How to talk about your skills in an interview

The Job Studio - Birmingham Careers Advice and Coaching
By Sarah Blunt
woman speaking on phone selling her skills in an interview

When it comes to interviews, there’s one thing an employer always wants to know - that you’ve got the skills they’re looking for. But what can you do if you struggle talking about your skills in an interview or worry about coming across as too boastful? In this post I'll share 5 steps to help you talk confidently about your skills in an interview, so you can impress your interviewers and get that job offer.

Step 1: Know what skills you have to offer

Before you start thinking how to talk about your skills in an interview, be clear what skills you’ve got to offer. A great way to do this is by completing a skills audit. This is a questionnaire that you fill in by reflecting on your past experience. It can be a really helpful tool for mapping your skills, and identifying those you need to work on. It should also give you a confidence boost ahead of an interview as you'll soon realise just how many skills you've got to offer!

Step 2: Find out what skills the employer wants

It's no good talking about skills in an interview unless they're relevant for the role you're applying for. The employer should have listed the skills they are looking for in the job advert or person specification (this is often found in the job description). If you can't find this, you'll have to use your judgement by thinking about the main tasks required in the role. For example, if you're applying for a desk-based job, chances are you'll be needing organisation and IT skills. A good site to help with this is Prospects which has over job profiles which list the required skills for over 400 roles.

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Step 3: Prepare examples

The biggest mistake people make when talking about their skills in an interview is not giving examples. Examples are just situations from your past experience that evidence each skill in action. Having examples will back up your claims and act as evidence, giving the employer reassurance that you really do have the skills they need.

So how do you decide which examples to use when talking about your skills in an interview? It's actually pretty simple. Reflect on your past experience and think of situations when you've used each skill. Ideally, these examples will be recent (in the last 2-3 years) and if they're from relevant roles/environments, even better.

You'll need to use a structure to present these experiences which is where the STAR technique comes in. Using STAR will make it easy for an employer to see you have the skills they need, and that you're the right candidate for the job. You don't want to rehearse your answers word for word, but should know the key points you want to get across before attending the interview. Use a Job Interview Mind Map to help plan your examples and key points.

Step 4: Listen to the question

Now you've got your examples at the ready, let's turn our attention to the actual interview. One of the most common types of interview questions focuses on skills. These are called competency or behaviour-based questions and often start with 'Tell me about a time when...' or 'Give an example where...' These invite you to give a specific example to evidence a particular skill. These will help you decide which skills in an interview to cover. Here are a few examples with the skill each is testing in brackets:

  • Tell me about a time you had to change your approach to a task at the last-minute… (ADAPTABILITY)
  • Give me and example of a time when you worked in a team and disagreed about a course of action… (TEAM-WORK)
  • Can you think of an example when you used your relationship-building skills successfully? (RELATIONSHIP BUILDING)

For a list of example questions to help you prepare to talk about your skills in an interview, check out my 100+ Job Interview Questions pack.

Step 5: Explain your actions

When it comes to talking about your skills in an interview, there's one technique I always recommend to my clients - to explain your actions within each example. For instance, if you want to evidence your teamwork skills and refer to an example when you motivated a team within your organisation, make sure you explain why you took the steps or actions you did. This will show your confidence in your approach and also help the employer see your expertise in that particular skill.

Want more in-depth advice on responding to competency questions? Check out my blog post How to answer competency-based interview questions for more tips.

Want to practice selling your skills in an interview? My interview coaching service will help you gain confidence and polish your technique.