Career Adventure

career development from both sides of the interview table

Interview Question of the Week: Tell Me About Yourself

Today I’m launching a new feature: Interview Question of the Week.  Each week I’ll share a new potential interview question, along with some thoughts on effective and ineffective answers.  Different interviewers have different goals with various questions, so if you have a different take, please share in the comments.

In keeping with kicking off the series, this week’s question is the one that so often kicks off interviews: Tell me about yourself.

Now, I’m sure your poodle, Fluffy, is delightful and your ballroom dance classes are really paying off, but this isn’t what I’m looking to hear about here.

Your answer to this question is the interview equivalent of an elevator pitch, your opportunity to create a picture of who you are and what you offer in 2 minutes or less.  It should be:

  • Well-rehearsed. If nothing else, this.  This is a softball question — after all, what could you know more about than yourself?  If you can’t knock this one out of the park, your following responses will be overshadowed.
  • Professionally focused. I am all for injecting personality into the speech.  It humanizes you as a candidate and sparks conversation.  But such tidbits should be garnish.  Your experience, background and career focus should be the meat.  So, if you must tell me about Fluffy, great, but do so after I hear about your success leading teams, developing software, meeting sales quotas, or whatever it is that you do.
  • New information.  An interviewer has your resume.  Some of your intro will have to touch on items on your resume, but take this opportunity to fill in the context.  Share motivation, challenges, turning points, whatever is appropriate to flesh out the narrative.

If you’re struggling with what to say, rephrase the question in your head.  Answer the question: “Why are you here today applying for this job?”  Tackle, tactfully, why you’re looking and what you think you have to offer.  The train of thought probably looks like this.

You focused:

  1. My name is _____ and I’ve worked in _____ for _____ years.
  2. I started my career with …
  3. Over time I moved up the ranks to work in _____ and _____.
  4. Most recently I’ve worked for _____ in their _____ area.
  5. I joined the company to help them with …
  6. But over time my role grew to include …
  7. While I’ve enjoyed the opportunity I’ve come to believe a new position is appropriate at this time because…

Position and Company Focused:

  1. I learned about your company through …
  2. I know that you have a need in _____ area …
  3. My knowledge about your company strategy/culture/etc. made me believe that I may be able to assist you because…
  4. I think my experience could assist you with …
  5. And I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss how I can assist you here today.

Write and rewrite your basic script.  Use descriptive language.  Use humor if you can.  Understand that this speech isn’t just designed to provide background — it’s designed to make the interviewer like you.

If you do well with this question, you will surpass the vast majority of your competition, and you may just pave the way for a more congenial, enjoyable interview.

Any luck with this method?  See things differently?  Let me know in the comments.

Filed under: howto, Interview Question of the Week, job hunt, , , , , ,

Another reason to diversify

Your job efforts, that is.

New statistics show that online job searching is skyrocketing, especially on some of the less-known job sites.

The same article points out that women spend more time on searching online.  Their conclusion — women are being disproportionately affected by the economy.  I’ll throw out an alternative — women may be less likely to use their networks to find their next opportunity.

So, keep in mind that the competition online is getting tougher, and adjust the time you spend there accordingly.  Then, find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Filed under: job hunt, trends, , , , , , ,

Neuroscience and You: Working with your brain on your job hunt

One of the most enriching parts of Human Resources work for me is involvement in coaching.  While I’m searching for a new position, I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on research, discussion and methodology to hone my coaching abilities.

So, wandering through iTunes today, I ran across some recordings from the 2008 Asia Pacific Neuroleadership Summit via Results Coaching Systems in Australia.  Listening to “Coaching with the Brain in Mind” brought forth a point that may be worth considering in prepping for your next job interview:

Stress can literally short-circuit your ability to put forward your best self

David Rock shares the following about the way the brain works:

  • We have the capability to change the way we think and behave, but it requires significant conscious effort and attention.
  • The brain contains vast amounts of information.  As a way to maximize efficiency, the brain’s natural instinct is to move information that we utilize on a regular basis from working memory, which takes a lot of energy and resources, to our “hard wiring.”
  • Stressful situations, especially situations where we fear for our image or sense of self, overwhelm the brain with electrical activity.
  • This increased activity causes the brain to seek self-preservation through stasis, reverting to those behaviors that are hard wired and automatic.

Prepping for an interview is essential to putting forward your very best self.  But how do you target your prep so that you can overcome the effects of stress and focus on the content of the interview, rather than the context?  Answer: move as much as possible into your hard-wiring so that you can focus your attention on the fine-tuning.

Level 1:  Behaviors

The straightforward piece of this is identifying behaviors that might interfere with your perceived professionalism, energy or intellect.  Things like posture, rate of speech, word choice, facial expressions or manner of dress all have an impact on your first impression and the way you connect with an interviewer.  Luckily, these are all things you can practice every day, not just in an interview situation.  Make a list of things you’d like to work on.  Ask trusted friends, family or colleagues to help you identify areas of improvement if you need an outside perspective.  Then look for opportunities to practice more effective behaviors.  Maintain good posture while driving.  Put a quarter in a jar every time you say “like” or “um.”  Whatever it takes.

Level 2: Content

One of the best ways to prepare for interviews is to create narratives around your past projects and experiences that demonstrate your work.  In another post, we’ll talk about how to craft effective answers for behavioral interviewing questions.  For now, understand that every experience and project listed on your resume is ripe for questioning.  Take time to develop short speeches, one to three minutes each, identifying how these experiences have qualified you for the next step in your career.  Then practice, practice, practice.  If you can ensure that your attention in an interview doesn’t need to be on the details of your experience, you can better customize the story to the situation or react to facial expressions or body language that may tip you off to questions or concerns the interviewer holds.

Power Tip: Refining the system

Last thing to do: institute quality control.  If you’re in a situation where you recognize that these behaviors you’ve been practicing didn’t come through, take note, then practice that behavior more.

With work, you can develop a more professional, confident demeanor that comes through in the most stressful of circumstances.

Filed under: job hunt, mindset, , , , , , , ,

The five things I want out of a job candidate

There are dozens of places to find tips on interviewing, including this one.  Much of the advice you’ll find is foundational — the basics that are required to get your rear end into the interview chair and to be considered on the same plane as your fellow candidates.

The basics are important.  Trust me, plenty of people get them wrong.  But my wish-list when I’m looking for new staff includes more than shined shoes and plenty of fresh resumes.

Nothing pleases a recruiter more than a candidate that just rocks the interview.  When the conversation pops.  When you want to trade them their fresh resume for the employee handbook and keys to their new office.  But these people are few and far between.

These five things are so rare to see, but so powerful.  If I have anything to say about it, they’re guaranteed to get you an offer:

  1. Clarity — Show me that you’ve thought about this opportunity and exactly how it will fit your master career plan.  Tell me exactly what you want out of a new employer, and exactly why you think my company might be able to offer it.  But first, tell me what you do best and how you think it fits with what we’re asking.  If you hem or haw you’ve lost me.  Don’t be a know-it-all — I know better than you do what I’m looking for — but use what you do know to connect to what you have to offer.  I’ll help you fill in the gaps.
  2. Blue-sky attitude — The last thing I want is a that’s-not-my-jobber, the person who performs within their job description and checks out at 5 pm.  Think of where your value is in the organization, and how you can grow your contribution.  Be open to change.  Bonus points for proof you’ve initiated it.
  3. Curiosity — I always leave about a third of the interview time, sometimes more, to answer a candidate’s questions.  Please don’t be the shortest interview of the day by not having any.  My ideal candidate wants to understand the organization even if they don’t get the job — they can always file info away under “industry knowledge.”  Specific questions about the company, industry, market trends, challenges, opportunities, growth plan…  all of these show an interest in what makes the organization tick, and make for a much more interesting conversation.
  4. Energy — Don’t get too comfortable — you’ll look like you’re on auto-pilot.  Stay engaged in the conversation.  Lean towards me; smile.  Gesture precisely.  Walk confidently.  Then tell me about the time that you put in eighty hour weeks to crank out a client deliverable or the fact that you spend weekends working with Habitat for Humanity.  I want to see someone who thrives off of challenge, enrichment, personal development.  If I as the employer can offer you that, I can expect an engaged, successful performer.
  5. Action — This one is the most important.  The first four show ability and state of mind.  Action is what gets results.  Behavioral-based interviewing is very common, with questions like “Tell me about the time you managed a project against a difficult deadline.”  These questions give you a chance to show me not just what you know, but how you use it.  Tell me in detail what you did and what came of it.  Action, result, action, result, wash, rinse, repeat.  Prove that you’ve delivered value in your previous roles, so that I can expect the same.

Demonstrating these qualities in an interview will put you far ahead of your competition.

Filed under: job hunt, ,

HowTo LinkedIn #1: Creating your unique URL

What web site is at the top of an IT professional’s must-know list this year? Sites like Green Grid and Secunia are focused on optimizing and protecting the corporate network, but the New York Times’ top pick is a site that helps the IT professional optimize and protect their career brand — LinkedIn.

The value of networking is highlighted when the job market is unstable.  If you’re in transition or think there’s a chance you may end up there, a daily focus on networking is a good habit to create.

This post marks the first in a series on how to get the most out of LinkedIn as a professional networking tool.  Over the course of the series, you can expect to learn both basics and best practices for creating a professional presence online.

Creating your unique profile URL

By default, new LinkedIn users get a randomly-generated URL address for their public profiles.  A standard random URL might look like this:

With a few clicks of the mouse (and a little typing) you can select your own custom URL, which would look more like this:

Easier to remember, easier to share, and therefore more likely to successfully direct someone to your profile.

Changing your URL is easy enough.  While logged in, in the left navigation area, click “Edit My Profile” under the Profile header.  In the first large profile block, you’ll see a line that says “Public Profile” followed by the current URL location.  By clicking “Edit” to the right of the URL, you can select an available, unique URL for your profile.

The slightly harder piece is thinking about how to use the custom URL to manage your online brand.  Google and other search engines index LinkedIn profiles, and they typically get good visibility.  So, deciding on your URL takes two simple steps:

  1. Create a URL that will attract traffic. Using your name as your URL is common, and effective, especially if your name is unique or if you believe someone may search for you by name.  Or, you can develop a keyword-based URL.  Think “ILtechnicalrecruiter” or “freelancecommunicator” or the like.  Web traffic is all about being keyword-rich, and the URL is no exception.
  2. Don’t change it. LinkedIn allows you to change your custom URL, but each time you make a change you’re losing people who may have bookmarked you, and traffic off of search engines.  Choose a simple, quality custom URL to begin with and keep it.

That’s it.  Simple start, right?  You’re already closer to a fully optimized LinkedIn presence.

Watch for upcoming posts as we work our way through creating a profile that represents you professionally, and just might make the connection that leads to your next opportunity.

Filed under: howto, networking, web tools, , ,

Where the jobs are

Amidst the less-than-stellar employment statistics is a ray of hope for those working, or aspiring to work, in select industries.

Government, health care and education added jobs in December.

If you’ve been contemplating pursuing nursing or becoming a teacher, the opportunities may still be out there for you.

Filed under: job hunt, trends, , , , ,

Don’t let job loss get in the way of job found

Even the most hard-nosed executive harbors some self-doubt — the little voice that questions decisions and pauses in the face of challenge.  And if one thing can turn that little voice into a frenzied chorus of criticism it’s job loss.

It’s been almost two weeks since I found myself on the corporate chopping block.  In the first days, I experienced shock and panic.  Now, my job search and daily activities operate over an undercurrent of malaise.  I have more difficulty focusing.  I notice myself reading and re-reading my correspondence.  My train of thought occasionally derails in Worst Case Scenarioville.  None of these helps me project my very best self to potential employers.

If you’re in a similar boat, it makes sense to spend at  least part of your focus mentally preparing yourself for your job search.  Here’s a few ideas for moving past a layoff into a brighter future:

  • Get it out —  Find a way to purge your feelings about the situation.  Write nasty letters to your former employer that you’ll never send.  Jump up and down and scream a bit.  Hit the gym and run it out of you.  Whatever you need to do.  Spend time destressing each day for the first week or so, and then whenever you feel those doubts and fears sneaking up on you again.
  • Get a goal — My first instinct was to rush out and get a job.  Any job.  Please someone, anyone, just employ me!  But then I realized that rarely do you have the opportunity to devote all of your energies to identifying and pursuing your highest and best use.  What a shame to lose that chance.  Consider where you want to go next.  Type of job.  Type of company.  Geography.  Compensation.  Look at everything, and make a plan.
  • Get moving —  Take control over something that will move you closer to your goal.  Take a class to enhance your skills.  Network with anyone and everyone.  Make sure you spend time each day taking concrete, if small, steps that move you towards your goal.
  • Get comfortable — Understand that a job search takes time, and adjust accordingly.  Trim your budget, get a handle on time management, and accept that this may be your state of being for the foreseeable future.  As long as you’re being productive, allow yourself to take advantage of the positive aspects of unemployment.  Spend more time with friends and family.  Read that fantastic book that’s languished on your nightstand. (Business book?  Even better!)  Balance will help your state of mind.
  • Get your story straight — It’s common to feel shame after a job loss, regardless of the circumstances, but shame doesn’t get anyone a new gig.  Write yourself a “why I’m looking for a new job” spiel that focuses on the positive.  Look in the mirror and repeat out loud until you don’t see any sign of weakness.

Don’t know where to start?  Here, you can have mine:

I’m looking for a new opportunity after being downsized due to economic conditions.  I really enjoyed my time with Company X and had the opportunity to work on some fantastic and challenging projects, and I’m glad that those experiences have prepped me for the next step in my career.  I’ve had the opportunity to really focus on where I can add the most value to my next employer, and this opportunity seems like a great fit.  I’d love to learn more.

Or, you know, something like it.

With some mental prep work and a ready made, positive answer for the inevitable question of why you left your last position, you’ll be able to confidently shift the interviewer’s focus to where it belongs — what a great asset you would be to their company.

Filed under: job hunt, , ,

Redefining success for Gen Y: Employers take note

I was an “achiever” as a kid, more likely to be someone’s pick for lab partner than for shortstop.  I think I was like many fellow Gen Xers in that success had a prescribed path: I could be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist.  (Funny, investment banking wasn’t even on the radar…)  No one gave me one of those “career interest” tests that tell you whether you should be an astronaut or a bank teller.  The focus was on where I could get the most bang for my college buck.  So much so that when I expressed interest in engineering, there was a strong lobbying to go into chemical engineering for the higher pay despite the fact that, well, I didn’t like chemistry.

But as today’s college graduates enter the workforce, few careers offer stability, and some of the top-earning fields have completely tanked.  In the absence of the foregone-conclusion money machine careers, where is a smart, ambitious new grad to go?

Allison Jones of Entry Level Living puts out a call to new grads to consider the public sector.  With “Yes We Can” becoming the national catch phrase, it’s not unrealistic to believe young adults might start their careers with positions where they can give back.  And nonprofits’ tendencies towards more casual workplaces and greater flexibility may better suit the Gen Y mindset.

The other growing path for Gen Y folks is entrepreneurship.  As the steady paycheck becomes less steady the level of risk involved in a startup is becoming more palatable.  When you consider that Gen Y may have access to more support for longer in their early adulthood than previous generations (what better office for your new company than your parents’ basement?), entrepreneurship seems completely in reach.

Maybe these pursuits will lead to careers in public service or successful multinational corporations, maybe not.  But employers will be well advised to recognize the value in these alternate paths and adjust their recruiting efforts accordingly.  Tomorrow’s candidate may not have the five years of experience you ask for, but they’ll likely have just the skills you need.

Filed under: entrepreneurship, trends, , , , ,

Cash flow now: Try freelancing

An unplanned employment hiatus (read: layoff) in this economy leaves one pondering the contingencies.  If I don’t locate a new position in three months…  six months…  how do I make ends meet?  What can I do while I wait for that perfect job to come along?

Enter freelancing.

Although the term “freelancing” most often refers to creative endeavors (writing, graphic design, web work), it can take many forms.  Technically, any work for pay but without an employment arrangement can fall into this category. And despite the economic situation, this can be a profitable time for freelancers — more companies may be wary to bring someone on staff full-time and consider outsourcing to someone like you.

Some freelance opportunities to consider:

  • Work in your field — Depending on your experience, you may be able to continue your work after you leave your company.  Do your previous clients still have a need you can fill?  Do you have contacts who know your work and might be interested in hiring you?  Work through your Rolodex (well, the electronic equivalent) and identify people who might need your talents.  Note: Be sure not to run afoul of any non-compete.  Check with an attorney if you’re not sure of your obligations.
  • Career consulting — With so many of us out of work, it’s a great time to find a way to help others on their career adventure while enhancing your own.  Consider resume review (a service I provide, contact me if you’re interested), career coaching, mock interviews or image consulting.  But make sure you can deliver on your promises — no sense compromising your network in the long run for short-term monetary gain.
  • Writing — While creative writing may satisfy your inner muse, it’s copy writing that pays the bills.  To get some writing samples under your belt, you may need to write a piece or two for free.  Look into needs through professional organizations, or do like I do, blog.  Paying work is available both online and in print.  For online, try the job board at ProBlogger (also a good reference for you budding bloggers).  Or try the Editorial Freelancers Association, which has its own jobs section.
  • Virtual Assistant work — If you’d like to capitalize on administrative skills without being at the whim of an employer, consider working as a Virtual Assistant.  VAs provide administrative assistance to client(s) via phone and internet from a home office.  Stacy Brice operates AssistU, a training program for those interested in building a VA business.  Or, you can try one of the many sites that facilitate connections between potential employers and freelancers (Elance and oDesk both offer such services, for VA work as well as writing, web development and more.)

Are you currently freelancing?  What advice would you have for beginners?  Let me know, and you could be profiled in a future story.

Filed under: freelance, ,

Job Boards: Minimum Attention, Maximum Payoff

Even though job boards aren’t the most likely source of your next job, they’re a staple of the job search process.  But successful use of job boards balances effectiveness against invested time.

The more you can focus your efforts, the better your ROI.  Consider this:

  • Choose your job boards wisely. Oftentimes jobs are posted to more than one of the major job boards (Monster, Careerbuilder, Yahoo! hotjobs).  Consider choosing one that you’re most comfortable with and focusing your efforts there.  Once you’ve got that decided, look for niche job boards in your field or industry.  Professional organizations often offer free job postings to members, so you may find postings not available elsewhere.  Plus, you’ve pre-qualified yourself by way of membership or industry focus, making your application more likely to be reviewed.
  • Let the jobs come to you. Most of the sites offer a job alert function that will email you pertinent job postings as they are posted.  Make this tool work for you.  Select specific keywords for the search and set up multiple searches, if necessary, to make sure all of your bases are covered.  Be ruthless with the parameters, so you can focus on converting good opportunities to interviews, rather than sifting through the chaff.
  • Keep an eye on your privacy. You are a hot commodity.  You know it (or you should, before you hit that big interview), and I know it.  So don’t put yourself on fire sale.  Think twice before posting your resume publicly and consider if it’s in keeping with your career goals.  Recruiters may not have the time or the budget to look for you, especially when they have no idea if you’d be interested in what they have to say.  If you’re looking for a position that’s fairly widely available, posting your personals may pay off.  But if you are targeting a high level role or a niche industry, save yourself the spam — use your online resume for applications only.

Of course, if you’re cruising the job boards in stealth mode, you’ll have to reach out to that potential perfect employer.  Keep an eye out for the next in the series for tips on how to make an impression.

Filed under: job hunt, ,

About Career Adventure

Career Adventure is the blog of Kristi Daeda, a Human Resources and recruiting pro sharing thoughts on career development from both sides of the interview table.

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