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Thunderbird School of Global Management alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job" and the sole syndicated career columnist for the nationwide Business Journals with her 'Career Mojo' column. On her blog at http://danamanciagli.com/, Dana answers her readers' questions about best practices for conducting an effective career search and interview process.
Question from reader: How do I answer this interview question: “Tell me about yourself”? I struggle with that.
Advice from Executive Job Coach Dana: I think you are in good company. Most people approach this in one of the following ways:
“Tell me about yourself” is concurrently one of the most common interview prompts and one of the most poorly answered. This question, along with others such as, “What are your strengths,” “what are your weaknesses,” etc., should all be scripted well before the interview. I purposely wrote two chapters on interviews in my book, specifically on all of the things you can do long before an interview (and NOT the night before!). In the book I recommend writing out all of the most commonly asked questions and your short answers to them.
How short is short? Apply the “law of threes”:
So let’s practice with, “tell me about yourself.” Here’s a template for handling this one:
Let’s put it into motion: I have a strong educational foundation with a bachelors of science in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an MBA from UCLA. My sales and marketing work experience spans multiple industries. I spent seven years with IBM, 10 years with McKesson, and the most recently five years with Verizon. I am interested in expanding my career into international marketing and I am very interested in the global marketing role we are discussing today. After you make your three fabulous statements, stop talking, smile, and let the interviewer ask the next question.
Here are the two most common fears people have with this recommendation:
“I’m afraid I’ll sound scripted.” First, you won’t. Second, that problem beats the opposite, which is sounding like you don’t know your own background.
“It doesn’t feel like enough.” Trust that the interviewer will ask you for more if they want more. Often, they are simply looking for your ability to distill a lot of information into a compact summary.
Question from Reader: Help! I need your advice for an upcoming meeting to negotiate the salary I want when being hired.
Advice from Dana: Most people do not do a good job negotiating a salary increase or compensation package for a variety of reasons. They “wing it,” they don’t believe they can ask for a higher amount, or they are afraid of losing the offer.
So here are my top four MUST-dos for you:
Question from Reader: I’m considering relocating my family for a great career opportunity. Do you have any advice or recommendations for things to avoid?
Advice from Dana: Relocating — domestically or internationally — for a great career opportunity is a big step. I’ve made several moves with my husband and kids to take advantages of opportunities, too. I could go into each move separately, which would be a long story, so I’ll summarize my career relocation tips for going across the country or around the globe.
Things that went well:
Things we learned:
Question from Reader: I am 25 and unemployed. I’m looking to head back to graduate school but would like to work during that time. I’ve never had a full time job in my entire life.
Advice from Dana: My recommendation is to focus on the following:
Question from Reader: Is it OK to refer to notes when answering interview questions?
Advice from Dana: Yes, it is not only okay to refer to your notes, but I highly recommend it when it’s your turn to ask questions. When I, the interviewer, say “Greg, do you have any questions for me?” then bring out your list of questions neatly typed. Make sure you include space between the questions to write down their answers. Do the same for every interview, even if you repeat questions.
In terms of referring to notes when they are asking your questions, yes, but it’s more subtle. I did it all the time. Have your portfolio open with your resume and the job description. You can have all the notes you want in the margins. On my resume, for example, I had small bullet points of the examples I would give of experiences for each part of my resume. I would write “STORY – Selling to GE” next to my start-up job or “STORY – Hiring 450” next to a job at Microsoft.
In the margins or top of your resume, you can have small reminders of your three strengths and three weaknesses you are going to use throughout. What you don’t want to do is have to page through numerous papers to find your notes. That’s too obvious.
Question from Reader: I’m hearing about these new kinds of interviews called “behavioral interviews” where an interviewer asks for stories or examples of what I have done. What is the best way to prepare for the interview and share my stories? I feel that I will either babble on or not share enough. Can you help?
Advice from Dana: Behavioral-based interviewing is used to discover how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. Logic assumes that the way you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future.
You are correct — behavioral interviews are increasing in popularity for a number of reasons.
First, the interviewer can sense if the candidate has prepared for the interview. Most importantly, the interviewer can probe deeper into your experience after hearing your anecdote. You may state an example, then the interviewer will say, “Tell me more about what you did,” or “Tell me more about how you did that,” or “What was your role?”
It’s really quite simple and effective. An employer has decided what skills are needed (they’re listed in the job description) and will ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills.
While you can prepare some effective examples in advance of the interview, I would like to give you a formula for creating an example on the fly, if necessary.
Formula for answering behavioral questions
Now you should prepare your top stories. List out the skills and experiences mentioned in the job description on the left side of a table. On the right, put three bullet points for each row – use short bullets that you will remember.
If the interviewer asks, “Tell me a time when you had to solve a complex pricing problem,” your notes might read:
Question from Reader: I would appreciate some advice on job search follow-up after having applied but before being given an interview. What steps should I take to encourage the hiring company to offer me the opportunity to interview? Do potential employers expect phone calls or emails to confirm that an application has been received? Do they assume there is a lack of interest if I don’t follow up at that stage in the process? I have worked for the same company my entire 36 years of full-time employment, and job hunting is new to me. I am only applying for jobs for which I am fully qualified, so I don’t understand why I’m not getting called in for interviews.
Advice from Dana: Your followup after applying depends on how you applied, so here are your options:
Question from Reader: How to beat the Internet-based application systems. I still myself feel frustrated by the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) job application process. Unless certain words are used, and if the resume matches a precise layout, the resume falls into an abyss. The worst thing is that some of the applications can last hours … and amount to nothing. Any recommendations?
Advice from Dana: Wow! First, you have every right to feel frustrated! I have felt that way throughout all of my job searches. Now, several solutions come to mind. So, allow me to break it into pieces.
In summary, re-boot your approach and add many other job search activities at the same time.
Thunderbird School of Global Management alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job" and the sole syndicated career columnist for the nationwide Business Journals with her 'Career Mojo' column. Her remarkable profile includes a career in global sales and marketing roles for Fortune 500 corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Kodak. She has coached, interviewed and hired thousands of job seekers. This article was originally published on her website at http://danamanciagli.com