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Career Coach, Bethany Wallace

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Making the most of working with your career mentor

I’ve never regretted one minute spent listening to my career mentors. I learn so much when we meet, chatting over pancakes at Bob’s Diner or pizza in downtown Little Rock. Sure, I do some of the talking–opening up about where I’m at in my career, asking questions, and even sharing about troubling situations in the workplace in hopes my mentors will offer potential solutions. They always do because they’re brilliant women. I picked great career mentors. One owns her own business, consulting small business owners who want to market themselves and attract better clients. The other manages recruiting for a telecommunications corporation. My mentors have been where I am in many ways. They know what I’m going through, and even if they haven’t found themselves puzzled by an identical client or partner, they have likely been in similar situations.

That’s the beauty of working with a career mentor. A career mentor is a mentor you ask to guide you through your career journey–not just from point A to point B during one stretch of your career or while you strive through the most difficult mess of it. Your mentor learns all about you, and your career mentor can give you very pointed, detailed advice. Since your mentor doesn’t work with you in your workplace–unlike a workplace mentor–she doesn’t care about office politics. She only cares about seeing you succeed in the long run. She sees the big picture.

If you already have a career mentor, you’ll want to watch this video with three tips/reminders about making the most of working with your career mentor. You’ll find ways to apply this advice to the relationship you already have with your mentor. If you don’t have a career mentor, think about a few people you admire while watching the video and reading the article. Maybe by the end, you’ll have narrowed down your list.


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  1. Remember, your career mentor isn’t a fairy godmother (or godfather).

    Your career mentor won’t float out of the sky, pixie dust sprinkled in her hair, announcing her desire to guide you through your career (but wouldn’t that be great?!). You’re going to have to break down and ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes mentoring relationships evolve naturally. This happens in the workplace and in higher education; you might fall into a relationship with your career mentor if she’s your professor or boss. But most likely, you’ll find someone you admire who works in your dream job or similar career field. You will observe this person to ensure she exhibits character traits you admire. Then you will ask her to serve as your career mentor. Asking can be difficult, but acting against your fear of rejection is important. You potentially have so much to gain from a great career mentor.

    Also, we can often believe our career mentors are fairy godmothers in the sense that we place them on pedestals. We think they’re professionally perfect. But they’re definitely not, and learning from your career mentor’s failures and defects can be just as helpful as learning from your career mentor’s successes and assets.

  2. If it’s not working, make a change.

    It would be great if everyone’s career mentoring relationship lasted for a lifetime. Some do, and some don’t. If you work with a career mentor for five years, and you find yourself growing apart, accept that it may be time to seek a new career mentor. Some relationships–even professional relationships–are only meant to last for a season. We all grow, change, and develop, and as that happens, we often grow apart. Trying to force a fit doesn’t feel natural and can make a mentoring relationship very awkward. If you’re asking questions and not receiving answers which feel aligned with your values, ethics, or goals, it might be time to seek a new career mentor.
  3. Don’t expect your mentor to serve as your career coach.

    Unless your mentor works in career services, career counseling, or career coaching, your mentor will probably not feel comfortable providing you with detailed assistance with your resume, cover letter, interview preparation, branding, networking, job search assistance, or other areas of career coaching. While your mentor can certainly share her unique experiences in these areas, your mentor won’t pretend to be an expert in an area outside her realm of expertise. And she shouldn’t! If someone comes to me for personal counseling, I don’t pretend for one minute I’m licensed as a professional counselor. I immediately refer that potential client to a qualified professional.

    Seek your mentor’s advice and ask her to share her experience, but don’t drain her either. Remember that your mentor probably juggles work, family, and personal interests, including mentoring you (and possibly other mentees). Respect her boundaries.

    If you need help determining how to find a great career mentor, how to ask someone to mentor you, or how to seek career coaching help from a professional rather than from your mentor, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. 

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


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  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it.

  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”

    This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.

    Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.

  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.

Why you need to prepare an elevator pitch

It’s virtually impossible to separate networking and branding. We work our whole lives to build a reputation (our brand), and we spend our whole lives building and maintaining relationships with others (our network). We do these things simultaneously. We can’t build a reputation without an audience—our network—and we can’t build relationships without proving to those people who we are—our brand.

Somewhere along the way, as we connect with new people who will come to know who we are, we’ll need to introduce ourselves. Most of us, if we’re unprepared, will stumble over our words when introducing ourselves and fail to mention more than our names and where we live. If we’re lucky, we might remember to mention our career field, course of study, or current job role. If we meet someone we consider impressive or important, we’ll probably feel even more nervous than usual.

I once met Alanis Morissette while traveling with other college students in China. What are the odds? I felt incredibly lucky. Since the internet wasn’t a big deal then, and social media didn’t exist, none of the Chinese citizens in the area recognized her. I introduced myself, stumbling over my words. She was gracious and asked me several questions about our cultural exchange team and experiences traveling. Looking back on that encounter years later, I realize I simply didn’t have the communication skills to pull myself together to deliver anything remotely like an elevator pitch. I’m sure if I’d attended a workshop about personal branding, branding statements, or elevator pitches I might have felt slightly less tongue-tied and more confident.

Nothing really would have ever come of meeting a celebrity, I’m sure, but it was fun and exciting. But there are often serious outcomes when we meet new employers, recruiters, colleagues, supervisors, friends of friends, and others who can connect us to great job leads and want to hire qualified employees. This is why we all need a smooth elevator pitch ready and waiting to roll off our tongues. An elevator pitch is simply a brief persuasive speech (20-30 seconds long—it takes this long to ride an elevator from the top to bottom floor without lots of stops) to introduce ourselves. In the context of your job search, your elevator pitch will “pitch” you to potential employers, colleagues, and others who may consider connecting you to great job leads. Your elevator pitch should provide basic introductory information. It should briefly explain to your new contact who you are, where you’re been, and where you’re going. But it should also explain why.

I recently led a one-hour workshop about the first steps of branding, including elevator pitches, for seniors at Southside High School in Batesville, Arkansas. I was grateful for the opportunity to visit with students and learn about their “Future Stories.” A charter school, Southside High School teachers and administration work closely with students to provide various vocational, career coaching, and higher education opportunities to students to make their future stories a reality.

During the workshop, I helped students understand how to craft an elevator pitch.

  • Keep your target audience in mind (for job seekers, it’s employers and new connections who may help them find jobs).
  • Stick to 30 seconds in length. This may require lots of practice. I have taught hundreds of college students in Oral Communications, and trust me–it just takes time to practice and perfect something which seems as simple as a 30-second spiel. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a long time to shorten your elevator pitch.
  • Avoid overused words, clichés, and jargon. Use terms you’re totally familiar with to ensure smooth delivery. Include keywords important to your industry, but don’t use so many keywords that an average person has difficulty weeding through unfamiliar terminology.
  • Remember the “why.” It’s great to state that you just graduated with a bachelor’s degree and are seeking employment in Rhode Island. But why? Many students mention that they’re pursuing a degree in a certain field. Why? What do you plan to do with that degree later in life? The WHY grabs your listener’s interest.

Two graduating seniors from Southside High School agreed to record their elevator pitches and share them with my readers/viewers. Thank you, Brooke and Natalie, and congratulations on graduating. I look forward to keeping in touch with you as you continue to pursue your goals.

Brooke Talley’s elevator pitch:


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Natalie Humphrey’s elevator pitch:


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Need help creating and delivering your own elevator pitch? Contact me for help.

Preparing for life after teaching

About 1/3 of my clients work in the field of education (K-12 or higher education); it’s a natural fit since I have 10 years of experience in higher education and have also worked with K-12 students.  Some of my clients want to transition out of teaching; others are determined to stick with education.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Teaching is a career field most people feel passionate about–at least initially. Many educators feel exhausted after several years of managing a classroom full of students, though, and some opt to pursue a whole new career path. Some teachers retire early to pursue new careers. Other teachers transition out of teaching after only a few years of teaching; they discover that teaching wasn’t quite what they’d hoped it’d be.

 

If you’re a teacher, and you’re unsure whether you want to continue teaching, you should begin training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead… even if you’re not certain what lies ahead. Whether you renew your teaching contract this year or not, taking these three action steps will strengthen your resume, boost your confidence, and provide you with networking leverage if you search for jobs in the future.

  1. Develop one technical/hard skill in an area of interest unrelated to education.

Even if you’re sure you want to continue teaching right now, developing a technical skill unrelated to teaching will benefit you. Putting your mind to work on a topic unrelated to your students can actually help you relieve mental stress and anxiety. Taking an online course in photo editing or SEO can stretch your mind; you’ll become a well-rounded teacher, and who knows? Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to incorporate what you learn into the classroom.

If you have an inkling you may want to search for jobs outside of teaching, brainstorm about which career fields interest you. Are you considering looking for jobs in curriculum design, training, or sales? Enroll in a local public speaking course or reach out to a career coach for communication skills development assistance. Many community colleges and libraries also offer free workshops. You don’t have to invest much of your income to learn a new skill.

  1. Identify three soft skills you’d like to improve and focus on improving one at a time.

Which soft skills matter most to you personally? Which soft skills matter most within your chosen career field (education or your future field)? A little research, coupled with self-assessment to determine which soft skills you currently possess and which soft skills you currently lack, should help you determine which soft skills to focus on developing.

Create an action plan to develop one soft skill at a time. Don’t even think about working on more than one thing at a time—you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll give up.

If you prefer working alone and roll your eyes when your principal mentions breaking into groups during in-service training, working on teamwork and collaboration skills might be a good idea. Collaboration is hot in the workplace now; you’ll need to convince employers—with actions, not words—that you are very comfortable working well with others. Develop your teamwork skills now, and when you begin interviewing for jobs in a few years, you won’t be grasping at straws when asked for an example of a time when you collaborated with your coworkers to solve a problem.

  1. Spend 30 minutes networking twice weekly with people outside of teaching.

In education, we often work in silos. We work in separate classrooms, teaching our own students, and sometimes—without meaning to—we don’t share information or stories or successes with one another.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Break out of your silo, whether you’re going to transition out of teaching or not, and spend 30 minutes twice weekly networking with people outside of teaching. If you already have professional contacts online or offline, reach out to them. Schedule visits after work. Meet for coffee or iced tea and chat about summer vacation plans.

 

Do you know someone who works in a career field which has always interested you, but you don’t know every detail? Break down and call that person and ask for an informational interview. Most people love to talk about themselves and their careers. If meeting face-to-face intimidates you, start by networking online. Develop your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Both offer plenty of opportunities to connect with real people via professional groups and chats.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do is teach for 5, 10, or 30 years without considering that someday you might want to transition out of teaching. We’re only human; even if we expect to work in the classroom our whole lives, sometimes a career is only for a season. And that’s okay.

Be smart and teach yourself to prepare for life beyond the classroom. Someday you’ll thank yourself.

If you need assistance finding a new teaching job or transitioning out of teaching, I’m happy to help.

How to improve your soft skills

Whether you just graduated from college—congratulations!—or have accumulated years of work experience, you are just like the rest of us—you can always improve your soft skills. While soft skills are certainly a combination of talent and ability, you can always improve upon the ability portion of the soft skills you possess—that’s the good news.

In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, training expert Bruce Tulgan defines soft skills as “a wide range of non-technical skills ranging from ‘self-awareness’ to ‘people-skills’ to ‘problem-solving’ to ‘teamwork” (8). Tulgan, author and founder/CEO of RainMakerThinking Inc., reminds us that “soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced in order to be learned” (Tulgan 29). Tulgan’s book provides a road map for employers and organizations interested in training and developing employees’ soft skills.


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  • Identify which soft skills matter most to you.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to improving soft skills. You can perform a Google search and find countless lists of which soft skills matter most, but what you need to determine is which soft skills matter most to you. How do you determine that?

When you work with a career coach, you’ll be asked multiple questions to help you determine your priorities. Some of these questions might include:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years in terms of your career?” Understanding your career goals/journey can help you determine which skills you need to add or improve upon.
  • “What feedback have you received during performance reviews and job interviews (or during follow-up conversations with recruiters/hiring managers)?” If you pay attention to feedback about your performance instead of blowing it off, you may pick up clues about which soft skills you lack or need to tweak.
  • “Which soft skills does your company value and emphasize?” If three particular soft skills matter most to your current employer, take note. To succeed at work, earn a salary increase or promotion, or simply feel content with your daily job performance, align your values and mission with your employer’s.
  • Determine where you stand before you begin training/developing your soft skills.

After determining which 3-5 soft skills matter most to you, evaluate yourself in terms of performance/ability of each soft skill. If communication skills matter to you, where do you measure up on a scale of 1-5, 1 being poor performance and 5 being excellent, consistent performance? Are you able to communicate verbally, non-verbally, and in writing clearly, consistently, concisely, comfortably, effectively, and appropriately in almost every situation? If not, this is a soft skill you might want to develop.

How should you evaluate your ability to perform each soft skill? You can do this in a variety of ways. Work with a career coach to use various assessment tools (some tools you must pay to use, and others are free). Search online for free assessment tools; proceed with caution when using free assessment tools because some are more valid than others. As Tulgan mentions in Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, you can informally assess your own soft skills by measuring your soft skills against others’ soft skills. I explain this strategy at length in the video. In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, Tulgan notes the importance of having an “external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection” (70).

Take stock of where you stand in each of these soft skill areas one way or another—using one assessment tool or another—but be sure you use some external objective standard. Simply put, we can’t fix the stuff in our heads with the stuff in our heads. That doesn’t work well in life, and it won’t work well when assessing and improving soft skills either.

  • Develop an action plan.

Once you determine where you measure up in each of the 3-5 soft skills you’ve selected to work on, develop an action plan. First, check with your employer/organization to determine if they will provide/fund soft skills training or professional development for employees. Many companies and organizations understand the value of soft skills in the workplace and will help employees in this area.

If your company will not fund soft skills development, you may have to pursue soft skills training/development on your own. Reach out to a career coach for assistance. If you can’t afford to pay for soft skills training, check out the array of blog posts and videos available online. You may not make as much progress on your own as you would with the assistance of a coach, but any attempt at development is better than none. And finally, don’t forget to seek the help of a career mentor if you don’t have one already.

  • Assess your soft skills after you’ve completed the training process to determine if more/different training is needed.

After you’ve put your plan into action and worked to improve your soft skills for a period of time, assess your soft skills again, using the same or similar tool(s) you used at the beginning. Where do you stand now?

Assessing yourself after training is important. You need to determine if training worked. If it didn’t, why would you pay for more training? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. If something isn’t working for you, try something new or different. If you assess your soft skills and find that you’ve grown in 2 of the 3 areas, that’s wonderful! Keep up the hard work. “When you combine the necessary hard skills with the right soft skills, the added value is so much more than the sum of its parts” (Tulgan 58).

If you need help identifying, assessing, or improving your soft skills, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


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Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

Which employers turn you on?

What does it take for an employer to turn you during your job search? How much time would you spend completing an application for an employer you were already interested in? And how much time would you invest completing an application for an employer you knew very little about? We’re dying to know your job search preferences and what matters most to you in terms of employer branding, benefits, and more.

application-1883453_1280What if you are not searching for a job, and you’re happily employed; should employers still try to recruit you? My colleagues and I want to know what matters most to you. Take this brief survey to help us understand what would make or break the deal for you. After closing the survey at the end of April 2017, we will analyze results. We look forward to writing an e-book and publishing/sharing results.

If you’re contemplating spending your 5-10 minute coffee break perusing Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn instead of taking this survey, let me offer you two incentives. One lucky survey respondent–maybe you–will earn a free resume consultation/revision by yours truly. I’ll help you convert your existing resume into one you’re really proud of and one employers will notice. And 50 respondents will earn a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Click here to complete the survey now!  Thanks for sharing your insights and improving the workplace of today.

 

Who developed this survey?

The WorkPlace Group and Career Coach-Bethany Wallace developed the survey in collaboration with Lyon College and Rutgers University.

Collaborators:

Dr. Steven Lindner, Executive Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Dr. Domniki Demetriadou, Director and Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Bethany Wallace, Adjunct English Faculty, Lyon College, and Owner of Career Coach-Bethany Wallace

Sid Seligman, JD, Human Research Management Faculty, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Len Garrison, Manager, Career Services, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

 

Part 1: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Have you been asked this common interview question repeatedly—“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Chances are, you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will likely continue to include this common interview question in their repertoire.

Why? It works for them. It lets employers know whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we’ll discuss how to respond to the first part of this common interview question—“What are your strengths?”


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Be careful when responding to this common interview question and discussing your strengths. There’s a fine line between bragging or stroking your own ego and simply sharing genuine, realistic strengths you possess. The difference comes down to the work you put into preparing your responses ahead of time (practice, practice, practice) and your communication skills.

  1. List more strengths than weaknesses (3:2 ratio is a safe bet).

This is common sense. Unless the recruiter specifically asks you to list the same number of strengths and weaknesses, why wouldn’t you list more strengths than weaknesses? Why would you rant on and on about your shortcomings? Play up your strengths. If you list two weaknesses, list three strengths. Even if you’re not the most confident person in the world, you want recruiters to believe you are. Spend a little more time talking about your strengths than you spend talking about your weaknesses, too.

  1. Highlight your soft skills.

Soft skills, by definition, are skills which combine talent and ability. By listing soft skills as your strengths, you’re setting yourself apart from candidates who may not have similar talents and abilities. There’s a little bit of intangible magic to soft skills, and employers know that. What makes a great leader? Can leadership be taught? Sure, to an extent. But there’s that talent component to every soft skill that is certainly a gift, and if you’ve got it, you certainly want to share about it during interviews.

Be sure to qualify and quantify your strengths when you share them. Don’t just respond by saying, “My strengths are communication skills, leadership ability, and great customer service skills.” Offer real-life examples to back up these claims just as you would on your resume. “One of my strengths is communication skills. I’m comfortable speaking to large groups. I have spoken to groups of up to 75 people at once and have done impromptu presentations. I talk to clients on the phone or face-to-face to solve problems and have often been called upon by my manager to resolve conflicts when my coworkers are having difficulty with difficult customers.”

  1. Tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation.

If you research the position, company culture, organization/employer, mission statement, etc., in advance, you’ll be well-positioned to tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation during the interview. Are you interviewing for a position requiring you to analyze data but which does not require you to interact with clients at all? Then it doesn’t make sense for you to highlight your communication skills as one of your strengths. It would make more sense for you to discuss your critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Are you interviewing with a company that values work-life balance and encourages employees to volunteer in the community, offering incentives to those who do? You might want to mention community involvement as one of your strengths and discuss your participation in a non-profit organization or your contribution and service on a board of directors.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series because this common interview question involves strengths and weaknesses, and you need to prepare  to respond to the entire question.

If you’re searching for jobs, your best bet for a successful interview is plenty of preparation. Reach out to me if you’d like to schedule an interview prep session.

How to look your best for professional events

Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming job interview, a professional networking event, a career fair, an important meeting or conference, or dinner with clients or potential employers, you need to look your best.

But how do you define “looking your best?” What should you wear, and how should you prepare your overall appearance? What matters most when it comes to appearance, and what will employers and your professional contacts really remember about you?


If you cannot view the video properly, click here.

  1. Always be comfortable.

That being said, don’t wear yoga pants or sweats. You want to appear professional, but you don’t want to be slouchy. If in doubt, dress up (not down). Suits are almost always appropriate for workplace and professional events.

That being said, do your best to purchase clothing (or have clothing tailored) which fits you really well. If you’re uncomfortable, you will be completely unable to focus on important people and conversations. You’ll be focused, instead, on how tight your pants are, whether your neckline is plunging too low, or comparing your new very tight and uncomfortable dress to the other very tight and uncomfortable new dresses in the room.

Don’t do that.

Invest (moderately) in a few key pieces of professional clothing. These pieces should fit you well, be tailored to your body, and mix and match with separates which you can dress up or down.

And let’s not forget shoes. Never–I repeat, NEVER–wear uncomfortable shoes to a networking event, work function, or site visit/tour of a facility. Your feet will thank you.

2. Focus on who you are instead of what you look like; content matters.

If you struggle with feeling egotistical or self-conscious, you may have difficulty with this one. The more you can let go of your thoughts related to your own appearance and focus instead on the content of the conversation, the more likely you will have a great time. The more you can ignore your own appearance and enjoy yourself, the more likely those around you will enjoy being around you, too. Like attracts like.

People who enjoy themselves and exude joy attract happy, joyful, positive people. Be that person at networking events, interviews, career fairs, and conferences. Strike up conversations about interesting social issues, current events, and your own life. Ask your colleagues and new connections about their own lives, personally and professionally. The more you focus on content (instead of packaging), the deeper the relationships you’ll build. And if you’re trying to land a job or connect with people who may know about great job leads, this is really significant!

Don’t obsess about your physical assets. Let that stuff go.

Certainly wear flattering clothing and practice good hygiene. But rather than focusing on physical assets, play up your character assets. This is the stuff that gets you hired.

For more networking tips, branding suggestions, and hiring secrets, reach out to me for a free consultation. 

 

 

 

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