Dear Shannon: How can I make an impact in job interviews?

Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wanna-be professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to

Dear Shannon,

I have been working in international development with a focus on climate change adaptation in Africa for the past five years. I have applied for around 20 international development roles since the New Year and been invited in for five interviews, but I've never made it to the final round. Obviously I'm doing something wrong, but I have no idea what. I've talked about it with friends and fellow students, but they don't know either. I'm well presented and articulate, I always research the company and I have relevant experience. Short of a mock interview, is there any advice you can offer?

-- Sam, Capetown

Hello Sam,

Congratulations! You've been getting the interviews and that is half the battle. The next challenge is to prove your worth under the spotlight and show off your interpersonal skills.

If you're already sure you're turning up to the interview looking the part, knowing something about the company you're interviewing for and articulating yourself well, it's likely that you're giving a good interview. So why aren't you getting the job? Probably because you're not giving a great interview -- and the competition is.

Chart your career journey

A key part of your preparation should be a coherent and descriptive response to that classic interview question: "Walk me through your CV."

This question can make or break a prospective interviewee and in my experience, it's the question that candidates tend to flunk most often. Your ability to side-step around the extraneous detail while highlighting your most relevant skills and achievements will set you apart in an interview context and help you shimmy into the "great" category with confidence.

When I work with my career coaching clients, I encourage them to use a tool I call "My Career Journey." It's a colorful one-page PowerPoint slide that answers that question visually, showing each step you've taken from one area of your life to the next, all the while climbing up the proverbial ladder to the biggest box on the right-hand side that describes the job you're interviewing for.

The basic idea is that you explain the rationale behind each step you've taken in your life, while clearly outlining the skills you've acquired. The steps could be jobs or university or living abroad -- whatever is relevant to the hiring manager and the role. But it serves a dual purpose. In addition to setting out your path clearly and simply, the process of actually creating this slide forces you to build a narrative around it that makes sense to you. As you select the most relevant pieces of your career journey and cram them into punchy bullet points, you'll find that you can easily talk about them. Make sure to leave a hard copy of that slide with the interviewer. This never fails to impress the hiring manager and shows that you made that extra effort to stand out.

Calendar image by FuzzBones via Shutterstock.

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