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:
- Babble on and on, hoping to say one or two things that interest the interviewer(s).
- Do a résumé walk-through. This is incorrect because the interviewer didn’t say, “Walk me through your resume.” That’s a different question.
- Stumble, hesitate and use too many filler words like “umm,” as if it’s the first time the question has ever been asked.
“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”:
- Three bullet-point length phrases.
- Say three short sentences, and then stop talking.
- I repeat: three bullets, then shut up!
So let’s practice with, “tell me about yourself.” Here’s a template for handling this one:
- First sentence: Your educational background
- Second sentence: Your work history
- Third sentence: Why you are making a career change and interviewing with them now.
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:
- Do your homework and over-prepare! Know your market value. How? Research sites like Glassdoor.com, network with peers in similar positions, and simply ask others.
- Know your internal company value. How? Study your company’s career website, networking with others in similar positions, and learn on what salary increases are based. Understand your company’s metrics and how you are evaluated. Without that, you are dead. Unfortunately too many women say, “I’ve done a good job this past year; therefore…” even though their company may base increases on future potential or scope increase within a role.
- Prepare your discussion and write out your presentation. Don’t “wing it” or think that having a conversation is effective. It’s not. Write out the flow of your discussion, limiting the topics to three items. For example, give the purpose of the discussion and your objective, present your supporting data and request the compensation package or salary increase. Review your presentation with a friend or mentor to see if there are any gaps or missed opportunities.
- Write your salary justification in a letter format. Distribute your justification letter and lead the discussion. Be clear and confident. Take notes, listen and respond in an impactful way. The hiring manager may need time to consider your proposal and get back to you. Don’t worry — they will NOT rescind the offer. In fact, if you do this well, he or she may come back with some — or even all — of your requests!
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:
- The company that moved our family to Charlotte, N.C., and to Hong Kong had a lot of experience relocating people around the world and domestically. They developed a relocation program that really helped us understand what we could expect, secure help when we had questions, and ensure assistance was there on the “other side.”
- My husband had moved a lot when he was a child and young adult, so he was very helpful in handling the logistics on both ends of the move. He took care of the children’s schools, the movers and home sales (when needed) so I could be successful diving into my job, traveling, and spending quality time with the kids when I was home.
- Our attitudes: We looked forward to every move as an adventure. We were not high-maintenance, did not complain, and we taught our kids to be flexible, too. We researched the new places, explored and enjoyed the new environments, and more. As an example, people thought we were nuts to move to Rochester, N.Y., but we enjoyed it! We joined a small, affordable ski club where our kids could get lessons and I could sit by the fire with my laptop!
Things we learned:
- I could not have done it alone (or if I had tried, I surely would have done it poorly). I would have had to take time off from my job or been stressed out juggling the logistics of a move and the pressures of a new position. Yes, relocations generally imply a new job either within your current company or with a new company.
- The importance of making friends. The onus is on the new (or visiting) family to make the effort to socialize, invite people to go out, or have houseguests. Remember, they have a social life already — you need to put in the effort to introduce yourself and your family.
- In an international move, language barriers can be overcome! It takes work on the part of the new employee and his or her family. In Hong Kong, while our kids learned a small amount of Chinese in school, we chose not to invest the time in the local language. The locals spoke plenty of English, and we learned enough to get around.
- Get the kids involved in some extracurricular activities like sports or music. Our kids played soccer, took karate classes, joined swimming teams, and more.
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:
- Aim for a big, trusted brand name company in your city. Since you have never had a full time job, you need to get your resume going — and your peers have a head start! Get a minimum-wage position in a recognizable company, which will give you credibility. To know the companies in your city, read your local Business Journal (bizjournals.com) and invest in the Book of Lists to help you short and long term.
- Now focus on what function you want to enter. Marketing, sales, administration, operations, manufacturing, etc. The Internet has a wealth of knowledge to help you learn how companies are organized, and you can read what different functions do. Do not worry about the industry.
- Prepare all of the materials you need for your job search. There are some amazing books out there to get you current and list all that you need to do.
- Now, start the hunt for your role since it may take some time without experience.
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
- Sentence One: The Situation. Briefly describe the “what.” Example: “During my role as manager at Exxon, the competition was raising its prices, so we had to respond.”
- Sentence Two: Your Action Briefly describe what you did during this situation. You are invited to brag and talk about your role in the situation. Use power verbs, showing confidence and strength. Avoid using “we” or “the team.” The interviewer needs to learn about you. Example: “I led a complex set of analyses, summarized the results, and made key recommendations to the leadership team.”
- Sentence Three: The Result Tell how the situation ended — hopefully positively. Use metrics or numbers, if they are not proprietary. Numbers show the size of the scope or impact. Example: “As a result, the management team chose to implement one of the recommendations and we increased market share the following year.”
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:
- Exxon competitive price increases
- Led analysis, summarized, recommended
- Implementation and share percent increased
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:
- Applying through a job board, company website, etc: It is very hard to follow up on these since you do not have a contact name. I recommend a two-step process to my clients. One, you need to press “send” on your application using their required tool just to get into their system. However, odds of being called in for an interview are low. Two, you need to network to find an employee who will refer you or someone inside or outside the company to forward your credentials to the hiring manager. And as part of Step 2, you may even forward your own application to a senior manager in that department, advising him or her that you have also applied online.
- Submitting to a person, either a network contact who offered to refer you, or to an employee of your target company: YES, you should follow up within seven working days after the first submittal with another e-mail. Be sure to attach all of your prior correspondence, including your résumé and cover letter, with every follow-up mail. Then you get to do that three more times without being a nuisance. So, after the first follow-up e-mail, wait seven more working days and send a different note. Make the emails interesting and informational, rather than “just following up.” No, companies do not assume that you are not interested if you don’t follow up.
- If job searching is new to you, please get current with all of the latest techniques! And I hope you are not applying with just a résumé!
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.
- Try to use more key words in your resume How? Find 10 job descriptions for your target job – they can be anywhere geographically, as this is for research only. Circle the key words they use, find those in common, and make a list. Now review your resume. For example, if you use “sales” in your resume yet they use “business development,” change it! Make the same changes in your LinkedIn profile so recruiters, who also use the same key words to search, can find you! Just applying to jobs, through an ATS or not, is a flawed strategy Yes, you need to check the box and file your resume through the company’s system. Now the real action starts! Network your way into the company by finding an employee of the company to refer you or someone who can forward your credentials to the hiring manager.
- Make a great cover letter page one of your resume Repeat: your cover letter is NOT a separate attachment, but the first page in the same WORD or PDF document, following the same style and using the same fonts. You can add more key words from the company’s job description to the cover letter here and customize it based on your company research. Do NOT simply regurgitate your resume and, please, cut the use of “I, I, I, me, me, me.”
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