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I'm a software engineer and my general approach to interviewing is to give as an accurate representation of my skills/shortcomings as possible and let the employer decide if I'm the one they're looking for. I tend to be of the "under-promise and over-deliver type" in the workplace and I guess this carries over to interviews.

Related questions: Will this hurt my chances at getting hired? Will most interviewers assume that I'm exaggerating my skills when I'm, in fact, being honest? Would telling them that I'm being honest help at all?

Edit: I'm a Canadian applying for a position at an American startup

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    Good interviewers can see through people over exaggerating skills and pick out what the candidate really knows. Just present yourself as you are and what you know, be confident in your knowledge and be passionate about it, the interviewer should be able to see that. – Ron Beyer Feb 15 '16 at 4:34
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    A tip: always provide examples that prove your assertion is true – Rhei Feb 15 '16 at 12:27
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    @Lilienthal I didn't think it was a complete answer, so I provided it as a comment. – Ron Beyer Feb 15 '16 at 12:59
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    Giving an honest, accurate representation of skills is selling yourself, as long as that's what the buyer is shopping for. – Brandin Feb 15 '16 at 14:28
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    'I tend to be of the "under-promise and over-deliver type" ' - If your under-promising makes you look like a weaker candidate, you'll never get the chance to over-deliver. – anaximander Feb 17 '16 at 15:17
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Sell honestly, but do sell. Never exaggerate, but don't undersell yourself either. You can assume the other applicants are doing their best to look like the best candidate for the position, hopefully within that same constraint. You need to explain to the interviewer why you're the right person to hire.

I can't speak to what interviewers will or won't assume. I wouldn't say "I'm being honest" -- that opens a can of worms you don't want to go into. Having specific examples to substantiate your answers would help, however, not least because a story is more memorable than an assertion.

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    Selling does not mean lying. Selling means showing the truth under the best possible light. So, +1. – gazzz0x2z Feb 15 '16 at 9:58
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    You don't sell yourself by being pushy/aggressive and saying "Look at me! See how amazing I am!" You sell by showing an understanding of the company's goals and needs then showing that you understand by explaining the role you can play in helping achieve those goals. – DLS3141 Feb 15 '16 at 17:10
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It absolutely will hurt your prospects in reality.

I'm not talking about incompetent people who try to lie their way through the interview. I'm talking about competent people who can sell themselves versus competent people who can't.

Interviews judge your abilities to work by hearing you talk. After an interview, everything they think they know about you is based on a 30 minutes coding test and 2 hours of talking. If 2 people of equal skill pass the coding test, and one is much better at the talking/selling part, not only will the second person get the offer, but the offer will be much higher than the offer the first person would have gotten.

By being better at talking you can get a 50% higher starting salary*. How many years of stellar performance will you need to get that 50% salary increase, especially if you can't sell yourself well during the yearly performance reviews?

How to sell yourself well is a different question. There are courses for that, and they do pay off.


*Some disbelief has been offered in the comments, so let's elaborate: The company has a starting salary in mind, yet there is a timid candidate who fails to highlight their skills and when asked what salary they're looking for they mention a number that's 80% of what the company was willing to pay. This happens all the time. On the other hand a person who can sell themselves highlights all of their skills that are relevant to the position, becomes a highly desirable candidate, and easily get's away with asking for 120% of what the company had in mind - and even then is still a more desirable candidate than the one asking for 80%. 120% is 1.5 times 80%, and this is a simple everyday example. Differences in real life can be much more than that.

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    Do you have a source for these percentage numbers? I can't imagine that two equally skilled programmers, equally qualified, that one could talk their way to a 50% higher salary than the other. Maybe a little more, but not that much. – Ron Beyer Feb 15 '16 at 14:07
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    @RonBeyer Only having experienced it. Of course there's no such thing as identical skill, and skill levels are hard to compare - that's why getting so much more salary is possible in the first place.. – Peter Feb 15 '16 at 15:22
  • How to sell yourself well is a different question. Can you suggest an online course? – Kare Feb 20 '16 at 7:17
  • @Kare I've no experience with online courses. The ones I'm talking about are in person, often evening classes, make you practice what is taught, last multiple sessions and cost $1000+. Usually you can get your company to pay for them. The quality of globally offered courses like e.g. the dale carnegie ones differs significantly by location, so you'd need to look specifically into what are good courses close to where you live. – Peter Feb 20 '16 at 12:12
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As an example (with a CV, not interview): A relative asked me for help with her CV. Everything in her CV was factually correct. I would never have hired her with that CV. After an hour work, everything was still factually correct, and the CV got her the job.

It's annoying, but you are not hired for what you can do. You are hired for what the interviewer thinks you can do. Some people use this to get jobs that they cannot fulfil, others fail to get jobs that they could easily do because they are not selling themselves.

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Most software engineers I have interviewed oversell themselves and trust their wits to get them through. Some don't last long.

So when I interview one I tend to expect some exaggeration. Mostly I just look at their actual accomplishments and qualifications and take the rest with a grain of salt. So perhaps underselling is not the way to go. So don't understate yourself, keep it factual and professional and if it's thorough enough you will impress.

You may lose out to the showboater, but he might be unemployed again in 6 months.

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Selling yourself should never be your focus when you walk into an interview. You've either done the legwork or had someone do it for you to respond to the job opening. You've meticulously prepared your résumé or CV to presentation-quality standards. You have prepared yourself to make the best possible first impression by dressing appropriately for your introduction to your new potential supervisor or manager. The "selling yourself" part of the process is done, but there is an even more important task you need to accomplish once you get the interview.

If this is a job you want with a company you want to work for, you need to find out as much information about that company as you can. You need to determine whether this company is in alignment with your long-term career goals, your personal philosophy, and if their product or service is something that interests you deeply on some level. This is the difference between simply finding a job and advancing your career.

As soon as you sit down in the interview and start discussing the job, your focus should shift to selling your interest in working for this company or organization. Especially when you are applying for an IT position, your ability to communicate and convey your interest in the company over and above the skill set required to simply develop and maintain their systems will be noticed. You need to communicate, by your questions, that you are not just looking for a paycheck. You need to show them that you plan to be there for the long-term, and that you are actively interested in contributing to their success. It's sometimes the difference between simply being an "in-house contractor with benefits" and being given the opportunity to advance in the company.

Hiring managers, especially in the IT field, don't like turnover in permanent positions. If they wanted that, they would hire contractors or outsource. They want to make sure that the people they hire want to work for them, believe in what they do, and can provide a positive return on their investment. Any coder can simply write code. What the managers tend to look for more often than not is someone who can actively demonstrate their willingness to take ownership in the projects they work on, because they themselves are invested in the company's success, as well as their own.

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  • In my career, I have been the interviewer and the interviewee many times. You can "sell yourself" based on your skills only so far. Most hiring managers don't have the technical experience to accurately measure your skills, which is why they include senior developers in the interview process to assess the candidate's skills. If the senior gives you the nod, the manager then wants to know just how invested you are in working for that company, because they don't want to hire someone who will leave in a year or two. Once the interview is over, their interest in you is there or it's not. – Neil T. Feb 15 '16 at 16:10
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Just always answer the questions truthfully and try to give a honest asessment of your skills. Overinflating or exaggerating skills or qualifications gets noticed by competent recruiters, and is unlikely to do you anything but harm.

Even if you get hired based on an exaggerated portrayal of yourself, you now sit in a job with unreasonably high expectations.

In short: No.

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  • @JoeStrazzere That may be a cultural difference between our countrys. "Selling yourself" during an interview has an extremely negative connotation here. – mag Feb 15 '16 at 13:39
  • @JoeStrazzere Germany – mag Feb 15 '16 at 13:40
  • @Magisch: This never occurred to me. It also never occurred to me that "sich bestmöglich verkaufen" has anything to do with lying about your abilities. It's about making the best possible impression, showing an attitude that you can get things done, putting emphasis on your positive sides and showing how they outweigh any negatives. – gnasher729 Feb 16 '16 at 1:16

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