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?


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  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. 

 

 

 

About to graduate? 3 networking tips for college seniors

It’s spring semester, and graduation is two months away. Congratulations! If you’ve been consistently branding yourself, networking your tail off, applying for grad school or jobs, and have your resume and other materials in order, you’re probably feeling ready to launch into the next stage of your life: transitioning from college student to entry-level careerist. If you’ve been procrastinating visiting with career services professionals on campus and never read articles like these (and your mom just forwarded this article to you, or you stumbled across it as part of some divine intervention), you may feel a little nervous about what’s coming in May.

It’s great to get an early start on preparing for your future career and job search, but better late than never. Networking is a huge piece of the career preparation puzzle; remember, experts estimate (based on research) that up to 85% of jobs are landed via networking. Don’t spend all your time researching companies online and applying for jobs without ever attending career fairs or networking events. Don’t fail to connect with real people.

“Don’t be afraid to put in work on the front end to connect with people who can help you in your career or job search,” says Becky Warren, Career & Disability Services Coordinator.

Here are several great networking tips for seniors in college ready to launch their careers.


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  • Talk.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s so easy to focus on everything else… your appearance, the food at the networking event, the overwhelming number of employers or attendees, the number of job candidates or students, the noise in the room, the pit in your stomach or butterflies dancing in your belly.

Focus!

If you don’t have genuine conversations with people at networking events, career fairs, alumni events hosted on campus, and in other situations designed to give you opportunities to engage with real, live people, you’re missing the point. And guess what? You need to branch out and avoid talking to the people you already know.

Give yourself an assignment to talk to at least three new people when you attend an event. Obtain business cards if possible because this gives you an easy reminder for following up later (and contact information, too). It’s great to talk to people in your career field, but if you can’t identify people in your field, that’s okay. The point is to practice overcoming your fear of communicating with new people and to make new connections. You might enjoy yourself, and you might build great new connections.

  • Update your brand.

Before you step out the door to attend a face-to-face networking event or prior to logging on to a virtual event, check your online brand. Log into every social media site. Google yourself. You should do this regularly, but definitely do it prior to events.

Recently, I attended an event on a college campus. I interacted with a really cool, engaging, savvy student. Immediately following the event, I searched for the student on social media. Her profile picture gave me pause and seemed inappropriate. I chose not to connect after all. The bummer for that student is that I’m connected to some really awesome employers, recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, and entrepreneurs. These are all people who may have benefited this young woman in her future job search. But I have to look out for my own brand. I don’t connect (or remain connected) with people who don’t portray themselves in a positive light.

Don’t let this happen to you. Put your best self out there online, particularly when you’re job searching and prior to graduation. Remember, you cannot disconnect your brand from your networking efforts.

  • Don’t overlook the little people.

When you’re networking, don’t make the classic mistake of walking into a room and glancing at name badges or honing in on the most important looking people in the room and ignoring the rest of the minions. It’s egotistical and rude to focus on a few “big names” in the room, and honestly, it might be a waste of your time because—news flash—many other candidates will be playing the same game.

You’re better off to network with everyone. Just as in life, mix it up and try to engage with a very diverse group of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, all levels of experience in the workplace, etc. You’ll have interesting conversations, and you may be surprised that those “little people” often have some hidden connections which can help you later in your job search.

The same goes for building and maintaining relationships in the workplace (not just at networking events).

“Don’t sell any co-worker short. Someday that person may be a leader, in a hiring role, or know of a hidden job they could tell you about because you have a professional relationship with them. Be nice to everyone you work with. It will pay off,” encourages Matt Krumrie, freelance writer and career expert.

Remember, networking is a web of relationships you’ve worked to build; you have to maintain them, too.

“As with any relationship, what you put in is what you get out,” shares Warren.

Networking is a two-way street; what are you giving back to the people who have given so much to you?

“Be a resource for others in your network. Be willing to connect them with people you know; help them if they have a question. Always be willing to help them solve a problem. It may not pay off immediately, but it will someday, guaranteed. And that is much more rewarding,” promises Krumrie.

About today’s contributors:

Becky Warren works in career services at a community college. With five years of experience in higher education, she has a passion for serving students and helping others plan for their futures. 

Matt Krumrie writes about careers, jobs and workplace topics and issues. Learn more at resumesbymatt.com

For help building your network, branding yourself well, or writing your own entry-level resume, reach out to me for a free consultation. 

Think before you post

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It’s disappointing to hear, but it’s the truth. You’re not a celebrity.

When Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon arrived at an Oscars party in a Prius instead of a limousine, people (at least some people) noticed. And people cared. On the contrary, if you purchase a hybrid vehicle and drive around your neighborhood or post status updates and Tweet about saving the environment, no one will snap a photograph (except perhaps your wife).

We’re not celebrities. The problem is social media has given us all a false sense of power, authority, and entitlement. We believe we can actually change the world (or at least our friends’ minds) by posting, sharing, and liking. We think we’re little celebrities, saving the world one Tweet at a time. It’s insane.

This would simply be a societal phenomenon (an amusing one, albeit) if it weren’t for the impact it has on our personal branding and networking efforts, which heavily impacts our careers. If you spew negativity around social media for two years, and all of your 2,391 connections see each of your negative, over-the-top, whiny, offensive, and heavily opinionated posts, you have effectively branded yourself as negative, whiny, offensive, and heavily opinionated.

You may currently feel so strongly about your opinions, beliefs, and values that you don’t think this matters. Or perhaps you have a sinking feeling in your gut while reading this. You know it matters, but you feel so strongly about your opinions, beliefs, and values that you are going to Joan of Arc it to the death in the name of X cause all over social media. However, as a career coach who has managed social media accounts for several organizations and assisted many clients with branding and networking efforts, I implore you to reconsider this frenetic online behavior.

If you have any intention of searching for jobs, networking professionally with people who do not share your beliefs and values (that’s probably half the world’s population), seeking a promotion, or switching career paths at any point, please pause before posting content which is emotionally loaded, politically slanted, or in any way gives off the “us versus them” vibe. Even if people don’t tell you they find your posts offensive, whiny, arrogant, negative, heavily opinionated, or inappropriate, they may.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

We are always branding ourselves, whether we intend to or not. By the same token, we’re always either tightening or loosening our connections with our network because people we’re connected to see our actions (including posts, shares, and likes). These create an impression of who we are. If we’re not mindfully working to ensure our connections see the best version of ourselves, they won’t.

This requires that we gain some objectivity and stop reacting to every single political news article which comes across our news feed. We must practice dignity and ask ourselves, ‘How important is it?’ before commenting on others’ posts (which are often immature and asinine). Unless our connections are all purely personal, we’re digging ourselves into a deep branding hole. It’s hard to recreate your brand once you’ve labeled yourself–over a long period of time–as whiny, negative, highly volatile, heavily opinionated, intolerant of others’ opinions, and prone to snap.

If you’re in a branding hole or want to find a way to express yourself honestly while maintaining a positive brand (and great relationships with your contacts), reach out to me for help. 

 

4 reasons you might need a career coach

We live in a contradictory world. An interview with a woman who constructed her entire home DIY-style via YouTube instruction went viral recently. On the other hand, many of us hire experts to take care of our every need and desire, ranging from preventing our wrinkles by injecting Botox into our foreheads to varnishing our toenails to scrubbing our toilets and changing the oil in our vehicles.

The exhausted, overworked, “I just want to zone out, watch countless episodes of my favorite show, and consume a pint of ice cream” feels relieved when we learn that career coaches exist. The proud “I think I took a course about this in college or at least read an article about it online” part of us frowns upon the notion of hiring an expert to walk us through any part of the career planning or job search process.

You’ll have to decide which part of you ultimately wins out, but I’ll respond to four of the most common myths and hesitations you might have about working with a career coach. I think you’ll find there are at least four solid reasons here why you should consider working with a career coach.


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Myth #1: It’s way too expensive to hire a career coach.

You might be right. And you might be wrong. It depends on a number of factors, including the specific career coach you hire, how many hours the coach spends working with you, your level of experience, the variety of services provided, and even where you live. As the saying goes, it’s never safe to assume; you run the risk of… well, you know the rest.

Do a little research instead. Check out at least three career coaches’ websites. Request free consultations. You will likely find that their pricing models vary, sometimes vastly, and their services may be similar or quite different. Chances are, you’ll find a career coach with a very logical, affordable pricing model. You need to find a coach whose qualifications, services, and pricing model work for YOU; you also need to work with someone who feels like a fit. Even if you work with someone remotely (via phone, Skype, or email), you will interact with your coach quite a bit. Never work with someone who makes you feel rushed, judged, unimportant, or uncomfortable, even if the price is right.

Myth #2: You already know everything about job searching or have your future career mapped out. There’s really no need to hire a career coach.

You’ve taken personality and skills inventories. You’ve mapped out your career plan. You’ve determined which companies to apply for and updated your resume. You have already created a LinkedIn profile. What else is there? You have no need to hire a career coach. You even read articles regularly posted on The Muse site. You might as well brand yourself with the hashtag #careerexpert.

While that may seem laughable to some, it’s not a far cry from how many of you feel. It’s okay; stay with me. There’s beauty in recognizing you don’t know everything you think you know. If you work with a career coach, you might find that the resume you recently updated and have proudly paraded around is, in fact, sorely lacking in its ability to sell you to potential employers. A career coach has expertise in interviews and can prepare you to not just answer standard interview questions but to also tailor your responses when preparing to interview for specific positions (hopefully when interviewing for your dream job). And a great career coach—one without a gigantic ego—will refer you to another expert if she sees you need help with a specific issue outside of her coaching expertise.

There are so many genuinely legitimate reasons to work with a career coach even if you believe you don’t need help. Most of the people who believe they don’t need help are the people who need it most.

Myth #3: You’re satisfied with your current job or career field.

Why would you consider hiring a career coach if you’re happy where you are?

Even if you have no intentions of changing jobs, working with a career coach to improve your workplace communication skills, conflict prevention and resolution skills, or writing skills can significantly improve your work performance, time management skills, and team effectiveness.  While you’re happy now, you’re never promised tomorrow. How many times do we read stories of companies closing their doors unexpectedly or of giving employees nothing but the minimum number of days’ notice before shutting their doors?

In addition, it’s great to be prepared for fabulous opportunities for promotion within your company or organization. Right now, many Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving vacant upper-level positions. Who’s going to fill their shoes? You are, if you’re prepared to apply and have your ducks in a row. You need a polished resume, a great cover letter you can tailor as needed, and solid interview skills. You need to brand yourself well right now; ideally, you shouldn’t wait to establish your social media presence when you begin searching for jobs. And if you aren’t already building a professional network in the workplace and beyond, get busy. If any of this gives you pause or intimidates you, reach out to me for help.

Myth #4: You’re a high school or college student. You have free help available, so why would you hire a career coach?

This myth is the closest to a truth of the four in this article/video. In fact, at least 8 times out of 10, I find that students who come to me for help don’t need my help or the help of another career coach because they can receive adequate assistance through high school or college counselors or career services professionals if they’ll only ask for it.

There are always exceptions, but I encourage students to start by reaching out to the professionals closest to them. I worked in career services at two institutions in the past; I believe career services is highly beneficial to most students in most cases, and I’m a huge advocate obviously.

If you’re currently enrolled in school, reach out to professionals on campus for assistance. This help is included in the price of tuition. It’s not actually free. You’re paying for it. If you’re receiving a scholarship, grant, or loans, someone is paying for it, or you’ll be paying for it eventually. Take advantage of the benefits available to you before paying someone to provide you with similar services. While working with a career coach isn’t the same, I personally don’t feel it’s ethical—as a career coach—to work with you without asking you if you’ve given career services a chance. If you’ve reached out to career services or counselors and have been disappointed in the help they provided, come back to me, and I’ll be glad to help.

Do you have more questions about whether career coaching is right for you? Request a free consultation and let me answer your questions.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


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Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.

3 ways to do a branding check before a networking event

It’s the time of year when everyone’s searching for jobs, or at least it seems that way. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, and you have that unsettled, disgruntled feeling, or you’re a college student searching for your very first professional job or internship, you’re going to be attending career fairs, job fairs, or other networking events. You’ll be schmoozing with recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues, faculty members, and professionals in your chosen career field who may be able to hook you up with great job leads.

Don’t forget to properly prepare for these events. How can you do that? One important way is to perform a branding check.


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1. Check your online brand.
Don’t wait until after the event to Google yourself and start scrambling to remove undesirable links, photos, or documents. It may be too late at that point; your new professional friends may have beat you to the punch.

Don’t just remove undesirable content. Work to brand yourself in a positive light, too. You should do this regularly, and I won’t lie to you; it takes time and effort. It often takes days or weeks to tidy up your social media pages/profiles and to connect with great people online. Don’t wait until the day of a networking event to log in to your profiles and expect to drastically transform your online image.
2. Prepare a personal branding statement and elevator pitch.
Within 20-30 seconds, confidently and concisely describe who you are and where you’re heading in life. Don’t waste your new professional contacts’ time by rambling, hemming, and hawing during the networking event. You’re all there for the same reason–to build relationships and make connections. Be considerate of others’ times by preparing your spiel in advance. Prepare and practice your personal branding statement and elevator pitch by working with a career services expert if you’re a college student or with a career coach like me if you’ve already graduated from college.
3. Show your work; don’t just talk about it.
Do you have samples of your writing, artwork, graphic design projects, or research results? Don’t just blab about it at the networking event (although certainly brag about yourself and toot your own horn). Mention that you have links available to samples of your work on your LinkedIn profile, electronic portfolio, or blog site. Then follow up after the networking event and remember to send samples of your work to your new professional contacts.

It’s great to speak well of your accomplishments. It’s better to back up your claims with proof. This really brands you by creating a firm impression of who you are professionally in the minds of those who view your work.

blonde-1503202_1280Branding and networking are lifelong processes. If you need help getting started or improving your brand, reach out to me for help.

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