Context is everything – How to show self-development at an interview

There are some questions that everyone dreads in an interview scenario. Probably top of the list is the where do you see yourself in five years, and running a close second is the one about self-development. Perhaps it is because we find it difficult to talk about ourselves, or maybe it is because we feel we are under pressure to say what the interviewer wants to hear. Whatever the reason, how to show self-development in an interview seems to be a difficult area for many candidates.

Dos and Don’ts

Over the years, we have gathered some really helpful practical tips on how to talk about your development. So, here are a few dos, don’ts and general thoughts on how to get the most out of the self-development question at the interview.

– Don’t over-focus on the method at the expense of the outcome. You may be really interested in the nitty-gritty of your techniques or training, but the interviewer just needs to know the important stuff such as the qualification if appropriate or the outcomes. Most importantly, they want the practical application.

– Do talk about your continued development. The employer doesn’t expect you to be perfect, and even more importantly, they want to see you are keen to become a better team member as time passes. So, try to link development to future actions. How does your current development link to the next stage of your improvement?

– Make a plan of where you want to improve and where you see yourself heading. Sit down and create a three-column table. In the first column, write goals for your development. This could be anything from taking a professional qualification through to doing something self-driven like improving your fitness or reading self-development books. In the second column write where you are now on the road to that goal. It could be no progress, or it could be that you are already on that journey. In the final column, write two to three practical steps you could take towards your goal. Things you could actually implement that will schedule your improvement. Once you have this table, every time you go for an interview, condense it down to the most relevant goals for the job and have them in your mind ready to answer the question.

– Sound really enthusiastic about development. If you sound like you are invested in your career, it goes a long way to convincing employers that you are worth considering. Talk about looking forward to the challenges of growing your skills over time.

– Remember that often at the interview stage, an employer is still not 100% sure of who they are looking for. If the interview process didn’t have relevance to the actual specifics of the job offer, everyone would simply employ from the skills list on a CV. They don’t though, because not only does an employer want to know the candidate is someone they think will fit in the team, they are also usually looking for the ‘wow factor’. Someone who has defined goals for development and can talk confidently about how they have improved and want to continue to improve, is a far more attractive proposition for the panel.

– Finally, context, context and more context. When it comes right down to it, the interviewer is looking for something very specific in a candidate. They want them to not only be able to do the job they applied for, but they want them to be able to do it well. Putting your self-development and future development into context is short-cutting a part of the process of deciding who to employ. Rather than the panel having to work out how your development is relevant to them, tell them how it is. If you can link your development to the workplace you are interviewing for you will really put it into context for the interview panel. If you can focus that right down to a specific desirable skill for the role, then you are really hitting the mark. If you have recently started a new fitness goal, for example, make it specific to the role. Perhaps talk about how your new-found fitness is helping you have more energy through the day so you can focus better or similar. Development for development’s sake is absolutely fine, but in the interview, putting things into context could well be the small push that tips you over into the candidate of choice.

As a final thought on development goals…

So far, we have discussed this in terms of how you utilise it in the interview environment, but having a self-development plan and focusing on where you want to be in your career is always worth the effort. We sometimes find that when someone starts to really examine their personal goals, they realise the current job is actually not quite meeting their needs.


Contact us if you want to talk through your accountancy career path to see how we can help you meet the right employer to get you where you need to go.

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