When Does a Cliché Become a Cliché?

April 28, 2013

At the end of a long day filled with horrific TV news saturation, I tweeted,

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers.” When does it become a cliché?

“It doesn’t (become a cliché),” said the first person to respond. “Provided it’s said with sincerity, it’s the right thing to say.” Within minutes I received several similar replies. “Only when it is insincere,” said one. “When we stop feeling it,” said another.

For the record, I never questioned the sincerity of the public officials who expressed those sentiments. Public Information Officers are trained, after all, to offer statements, and I believed the array of spokespeople were truly sincere in what they said.

Yet, throughout the day, I heard the phrase “our thoughts and our prayers” so many times that it began to sound trite and canned. When the same words or phrases are repeated often enough, they sound like clichés, at least to me. Perhaps they were not clichés when they initially rolled from the mouths of various speakers, but they likely sounded that way when they hit the ears of the listeners.

A cliché sincerely expressed is still a cliché. For example, I’ve interviewed many job applicants who were sincere in the answers they gave. Their responses sounded trivial, though, because they used the exact same words to tell me the exact same things other candidates were saying. Sure, the interviewees were sincere, yet they failed to stand out because they relied too heavily upon worn clichés.

So when does a cliché become a cliché? Is the answer determined by the sincerity of the speaker? Or, could oft-repeated phrases automatically become clichés when the listener has heard them so many times they lose their original punch?

Canned phrases, sanitized talking points and clichés do not get the job done. Spokespeople need to find new ways to keep their messages fresh and relevant. They should speak from the heart and express sincerity in their own unique voice, avoiding the exact same phrases others rotely repeat.


Seven Tips on How To Be Interested

April 22, 2013

Be interested, not interesting. That, in a nutshell, is the key to establishing rapport when networking with others.

Being interested, though, is easier said than done. How does one demonstrate genuine interest? Here are some ideas I use:

  1. Approach the unknown with a sense of adventure. Step into conversations with an expectation of discovery. I anticipate that my questions will lead to hidden treasures.
  2. Cultivate your curiosity. The more I learn about someone or something, the more I realize how much I actually do not know. That awareness lays the foundation for an ongoing journey fueled by an insatiable curiosity.
  3. Ask good follow-up questions. It requires little creativity to ask good first questions. We can demonstrate our interest, however, when we follow up with questions that drill deeper. Ask the other person a series of questions beginning with “Why?” and then prompt the person with, “Tell me more.”
  4. Encourage someone to connect the dots. I invite the other person to help me align separate pieces of information. As we talk, we build upon what we’ve already discussed, connecting the dots through a game of “if/then.” (If _________, then how does that fit with _________?)
  5. Ask open-ended questions. In the early stages of a conversation, it’s helpful to warm things up by asking “yes or no” questions. We show interest, though, when we move to open-ended questions that require a more thoughtful answer. As we invite others to elaborate and share more, we show a deeper level of interest.
  6. Reciprocate sharing. Interest is also demonstrated through a volley of shared information. I try to make conversations interactive, sharing my own vulnerability as I invite others to do likewise. The best conversations are two way, relying upon the ebb and flow of interactive communications.
  7. Express gratitude. I’m always thankful for the newfound knowledge and understanding I gain from others. I always try to find creative ways to thank the other person for being open and transparent. In so doing, I imply my continued interest and I invite additional sharing.

We cannot fake being interested in others. We can, however, develop genuine interest by nurturing our innate curiosity. Being interested is a cultivated mindset, a way of life.


Be Interested, Not Interesting

April 14, 2013

Do you cringe at the concept of networking?

Many hate the idea because they are afraid of what others will think about them. They lack confidence in their ability to say the right things or make the right impression.

A well-networked woman once shared with me the key to her networking success:  Be interested, not interesting.

That’s pretty simple! We can succeed by being genuinely interested in others and what they have to say. Our self-imposed angst of networking evaporates when the focus shifts from ourselves to the person on the other side of the table.

My greatest networking success has come as I’ve relinquished the idea that I’m trying to impress someone. I’ve learned to approach networking with a blend of humility and curiosity. First, I acknowledge that every person has something unique to say. I also understand that I can learn and grown from what that person has to share.

I’ve grown to love networking because I can have substantive conversations with some truly inspiring, intriguing and innovative people. I’m not trying to impress upon them that I’m an interesting person. Rather, I’m genuinely interested in them, their knowledge and their ideas.

To anyone trying to network more effectively, to anyone hoping to become a better conversationalist or to anyone preparing for an upcoming job interview, here’s the best advice I can give you:

Be interested, not interesting.


Four Thank You Notes that Fizzled, One that Sizzled

June 29, 2012

This month I conducted in-person interviews with five candidates for an opening on my communications team. Each person followed up with an email or a handwritten thank you note.

One of the notes said:

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me about the communications position. After speaking with you, I am confident that I would be an asset to your team. It was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks again.

I received three more just like that. The names of those four candidates could easily have been interchanged and it would have made no difference. Those individuals filled their notes with bland cliches that failed to differentiate them from the other candidates. Unfortunately, the messages did nothing to remind me why they might be the best fit for the position.

With an opportunity to move our conversations to a deeper level, those candidates were content to communicate with trivial pleasantries. Read the rest of this entry »

What They Did Right AFTER the Interview

June 27, 2012

As a hiring manager, I looked at more than a hundred resumes this month. I talked with so many people that I had trouble keeping everyone straight.

I even interviewed a handful of highly-qualified candidates. While those interviews were energetic and invigorating, the substance of what we talked about began to fade in the days following the interviews.

The most impressive candidates were those who did everything they could to keep their memory alive. Here are some of the specific things they did right after the interview:

  1. While the memory of our conversations were still fresh in my mind, they quickly followed up with emails and handwritten notes.
  2. They reiterated their enthusiasm. As an interviewer, I often wonder what the candidate thought about the job after our conversation. Sometimes people become less interested as they learn more about a specific job, so it’s always nice to be reassured that their interest has continued to grow.
  3. They reminded me how their qualifications matched my needs. They refreshed my memory by giving specific reasons why they would be the ideal fit for my job opening. Read the rest of this entry »

What They Did Right DURING the Interview

June 25, 2012

A week after interviewing candidates for a job opening, I noticed that some individuals were more memorable. I recalled the substance of some conversations better than others.

Several candidates were able to effectively differentiate themselves because of what they did during the interview. Here are some of the ways they separated themselves from the rest of the pack:

They were appropriately REACTIVE.

The best conversations came when candidates were not focused on providing the “right answers.” Rather, they responded to my questions by providing genuine, authentic and transparent answers. They demonstrated they were reactive in the following ways:

  1. They allowed me to set the pace of the conversation. They would slow down to elaborate when I requested more information. They would also pick up the pace when they sensed they had shared adequate information.
  2. They responded to my questions without rambling with answers to questions I did not ask. They listened carefully to what I asked and then reacted by providing thoughtful, transparent answers.
  3. They reacted to my body language or looked for other clues to make sure they were getting their message across. At times, they even asked for immediate feedback to ensure that they had appropriately addressed the questions I asked. Read the rest of this entry »

What They Did Right BEFORE the Interview

June 22, 2012

Five minutes into an interview, I can easily tell how well a person has prepared for our meeting.

Some individuals like to interview so they can practice talking about themselves.

The real winners, though, are those who focus on helping me connect the dots between my needs (first priority) and their qualifications (secondary priority). An interviewee can connect those dots only if he or she has thoroughly prepared ahead of time.

Two weeks ago I interviewed several stellar applicants for a key communications job. I observed certain characteristics among those who interviewed well, and it became obvious that prior to our meeting they had done the following:

  1. They studied the organization to learn about our strengths and weaknesses. They came into the meeting with a basic understanding of the opportunities and threats we faced. They had done their due diligence.
  2. From their research, they saw opportunities where they could make a difference. They envisioned the unique impact they could have. Prior to coming into the meeting with me, they had already connected the dots in their own mind.
  3. They anticipated that I might invite them to, “Tell me about yourself.” They rehearsed their response so it was not a redundant, verbal summary of what I’d already seen on their resume. Instead, they customized their “positioning statements” so they could describe themselves in a differentiated way. Read the rest of this entry »

A Hiring Manager’s Reflections on a Successful Recruiting Process

June 20, 2012

This week I’ll wrap up the recruitment and selection of my new communications manager. As I look back on the six-week process, three thoughts resonate in my mind:

  1. The number of applicants was overwhelming. Though I’m confident I selected the right person, I feel sad knowing that the orchard was so full of low-hanging fruit that I was unable to connect with many, many qualified candidates.
  2. Too many really good people do a really bad job of branding themselves. They look the same, they use the same worn cliches and therefore they blend into a seamless stretch of beige. Only a few differentiated themselves.
  3. The tools for conducting a successful job search have changed. Five years ago a resume was much more important than it is today. Too many people waste time obsessing on their resume when they should be using other methods to differentiate themselves.

Among equally-qualified candidates, differentiation comes from being findable online. Differentiation comes from swimming in the deeper end of the social media pool. Differentiation comes with having writing samples, blog posts and other content show up when someone Googles your name.

From the overwhelming number of applicants, I selected a core group of impressive, highly-qualified individuals to interview in person. They had successfully differentiated themselves. They showed up in a Google search. They made it easy for me to learn more about them before I even called to schedule an interview.

The finalists I personally interviewed did certain things I wish every candidate would do. In the next three blog posts I will share 1) what they did right before the interview, 2) how they handled themselves during the interview and 3) what impressed me with their follow through after the interview.

To Be Findable, Share Your Content Online

February 2, 2012

To a great extent, you can control what people see when they Google your name. You can proactively create the content that fills your digital footprint.

I suggest you create content that reflects the three dimensions of what your brand represents. Those categories are:

  1. Who you are professionally. LinkedIn is the basic platform for sharing this information. You may also decide to use other websites—perhaps even your own url—where you can showcase your portfolio, resume and other relevant information.
  2. Who you are personally. I recommend using Facebook for this purpose. If, however, you prefer not to use Facebook as a branding tool, then I suggest your work very hard to find another online presence where people can see you as a real person.
  3. How you view the world. A blog is an excellent way to share your ideas and your perspective. I recommend that your first blog posts provide information that you hope your next employer will ask you in an interview.

Creating and sharing content will make you more finadable online. This will help you build your personal brand and will increase your chances of being interviewed and ultimately hired.


These ideas on personal branding were originally presented during two workshops I conducted for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. The sessions were attended by current and aspiring nonprofit leaders who came from across the nation for the annual Alliance Management/Leadership Institute, the nation’s largest leadership development and networking symposium for students, faculty and nonprofit professionals. —DH

To Be Findable, Expand Your Digital Footprint

February 1, 2012

Google your name. The search results represent your digital footprint.

Do you like what you see?

Does your online presence help someone understand 1) who you are professionally, 2) who you are personally and 3) how you see the world around you? Does your digital footprint contain enough information for a prospective employer to “know” you before he or she calls you for a first interview?

When you look at your digital footprint, ask yourself how much of it you actually created? How much it was created by others? Do you have control over your personal brand?

You can expand your digital footprint and actually shape your online image by being findable on at least three social media platforms. I recommend LinkedIn, Facebook and a blog as the basics for building your online image. You can then connect your social media platforms by linking them together. For example, you can put a link in your Twitter profile directing people to your blog. Then, in the “About Me” tab of your blog, you can include links to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

To be findable in a competitive job market, deliberately look for ways to expand your online presence. You really can create and control the size and shape of your digital footprint, so make it impressive.


These ideas on personal branding were originally presented during two workshops I conducted for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. The sessions were attended by current and aspiring nonprofit leaders who came from across the nation for the annual Alliance Management/Leadership Institute, the nation’s largest leadership development and networking symposium for students, faculty and nonprofit professionals. —DH

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