10 Tips for Interviewing Success

April 7, 2010

Last week I was invited by a colleague to participate in the final round of interviews for a key position on her team. As I talked with the five finalists, I observed certain characteristics among those who interviewed exceptionally well. Afterward I jotted down a few notes that might be helpful to others who are preparing for a job interview.

First, be aware that by the time you are scheduled for an interview you have already cleared several hurdles. Apparently you said something in your cover letter to differentiate yourself from the herd of other applicants. The content of your resume indicates that you’ve met the essential criteria listed in the job description. Without question, the person interviewing you has already Googled your name to find any additional information contained in your digital footprint.

Congratulations! You’re on base and in scoring position. You haven’t yet crossed home plate, though, so here are my coaching tips. To emerge the winner, here are several items to remember:

  1. Be yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable “in your own skin” during the interview, that might be an indication that you won’t be comfortable in the job itself.
  2. Exchange enough information so both parties can make a rational decision about whether this will be a good match. Don’t think of the interview as “selling” yourself. Think of it as a first date where you’re just talking to see if there’s potential for a long-term relationship.
  3. Tell stories. Make them interesting. Make them brief. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Not Differentiate Yourself Using Facebook?

March 31, 2010

This week a headline on CNN grabbed my attention. It read, “Young job-seekers hiding their Facebook pages.”

My first thought was, “That’s pretty stupid!”

My second thought was, “If it’s not stupid, it’s at least naive.”

If you are looking for a job, you already have strong competition from other job seekers. Therefore, you need every available tool to differentiate yourself in a crowded job market.  Facebook can be a very effective tool for branding yourself.

The CNN article began with the story of a college student who wanted “to keep his personal life (hidden) from potential employers while applying for summer internships.” I’d like to remind that young person that there is no shortage of people applying for those same internships. So, what sets him apart from all the others? How is he special? How is he differentiated?

The 2.0 world we live in requires authenticity and transparency. Those who are inexperienced in branding themselves naively believe they can present themselves in a one-dimensional way. Read the rest of this entry »

What Do You Do (In Seven Words)?

February 3, 2010

A friend of mine, Mark Whitaker, is an experienced market research professional. His official title is Strategic Research Consultant at The Kansas City Star.

That’s an impressive title, but what does it mean? What does he really do? What impact does he actually make?

In seven words on LinkedIn, Mark summarizes his job as “helping you find the information you need.”

I really like that “job description” for three reasons:

  1. It’s simple. I can understand it without having to translate industry jargon.
  2. It’s differentiating. It really describes what he does, not what his company or co-workers do.
  3. It’s outwardly focused. He describes what he does for others. He focuses on the benefits he provides, not the process involved. Read the rest of this entry »

The Essence of the Red Cross – In Three Words

January 18, 2010

Soon after I began working at the American Red Cross, I realized how deceptively complex the organization actually is. In the context of that complexity, I struggled to succinctly describe the important work we do.

In a previous post, I outlined the creative process we undertook to develop key messages that would be 1) conversational, 2) memorable and 3) differentiating. At the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, we came up with key messages that focused on our role during times of disaster. We finalized on these three words:

W e   a r e   t h e r e.

That’s it—three deceptively simple words. They sit at the apex of our communications pyramid. In one sentence, the American Red Cross can say that during a disaster, “We are there.”

To add dimension and depth to that phrase, we added three bullet points that expanded the “we are there” theme. They are:

  1. We prepare. Before you need us, we are there, anticipating the unexpected. We set the standard for life-saving CPR, first aid and water training skills. We prepare the community with disaster education and preparedness programs. We support blood banks to ensure a safe and adequate supply for all of us.
  2. We respond. During emergencies, we are there, providing immediate relief and reassurance. Ever day, we serve people affected by disasters, at home and around the world. We can immediately activate a trained team of committed volunteers who are always ready to help. During tragedies, we give people ways to come together and assist those in need.
  3. We restore. After disasters, we are there, rebuilding lives and communities. We find answers, information and contacts so people can re-establish their lives. Our global network and extensive partnerships empower us to provide tangible solutions. All disaster assistance is provided free of charge, thanks to donations of time and money from the generous American people. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s the DNA of Your Communications?

January 13, 2010

Can you briefly describe the role of your organization? In a consistent way? In a believable manner? In a way that differentiates you from your competitors?

When I first joined the American Red Cross, my answer to those questions was NO! To my surprise, I struggled to find simple, differentiating ways to describe the important work of the Red Cross. Being responsible for marketing and communications, I knew I had to find a solution quickly.

So, in my simplistic mind, I set out to find or create key messages that met these three criteria:

  1. Conversational. I needed messages that would roll of the tongue and sound genuine. They shouldn’t sound canned or pre-packaged. Personally, I didn’t care much for the stuffy phrase in our mission statement that says we “provide relief to victims of disaster and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.”
  2. Memorable. I wanted something that would stick in my mind even when I didn’t have a cheat sheet in front of me. I wanted to have anchor messages that would still be there if my mind went blank in front of a live TV camera.
  3. Differentiating. I needed to say something that no other organization could authentically say about itself. After all, it seems that every nonprofit tries to boast, “We care more!” or “We have the best volunteers.” If someone else can say the same thing, it’s neither unique nor differentiating. Read the rest of this entry »

How Are You Different?

September 17, 2009

—Standing out during a job search

Not long ago I was hiring for an open position on my marketing team. I was bombarded with 200 applications—and that was before the economy went sour.

I personally looked at every single application. Very quickly, though, my eyes glazed over. Everyone looked alike. They all seemed to be saying the same thing. They even used the same words to describe themselves. Every cover letter, it seemed, had at least one of these sentences embedded in it:

I am an excellent communicator.

I’m very organized.

I’m a problem solver.

I am very results oriented.

I want to make a difference.

I am an experienced project manager.

I’m a great team player.

(Insert your own cliche here)

Sorry. I don’t mean to be jaded. I assume each applicant was sincerely speaking from the heart, but here’s my point:  When everyone said the same thing, I felt like I’d walked into a Baskin-Robbins store where the only flavor was vanilla. Everyone, it seemed, had bought the same book on writing cover letters and they even selected the same buzz phrases to use.

From the pool of applicants, some names drifted towards the top. I finally selected eight qualified candidates who looked different and intriguing. These were individuals who sounded as though they could engage with me in a worthwhile conversation. They also shared the following traits:

  1. They were unique. They did something to stand out from the rest of the pack. FYI, their ability to stand out was not by submitting a resume printed on neon orange paper. They differentiated themselves by a) what they said and b) how they said it.
  2. They were interesting. Several told me a story in their cover letter. (And yes, they were able to tell a story in a paragraph or less.) Their ability to tell interesting stories continued into the interview. That turned the interview into an interesting, interactive conversation rather than a one-way interrogation.
  3. They were themselves. That trait alone—being oneself—is often differentiating. As I looked for the right person, I was not looking for someone trying to fit a particular cookie-cutter mold. I wanted someone who was authentic, genuine and “comfortable in his/her own skin.”

My advice to any job seeker is:  Be different. Be unique. Or, as Simon Cowell used to tell American Idol contestants—”Be memorable!”

Who Are You?

September 15, 2009

—Defining who you are during a job search

Flying back from Phoenix, I was troubled because I hadn’t been “on my game” in a big job interview.

A major HMO was trying to recruit me for a senior executive position. On the surface, it seemed like the ideal job. The salary was excellent. The title would have looked very impressive on a business card. The responsibilities would have expanded my professional portfolio. I even liked the people I met with. So why didn’t I feel better about the trip? Where was the disconnect?

I searched for answers, and as I got quiet with myself, the reality became obvious:  I had no passion for that job. My heart wasn’t in it because the job responsibilities did not represent who I am!

At my core I’m a marketing professional. I love marketing. My degree, my experience and my heart are all anchored in marketing.

So what was I doing in Phoenix? Well, earlier versions of my resume were misleading. Don’t get me wrong—I hadn’t lied or deceived anyone. The problem was that my resume was too accurate and factual. It led people to make wrong assumptions about who I was. You see, my resume accurately listed the departments for which I had been responsible—marketing, planning, business development, physician services, medical staff recruitment, real estate (as in medical office buildings) and managed care.

Some of those areas—like managed care—were very hot items in the health care industry so recruiters were very attracted to those elements in my portfolio. I suddenly realized that my resume was so accurate that it was actually misleading. It failed to position me for who I am and who I wanted to be. I rewrote it to focus on my core passion—marketing. In the list of responsibilities, I refrained from using the term “managed care” and instead talked about how my portfolio had included building strategic alliances with business partners.

I honed my resume, cover letter and key messages to focus primarily on marketing. I then developed a professional profile (and an elevator speech) that met these criteria: Read the rest of this entry »

Where Are You Going?

September 10, 2009

—Focusing on your destination during a job search

Several years ago I was part of a methodical downsizing at a major suburban hospital. In outplacement, I went with my career coach to a job club. When it came time to introduce myself I stood and said:

I’m Duane Hallock, former Senior Vice President at Shawnee Mission Medical Center here in Kansas City. I am now looking for a job that will allow me to use the experience and skills I gained in that position.

Afterward my coach pointed out the obvious:  “Your entire introduction looked backward, not forward,” she said. “Others could see where you had been, but you did nothing to help them visualize where you are going.”

She then gave some of the best career advice I’ve ever received, telling me that a job seeker needs to:

  1. Be forward looking.
  2. Position yourself appropriately.

I’ve come to realize that, whether we like it or not, people are always trying to pigeonhole us. That’s human nature, I guess, and it’s especially true when someone is looking for a job. Read the rest of this entry »

My Personal Marketing Plan

September 8, 2009

You will never marketing anything more important than yourself.” My university professor paused for effect as he scanned the small group of us who were working on our master’s degree in marketing.

His comments caught me off guard. Quite frankly, I thought I already knew marketing, yet I’d never considered applying marketing principles to myself as if I were a product. My professor’s wisdom echoed in my mind, and through the years I grew to appreciate his sage advice even more.

Fifteen years later I stood before my own class of university students. With graduation approaching, these young people would soon be marketing themselves in a competitive job market, so I talked with them about applying marketing principles to their own job searches. I designed a tool for them to use in conducting a marketing audit on themselves. (This was a take-home assignment to be completed over spring break—the spiteful revenge of an instructor who noted that too many students skipped class on mardi gras to attend a sorority party.)

Later, when I lost my job as a marketing professional, I reached into my marketing toolbox, found that homework assignment and used it to develop a personal marketing plan for my own job search.

Read the rest of this entry »

Questions I Asked Myself During a Career Transition

September 3, 2009

Everyone approaches a job search differently. Several years ago when I lost my job as a marketing professional, I looked at my career transition as a marketing opportunity.

I had watched others in similar circumstances as they obsessed on finding the right answers. I took the opposite approach. Rather than seeking answers, I began by asking myself a series of questions, recalling the wise words of James Thurber who once said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

Only after developing what I felt were the right questions did I begin wrestling with the answers. The questions were incredibly easy to ask but excruciatingly difficult to answer. To my amazement, however, this turned into a most insightful and even invigorating process. I’ll share with you the questions, but first let me explain my process.

For a couple hours each day, I went to a local coffee shop and found a secluded table where I could engage myself in a private conversation. I left my laptop at home because I wanted to drill deeper. I used an old-fashioned method of communicating—handwriting on blank sheets of paper. I purchased a leather-bound book containing only blank pages and on the first page I wrote the title:  Journal for the Journey—A personal assessment, a scrapbook of ideas, and a map for navigating an important career transition.

Read the rest of this entry »

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