview days, probably at least half wanted to talk specifically about a problem or test case they came up with.

Wow, is that in engineering? Those sound like some difficult questions!!

At the time after college, I was interviewing for software development/management consulting jobs (Accenture, Price Waterhouse Coopers, etc.). But literally everywhere I went in my career (including some radical career changes later on), those same questions always came up in one form or another:

"What are your strengths? Weaknesses?"
"Why do you want this job?"
"Name a difficult situation you've encountered and how you dealt with it"
"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
Etc.

gimp

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Yeah, engineering. I love those kinds of questions; they're way easier for me than form questions. Form questions have form answers the interviewer wants to hear. A question about a real problem means the interview has turned into a conversation where we discuss needs, problems, and pitfalls. Every interviewer expects you to have a cursory knowledge of their area, and the ability to relate it to work you've done so you can draw on experience to come up with a barebones but workable strategy.

I've been asked twice why I want to work at $company. I've never been asked about my strengths and weaknesses, or difficult situations. Career goals were touched on but barely, maybe once or twice. I figure the strengths and weaknesses question is very common but I think an engineer will find it much easier to just figure it out based on our conversation than to ask me and try to guess how much I'm lying.

Marigold

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Hi Everyone

Thanks for the advice so far. There will be three people at the interview - The hiring manager, a subject matter expert, and an HR person.

I have had the opportunity to ask my HR contact some questions in advance and have been careful to always thank her for her time.


« Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 08:25:50 PM by Marigold »

DeepEllumStache

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One of the best tips I got was that interviewers are looking to not only hire someone who could do the job, but someone they'll enjoy working with.  The reverse is also true, you are interviewing them to see if this is a good fit for you.  It's awesome that you're interviewing with your hiring manager since that will give you a general idea of what your day to day interactions with this person would be like.

My favorite questions to ask in the "do you have any questions" part of the interview are:
Why did you join this company?
What is the biggest challenge you see this organization/role facing?
What would you change if you had the opportunity?

A lot of what I'm looking for when I'm being interviewed is compatibility.  How the interviewer(s) answer those questions is as important as their actual answer.

arebelspy

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How'd the interview go, Marigold?
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
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Marigold

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Thanks for asking how the interview went - I just recently found out that I passed it!

:)

I am very excited about this potential job as it's a great fit with my academic background and skills. I noted the commute in my first post about going on an interview, but that was more of a perk that I found out about later. I actually didn't realize how close the position was to my home.

Grateful Stache

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How'd the interview go, Marigold?

Always a gentleman, arebelspy!

Thanks for asking how the interview went - I just recently found out that I passed it!

Cheers and congrats!
« Last Edit: July 06, 2014, 09:23:04 PM by Grateful Stache »

Simple Abundant Living

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Replying to this thread to bookmark it...

I'm trying to get into the only PA school in my state.  (5% of applicants are accepted) If I get offered an interview, I want to read this advice again!  Thanks!

arebelspy

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Thanks for asking how the interview went - I just recently found out that I passed it!

:)

Nice, way to go!

Now I'm curious about the thread title - how did it go in the interview treading the line between selling yourself and arrogance? :)
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
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labrat

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Thanks for asking how the interview went - I just recently found out that I passed it!

:)

Nice, way to go!

Now I'm curious about the thread title - how did it go in the interview treading the line between selling yourself and arrogance? :)

Congratulations - how fantastic!!!  Yes, how was the actual interview? Was it smooth sailing the entire time, or did anything trip you up a bit?  I think it's a real art to have just the right amount of confidence while remaining personable and genuine.