Tell Me About Yourself…

Probably the most difficult question to answer.

Most interviews will begin with, “tell me about yourself and what brings you here today,” or some variation of that statement.  This is your opportunity to intrigue your interviewer with your personal elevator pitch.  It’s an opportunity to focus the interviewer on your strengths and successes and to make them think about what kind of impact you could possibly have within their organization.  It is not the time to discuss your favorite pastime or random hobby. (One person told me about their love of “hanging out” and dancing then asked what I wanted to know).  It’s a great time to highlight important information. The employer wants to know what you deem as important information.

Ideally your pitch should be about 30-60 seconds long. Too short – what did you really tell your interviewer, too long – did you lose them along the way?   It should effectively summarize the pertinent strengths that you possess and relevant accomplishment. You want to sound confident and composed so take time developing and practicing your pitch.

Where to start

Your pitch is specific to you and will sound the most authentic coming directly from you but here’s a roadmap to help get you started (feel free to tweak and adjust as necessary):

1. Most recent degree and college information (mention what you studied, how it relates to your professional interests, specific skills learned or licenses acquired, etc.)

2. Previous jobs and accomplishments (mention relevant accomplishments achieved or skills learned that would make you a good fit for the position that you’re interested in).

3. Segue into current interest (link your previous experience with what you want to do now).

Example:  I graduated from XYZ University in 2009 with a Masters Degree in Social Work and earned my LMSW in 2010. My concentration in community organization, planning and administration provided a solid background in necessary management and leadership principles, advocacy, and program development.  As director of workforce development for ABC Settlement, I put my educational skills to practice and effectively designed a standardized evaluation program that allowed all program directors and senior management staff to have a realistic view of program performance in real-time.  From this project I realized I wanted to work on a tool that allowed an agency with multiple departments to evaluate each program individually against contract demands and collectively against each other; the senior program officer position and DEF Global seemed like the right fit to transition into this role.  

You want to sound authentic, not rehearsed.  Draft your pitch and practice. Practice it in front of a mirror then practice in front of a friend.  Practice until you feel comfortable.

When you’re called for an interview, the employer is about 75% sure that they could offer you a position.  The actual interview is your time to alleviate any fears and affirm to them that you are most certainly the right candidate for the position.   The best way to do this is to start the interview with a confident, composed highlight reel of your past experience that will make them think of how great of a job you will do for their company if hired.

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“I’m Interested in Any Position That’s Open…”

This might very well be the truth but the employer doesn’t need to know that.  With each application that you send you’re trying to convince the employer that you’re the best candidate for that position.  Out of the hundreds of resumes that they’ve received, they should contact you because you will do the best job in that particular role.  How can you convince them that your specific mix of skills and qualifications make you a good fit for that position if you tell them that you’re interested in any position that they have open?

Whenever I see this blurb in an intro email or even worse an actual cover letter, I hit delete.  In some rare instances, I will actually reach out to the candidate and ask them to review the positions listed then get back to me with an updated cover letter for the position of interest.  I usually tell them that positions vary so much and listing “any” doesn’t give me a good sense of their skill set or interest.

As a jobseeker many years ago I made the same mistake.  Either there were multiple positions that I was interested in from that particular organization or I wanted them to know that I was flexible in case the position I was applying for was already filled.  What I didn’t realize was that internally, good candidates get passed around regardless of what position they’ve indicated on their application.

You do want your employer to know that you’re flexible but you always want them to know that you have purpose and drive.  Sending a generic cover letter and resume with an intro email that basically says that you’re interested in any position that’s open will convey to them that you’re lazy.  Take the extra time to review positions, assess your skill set, and apply to the one that best fits you.

When Aggressive Networking Goes Wrong.

A job candidate sent his resume and cover letter on Monday morning.  On Tuesday, I received another copy of his resume and cover letter.  I also received a LinkedIn invitation on my personal account, in addition to his resume sent as a message to my LinkedIn account, an invitation to my supervisor’s LinkedIn account and the same message.  This was all by Tuesday afternoon.

I know that it’s good to cover your bases, but all of that activity in such a short amount of time was suffocating.  

He did not receive a call back.

Length Does Not Equal Substance

When I look back at my resume after my second job I wince.  The content was good but the resume was entirely too long.  As a college graduate with one previous full time job, internships, and campus jobs, there was absolutely no reason for my resume to be more than one page.  

Remember in college and high school when you had to write a paper of a certain length and you were stumped?  You started adding all of these extra words, definitions, reiterations, and what not to achieve whatever the goal number of pages was.  Some teachers/professors might have commented that you had too much fluff.  Others might have let it go.  Either way, your resume is not the same thing.  There shouldn’t be any fluff present. You don’t get extra points for fluff.  You don’t get an interview because of fluff.  No one cares that you attended XYZ conference in 2001.  Did you actually facilitate a workshop at this conference? No, you were a participant in the conference.  Leave it out unless you received some type of certificate that the employer is interested in.

As a screener, I’ve seen many job candidates fall into the same trap; you want to make sure to include every bit of relevant information (or what you deem relevant) so that the employer knows all about you and will be convinced that you are a good fit.  What actually ends up happening is laundry list that alienates the reader.  I’ve seen resumes from candidates with bachelors and masters degrees that are well over 2 pages long.  The actual part of the resume that details their past work history usually doesn’t start until page 2 or 3 and no duties or skills are listed just titles. By the time I’ve reached the page with information that i’m interested in, I honestly don’t want to read anymore.

Most employers spend about 30 seconds skimming your resume.  They look for keywords, titles, specific qualifications or training, education, etc., and start making piles of people to call back, throw away, or people to revisit at a later time.  Yes these employers are skimming but at some point they actually go back and read your resume.  If you can make it through the first cut, someone will actually read what you’ve written to get a better idea of you.

Page length will vary depending on your level of experience and type of job sought.  If you’re applying for a senior level VP position, and have more than 20 years experience, you can fill 2 pages with quality information that will provide a good summary of your skills and background.  It will also depend on specific instructions given by the employer.  They might ask you to include workshops, papers you’ve authored, grant proposals you’ve written, etc.  In this case include the information they’re asking for but make sure all other information is relevant to the position that you’re applying for (i.e. no fluff).

For most people just starting out or even mid-career, 1 page should be enough.

5 Steps to Revamp Your Job Search

1. Review your template resume and cover letter.

Does it accurately describe your skill set?  Would you interview someone with that resume?  Have a few people critique it for you.  After looking at your resume over and over again you might not catch any mistakes.  Most likely you also won’t be able to tell if something is worded awkwardly or doesn’t make sense since you know exactly what you meant to say.

2. Make a list of jobs that you’re qualified for and interested in.

We’ve all done this before.  You start looking for jobs and you say, “Admin Assistant 1 – I can definitely do that job.  I’m not really interested in the position but I’m overqualified so that means they have to at least interview me right?” Or, “Program Developer Northwest Region – Hmm I don’t have the 15+ years of experience and Masters degree that they require but I do have a few of the other requirements, they must at least speak to me.”  Before you start your search, evaluate your skill set, qualifications, and your interests and generate a list of positions that you would actually accept if offered.  This will help when you start plugging in search terms.

3. Make a schedule for your job search.

Looking for a job is a job itself.  Sending out a resume or two every couple of weeks won’t be as effective as dedicating time each day/week for your job search or setting up a goal number of positions to apply to each week.  Depending on your status (unemployed and searching, employed passively searching, employed actively searching, etc.), think about what is doable with your schedule.  If you’re unemployed and searching you might want to dedicate 30 hours per week to maximize results.  If you’re passively searching, maybe 5 applications per week is good enough for you.  If you’re employed and actively searching, you might want to set aside 2 hours each day.  Whatever works for you, put together a schedule so that it becomes part of your routine.

4. Familiarize yourself with search engines.  

There are search engines for every sector.  There are also these aggregate sites that compile results from all search engines including private websites (Simply Hired, Indeed). Figure out which ones you’d like to use and start your search.

5. Customize your resume and cover letter for each position that you apply for.

Earlier I mentioned a template resume and cover letter.  Once you have your template, customize it depending on the posting.  Depending on your interests, you might not have to make too many changes (i.e. if you’re interested in being a coordinator for children and youth programs the skill set will most likely be the same).  Make sure that keywords and specific qualifications mentioned in the posting are present in your resume (if you possess them of course).  The meat of your cover letter should be specific to the position that you’re applying for as well.  It may seem tedious but employers want to know why you’re a good fit for them.  Of course they understand that people are applying to many positions but they don’t want evidence of that.

Why do I have to upload my resume onto their site to apply?

Because they don’t want to screen resumes on their own.

Most companies use software that automatically sorts resumes based on specific keywords and qualifications that they have set up.  They want someone with at Masters degree, at least 5 years project management experience, bilingual in Spanish and English.  Guess what, if you don’t have those keywords listed somewhere on your resume no one will ever see it.

When applying for a job, read the posting carefully.  Make sure the specific skills and qualifications that they are looking for are present within your resume.  Any skill that they’ve stressed or deemed as an absolute requirement should also be listed on your cover letter with an example.

Some people advise hidden keywords in headers and footers.  This will lead to a lot of confusion.  If your resume makes it through the first scan and actually reaches a human being, imagine their surprise when they skim it and don’t see any of the initial qualifications that they’re looking for.

Your cover letter is important

I’ve heard people time and time again doubt the importance of the cover letter.  Why do most positions require a resume and a cover letter?  Won’t a short introductory email suffice?

Most companies require the cover letter to see how well you write.  Writing for a resume is different than everyday correspondence.  These companies want to see if you can string together a cohesive thought that actually makes sense and isn’t just an array of important sounding words.  Bullet points are easy, paragraphs are hard.

Other companies want specific examples of why you’re a great fit.  The job posting says candidates must have excellent project management and entrepreneurial skills; your cover letter should give at least one concrete example of your project management and entrepreneurial skills while on the job. Anyone can state that they have an entrepreneurial mindset but only those that have exhibited this mindset throughout their professional career can back it up.  

Lastly the company wants to know that you can follow directions.  It may seem silly but many employers are turned off when candidates blatantly disregard a specific request on a job posting.  If you can’t follow simple directions requesting a tailored cover letter, how will follow directions while on the job.  Will you dismiss anything that you deem not important?

Always submit a customized cover letter for each position.