The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
I agree with Wooden 100%. Many clients come to me almost paralyzed with areas of weakness and career obstacles. In almost every case, these people have been successful in their careers or just completed a new degree. My job, one I greatly enjoy, is helping them see what they have to offer. Most people have made great contributions to their employers. Their problem is telling the story. They think too much about what “they cannot do.” Instead, as Wooden recommended, the secret to know is what you do best. Play your strengths.
I talked with two clients recently who were hired to dream jobs. In both cases, the client hesitated before applying for the position. Steve wanted a position in Europe. However, his heart dropped when he saw the requirements: MBA and second language. Steve had a BA and only spoke English. Then he read the position again and felt that no one could be more qualified based on his experience and achievements. He took a chance and was rewarded with his dream job. Mary works in human services as a counselor. She's performed managerial duties, but never held the title of manager. We wrote her resume to emphasize her roles that required leadership and decision making. Again, Mary didn't think she'd get the job. She applied, went through four interviews, and received an offer. If you think you capable of doing a job, don't be afraid to apply. The trick to getting the job is to show how you are qualified. You need to do this in your resume and during interviews. Employers will look beyond their requirements if you show them why you're the right person. Don't be afraid to the chance. That's the only way to find your dream job.
Soft skills are qualities that reflect what kind of employee you will be. In reviewing job posts, I found that employers are looking for employees who are self-motivated. Here are a few suggestions of ways to present yourself on resumes and in interviews as an employee who doesn't need to be told what to do.
1. Tell a story that begins with these words: "I took the initiative to. . ." or "I volunteered to. . ."
2. Talk about a time you saw a problem and fixed it.
3. Use the word the employer is looking for: "Demonstrated leadership and self-motivation by . . ."
Every boss dreams about having employees who know who to do the job and care about what they do. If you can communicate that you are this type of person (and you have the right kind of experience and hard skills), you will get the employer's attention and be well on the way to a job offer.
I was working with a very accomplished client today. He’s held roles in senior management in several industries. When he describes himself, he presents his versatility as an asset. The problem is that few employers would need his full range of skills.
His challenge is to learn what the employer needs and present himself as the solution to that company’s problem. How can he do this? Listen carefully, and ask questions. I urge clients that I coach for interview preparation to ask these two questions
- What are the top three challenges I’ll face in this position?
- Describe someone who has been successful in this role?
These questions will let you understand what an employer needs and present your skills and experience in a way that fits what the company is looking for. Put the employer first, and it will be more likely that you’ll receive good job offers.
I recently met someone who spent ten years managing a small organization. He had to leave the position after suffering a stroke. Now, after two years of rehab, he's ready to go back to work full time. During his recovery, he was able to work part time as a consultant. The gap in his resume is short, not significant. Still, his first question to me was, "How do I deal with my deficit, my health condition?"
My advice was to flip the coin: Demonstrate your strengths. I definitely think we all need to be able to answer questions about our weaknesses, but we should spend twice or three times as much time thinking about our strengths. I told the man who was worried about his health issues to start with these two questions:
1. Why are you good at what you do?
2. How will you bring value to the employer who is interviewing you?
No one will ever be hired because of their deficits. We need to be able to put potential employers at ease about them, but it's more important to know and promote your assets. Practice interviewing by focusing on your assets and strengths, not your deficits and weaknesses.
“What can you do for me?”
That’s what employers really want to know when they are hiring a new employee. Too often job seekers worry so much about what they’ve done – and haven’t done – in the past that they don’t answer the employer’s big question. In writing your resume and presenting yourself at an interview, stay focused on what the employer needs. How do you know what the employer needs? Look carefully at the job post, and adapt your resume to the requirements and qualifications. Before going on an interview, look at the job post again. Ask yourself: Why will I be an asset to the company? Show how your strengths will make you the best candidate. No employer will hire you just because of what you did in the past. They will hire you because of what you can do for them. Answer the question:
“What can you do for me?”
One of my clients is making a career change. He was a senior manager, but is now looking for a lower pressure role. We were practicing interviewing skills, and he talked about problem solving, leadership, and communication skills. The problem was that he never gave any idea about how he would use those skills in the job he was applying for. I recommended that he take about ten note-cards, put a soft skill on top of each one, and then list 3-5 examples of how he used those skills. After that, he should practice telling stories without worrying about saying the same thing each time. Good interview answers should be clear and concise. They also need to be substantial if you want potential employers to recognize that you can do the job.
When I ask clients to name their strengths, they often point to broad qualities or skill sets, such as, leadership, communication skills, and flexibility. Too often that’s where they stop. The trick to good personal branding, networking, interviewing, and resume writing is to take this kind of strength and project it to the different audiences you interact with. For example, a senior sales professional and an office manager both need good communication skills, but they are different. Sales representatives present, negotiate, and train to sell. Office managers negotiate to buy products and train employees in job skills. They might also lead meetings. Whenever you are promoting yourself as a professional, think about the person or group you are addressing. What do they need to know about you? What is their biggest concern? Give them what they need to know, and they will give you the kind of respect that opens doors.
Clients often come to me to help with interview preparation. In almost every case, they express anxiety about the process. This is true of young people starting their career and senior level professionals. What’s behind this concern? Practice. We do our jobs every day and are confident we can do them. Depending on how long we have been with an employer and how long it takes to find a job, a person could go on just a few interviews over span of years or decades. Confident professionals are often terrified to go on job interviews.
Interviewing is a skill, and, like any skill, it takes practice. Imagine if you played golf or pool or bowling (individual sports). If you played that sport on a regular basis, you would know your level of skill. We are anxious when we interview because we do it so infrequently. If you were a good golfer, but hadn’t picked up your clubs for ten years, you would approach the first tee with anxiety. The same principle holds true in interviewing.
What can you do to be calmer? First, practice your skills. Focus on building a dialogue with the interviewer and demonstrating your strengths. Another cause of anxiety at job interviews is the mistaken belief that a job interview is like a test. Applicants are so worried about how they word an answer and giving the “best” answer that qualified people make themselves sound like they can’t do the job. Listen to what the interviewer is saying, and engage in a conversation. That will help calm things down. The most important thing you can do to be calm at an interview is to know your strengths and present them in a way that makes the employer want to hire you.
Interviewing is never easy. But, if you practice the right way, it can be less stressful.
My clients frequently worry that their computer skills are lacking. In most cases, they don’t need to worry. Here’s an easy test. If you’re seeking a job similar to your most recent jobs, you probably have the right kind of computer skills. You might not have used the same software, but you performed a similar function. As a second test, collect 10 job posts for the kind of positions you to want pursue. Check the computer and software skills that employers require. If they seek experience in a program you don’t know, research that software. In many cases, you have used something similar.
Think of computer skills as your tool box – what tools do you need to know to do your job? Once you have a good answer to that question, you can decide if you need to pursue training. Community colleges often offer reasonably priced computer classes. The Internet offers several online training services, some of which are free. If you need to brush up your skills find the option that works best for you. Don’t let a lack of computer skills be an excuse not to pursue your job search.
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