Avoid Being An Interview Hostage-Taking Talker

I’m at the gym six days a week. I don’t consider myself a gym rat, I do what I’ve got to do to overcome the “…for/at your age….” thing.  If you are over a certain number, you know what I’m talking about:

“You look good…for your age”

“You should expect not to ______ at your age”

Screw that, I want to look good for me, not some expectation. And having a birthday this month, I don’t give a darn what the stupid number is, I’m stronger, healthier, more tone and defined than I was 20 numbers ago. So take that “for/at your age”.

This wasn’t the point of this article, just a side rant. 

Back on track: while I’m at the gym, I don’t talk. I’m not a mean person, I’m not a rude person. I like to do my thing and really, I don’t want people coming that close. I mean, c’mon, I’m there sweating – gyms are not full of pleasant aromas.

Anyway, I’m at the gym this morning on the treadmill, Boo doing his weights and I noticed as soon as he stepped up to a machine, he got the attention of a talker.

If you’re a gym person, do you have one of these at your gym – the person who starts talking and won’t let you go? They are the hostage-taker talker.

This one was a pro. I mean he never stopped!  Boo would go to another machine, kept talking. Walk across the gym, kept talking.  For a good 45 minutes – kept talking.

By the way, if you don’t know if your gym has one of these, you might want to see if it is you.

I know some people like to converse between reps. Cool. But seriously, I think the gentleman burned more calories talking than he did working out.

And just because my mind works this way, it got me thinking about interviewing.

Hang with me here.

All too often interviewees become talker hostage-takers. They get sidetracked from a question, go down a rabbit hole, and then end up taking the interviewer hostage on a rampage for a long, long time which leads to nowhere.

I’ve done it. I think it is a nervous thing. But more importantly – how do you stop it?

  1. Recognize that you’re going down that path.
  2. STOP.  Stop talking. Right now. Stop the momentum.
  3. Collect yourself. Breathe.
  4. Look the interviewer in the eye and smile.
  5. Tell them “I’m sorry, I have no idea how I got so far off course, let me go back and answer only what you asked”
  6. Give a short, concise answer.
  7. Let it go.

Here’s the thing – unlike at the gym where you might be avoided like the plague – if you move on, this incident will, in all likelihood, be forgotten by the interviewer.

We have all said something stupid or gone down a rabbit hole, so don’t beat yourself up about it. The trick is to stop the train and regroup quickly without batting an eye.

It’s even better if you can add a bit of humor or self-depreciation – just a bit. I’ve started my back-on-track with “Wow, not sure how I got here!” or “The blonde went a little too deep this time….”

A bit of humor (if appropriate) gives the appearance of confidence and humility that you can laugh at yourself but get right back on track.

On your next interview, be the hero, not the talker hostage-taker.

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As an award winning, published, Resume Writer & Career Coach I help amazing people get career happy.

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more.

All opinions and views are my own (unless attributed). They are also normally spot and have a touch of humor because I’m obsessive about career topics and my dog thinks I’m hilarious, not just his meal ticket.

How To Use “I Don’t Know” In An Interview To Convey 5 Positive Business Attributes

It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes it is better than okay, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Trying to come up with (or fake) an answer can be unintentionally amusing, or it can be be detrimental to your career.

Recently, I got a funny instead of an “I don’t know” A little TMI warning – I’m exploring HRT. I was given a new script and asked the pharmacist what’s the problem of too much estrogen and how will I know. His answer:

“You cry a lot.”

Oh my. He was serious. I thought it was hilarious, thought I don’t know that anyone else would have thought so. I have a weird sense of humor. Maybe next time an I don’t know followed by check with your doctor, let me ask, let me look it up…. anything really.

I used to be afraid of admitting that I didn’t know something. I was told it was a sign of weakness. How can anyone take you as an authority, a leader, if you don’t know the answers.

The problem was, I’m not good at faking. But I was good at learning. So I decided if I was going to be seen as an unauthoritative weak leader, I was at least going to be helpful.

I learned to say, “I don’t know, but I will find the answer.”

Do you even realize how powerful that statement is?

It’s liberating!

It freed me from trying to be perfect or something I wasn’t. I did not have to meet some unrealistic expectation.

And the lucky break! I would get excited because I saw it as a golden opportunity to learn something new. I love learning. Phyllis Diller attributed her longevity and success partially to learning something new every day.

You are never so far advanced in your career that you know everything and no longer need to learn.

To anyone who is like I was, afraid to admit not knowing something, either in an interview or early in your career, I say:

Don’t be.

Here’s something that will take this liberating phrase up a notch to make it even more powerful. I wish I would have figure this out back then… Here how “I don’t know” can be a positive differential in your interview.

Don’t say you will learn or find the answer. Prove it.

How?

Use an example. There is some time in your past you did not know something you needed to know. How did you find it out, how did you solve the challenge, how did you win over that problem?

A solid example with a positive result will prove at least five positive attributes:

  1.  Credibility – backing up your words with demonstrated past action
  2.  A problem solver – able to discover or use resources to find a solution
  3.  Self-aware – willing to admit when they don’t know something
  4.  A go-getter – willing to go after the next step, or create it
  5.  A self-starter – able to craft a solution

There is one slight ring of truth to the don’t know equals a weakness – if it stops at “I don’t know.” If you don’t go beyond, prove your power, and learn from it then yes, “I don’t know” can be seen as a weakness.

You are a lot more powerful that you give yourself credit. Amp it up by admitting you don’t know then ferociously go after that knowledge. What a rush of satisfaction to learn something new!

With my last I don’t know I did learn the symptoms and some interesting alternatives. What’s the last fun thing you learned from an “I don’t know” moment?

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As a triple certified as a Professional Resume Writer, Career Coach and Social Media Brand Analyst I help amazing professionals get career happy.

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more.

How to Keep Your Foot Out Of Your Mouth When Interviewing

Foot in Mouth

Let’s face it – interviewing is no fun.  I could say that in a clearer and more colorful way, but my mother reads all my articles so I am being nice.

It is nerve racking and I always equate it to dating. Before my boyfriend I hated dating. It was no fun.  It was torturous having thoughts of:  

“Am I making the right impression, will he like me, will he call me back, do I want him to call me back, do we have anything in common, do I look alright, did I spill something on myself, have I made a complete fool of myself…” all in the first five minutes of your first date.

Interviewing is really the same thing. You are hoping to make the right impression and a good connection. If you research interviewing, you will find almost overwhelmingly everyone will tell you to research and practice. 

This article is not about preparation or speaking to your abilities and attributes as they align with the job or company.  This article is about keeping your foot out of your mouth when trying to establish a connection.  If you want help on preparing and nailing the interview, here is an article I wrote for Recruiter.com:  Interview Like a Pro 10 Tips to Boost Your Confidence.

We want the interviewer to like us, right? We try to find common ground or a spark that we can have a conversation and make that connection.  But sticking your foot in your mouth by assuming or saying something (there is not nice way to say this) stupid when talking about something non job related is when all your hard work of research and preparation can come crashing down.

I think examples would help illustrate this point, so let me give you a couple snippets from when I was interviewing candidates.

During one interview of a very professional woman, she noticed a picture of me and my son on my credenza. I don’t remember exactly how she asked, but somehow it lead to me being a single mom and divorced.  Apparently this hit a nerve for her because what I do remember is her saying something very disparaging about ex-husbands (translating to bitter) and tried to get me to agree that all ex-husbands are good for nothings and how lucky we are to get out while we can.  I simply looked at her and said that I was sorry, I could not relate as my ex-husband was one of my best friends.

During an informational interview a young man was trying to bond by sucking up.  I am not a fan of sucking up in general, but this kid was swinging for the fences.  The investment firm I was working for was affiliated with a bank. He told me that he had talked to someone in a certain department of that bank and they knew nothing, and how refreshing it was to talk to someone like me who was an expert and able to give him such great information (gag).  I asked him if he remembered who he talked to at the bank. Since he was trying so hard to impress and had apparently turned off his brain, he told me her name.  I told him that is funny, she is my best friend.

Here are a few ways to keep that foot out of your mouth:

Don’t try so hard.  If you have done your research, you might have been able to find out some information about the interviewer.  Use it like spices in a fine dish – sparingly, gently and appropriately.  You are not trying to be their instant best friend, just establish a rapport.

Be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not or someone you think they want you to be.  If you create this illusion when you interview, how long do you think you can keep that up if you get the job? 

Be aware of your surroundings. You can’t prepare for everything, so be aware of your surroundings. If you are interviewing in someone’s office, scan it for possible items of conversation.  But do not assume!  They may have something with a college in their office but that does not mean they went to that college.  Maybe their kid went or goes there.  Maybe it is a lost bet.  I worked with a couple of guys – one went to Indiana University the other went to Purdue University – and during any sports season, whoever had the better record, the other had to keep their rival’s memorabilia in their office.

Just don’t. Stay far, clear and galaxies away from talking about anything anywhere near politics or religion.  Just don’t.  That is too dangerous a territory to try to build a bond in this situation.  Just don’t.

If you do find that you start dipping a toe in your mouth, stop.  If I was doing the college rivalry thing in my office and you saw a Purdue pendant which led you to say, “Hey, how about them Boilers!” I would let you know I graduated from Indiana University. At that toe dipping moment you could rebound by saying, “Oh, see what I get for assuming!” with a light laugh or “then I bet there is a really good story behind that Purdue pendant”.  Make light of it and yourself.

Some gentle reminders:

The interviewer wants you to like them, too.  This is not a one way street of building rapport.  Listen to them, observe their body language and identify when you have an opportunity to further a connection.

You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.  Ask questions, get a sense of the environment, culture, position, trajectory, opportunities, challenges – ask, listen and ask some more.

Building a rapport may not have anything to do with something personal.  It may easily come from your career history so run with that.

In summary – be yourself, mind your manners, ask questions and it will be much easier to find that nugget to start a rapport.

 

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I think they should have chocolate flavored shoes for all the times I have stuck my foot in my mouth!  I have plenty of examples of saying something awkward during an interview – what is the most awkward moment that you created for yourself in an interview?

 

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A little about me: I do what I love: help professionals break out of a suffocating job existence and into a career, position and place that renews their brilliance.

As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career personal branding firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging personal branding as applied to LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more about how we can help you.

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Marketable Skills – Look Outside Your Box

Manuel came home last night and gave me a sly smile and told me Jesse gave him a compliment. If you have a teenager you know exactly why he was smiling. For those of you without children or have younger children I’ll fill you in – teenagers do not give their parents compliments. Of course it was a bit backhanded, but it was there.

They were talking about going to the batting cages and hit golf balls this weekend because Manuel said he needed to get a couple of buckets in as he has a tournament coming up. Jesse asked if he even knew how to play golf. He told Manuel that if it were baseball he would not question it, he knows Manuel can play baseball, but golf? You see Manuel is a former ballplayer and has coached for years. But Jesse had never seen his dad play golf or known that he has played before so he naturally assumed he could not play. Ah, teenagers. In Jesse’s mind his dad was a baseball coach, not a golf coach.

This got me thinking about my class this week. We had a great discussion about how you may have marketable skills or abilities that you have learned even if it was not a part of any job description. Our personal lives offer us a multitude of opportunities that we can draw from in giving examples of skills and abilities during an interview. Volunteerism gives us these same opportunities that we can include on our resume.

One word of caution – if you are using a personal example make sure it is not too personal and that it is relevant. The examples should illustrate your point and be able to demonstrate rather than just tell a story. Sometimes people get a bit too comfortable during an interview and forget the whole point – to sell yourself to that person. You want to show them that you are the right fit for that job: you have the skills, expertise, experience and ability to be the solution to their problem. Telling personal stories with no point does not help you; this is not a social call.

It can be done and to help here is a personal example: Someone once asked me if I could successfully handle multiple projects that were outside of my comfort zone and, if so, could I give them an example. I explained that when I was first brought into the financial industry I was required to earn my Series 7 exam with the Series 9 & 10 to follow at some point. Within a short time period my ex-husband was also diagnosed with advanced aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Over the next twelve months I was successful at my duties at my position; earned my 7, 63, 65, 9 and 10 Series licenses; spend every night and weekend at the hospital learning about dialysis, chemotherapy, and various tests and treatments as my ex-husband successfully battled cancer all while managing my young son’s school and sports responsibilities and activities. The person looked at me and said, “I would say that is a definite yes.”

Even with our job we have opportunities to learn new skills that are not listed within our job description. We get so ingrained in our position and title that we forget all of the abilities and talents that we have developed that are not tied to a position. Just because it was not in your job description does not mean you have not done it. Think about your last position and what the job description was when you first started. Now think about everything that you actually did – I bet the two lists do not match.

Stop selling yourself short and start thinking outside the box. You are your hardest critic, but for today, knock it off. Start listing out your strongest skills and abilities and then go back to everything that you have done in work-world, volunteer-world and life-world. Start writing down all of the things that you have done, can do and have learned or achieved. Odds are you will see there is much more depth to you when you look outside your cubicle.

Mike Ditka, Wrestling and Interviewing

Success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal. That is something Mike Ditka once said. Let it sit for a minute and it really is a pretty powerful statement. I like it so much I have it tacked on my refrigerator and it helps ground and motivate me all at once. I think it speaks a lot towards attitude. I hound on attitude a lot, but I think it is important, it is my blog, so I get to!

My step-son Jesse started wrestling this year, as a 7th grader. He plays football in the Fall and baseball in the Spring but had no plans for a Winter sport so he decided to venture into wrestling – mainly because his dad told him he needs to be doing something during his off seasons. The boy is full of energy and really needs to keep busy in a positive way, as most young teenagers, but that is another story. Jesse’s school system is know for their wrestling program, I mean known, enough that they are looking at the 6, 7 and 8th graders and talking about State Titles in High School. They take it very seriously. And this is his first year. No pressure there!

We talked about his first year he may get his rear kicked a lot, but it will be the best way to learn. He has been pinned, which he hates, but I videotape his matches and he watches them. I mean really watches them. We see him trying different moves that kids beat him on and trying to perfect moves he has learned in practice. His attitude has made him stand out not only as an athlete, but also a student of the sport. He went in with the attitude that he was going to do this.

And what has this attitude gotten Jesse – sixth place in Folkstyle State a couple of weeks ago in his weight class. His dad and I could not have been more proud. My goodness, he looked like little Rocky out there fighting! I am more proud and impressed with his attitude than how he places – the kid won’t quit.

I can’t say enough about attitude. You see; if Jesse started the year with the attitude that he was going to stink, then guess what, he would have. Or worse yet, gone in desperate to impress the coaches being timid then he could have been injured. But he set the right attitude that was the first important step – just as it is for individuals when they prepare for interviews.

Remember, you are interviewing them too. It is not a one sided gig, at least it should not be. And if you step into that door feeling desperate that you NEED a job, any job, than guess what, that desperation will come through loud and clear. Desperation is not a pretty thing. Now, do not get me wrong, I know there are times that sometimes you feel you will take anything that comes your way because you have bills to pay. I get that – remember two teenage boys to feed here! But even in that circumstance, you still want to remain confident and positive about the position and about you – and you do have limits.

Anyone who has ever attended one of my Resume Workshops will hear me compare resumes and interviewing to dating. The resume is your first date, you want to tell them the absolute best stuff about you and get them interested in finding out more – the second date, the interview. On the second date you expand upon all your great qualities. So keeping with this theme, how many times would you go on that third date if the other person was desperate? See where I am going here?

Be clear about what you want and why. If your goal is just a pay check well okay then, no problem. But what hours are you willing to work, what conditions are you willing to accept, what type of work are you willing to do, what are your limits? Face it; you will not take any job. Don’t thinks so, ok, what if I told you I had an immediate opening for a great paying job as an enema specialist for those with severe diarrhea? Disgusting, yes, but it makes my point. Get rid of the desperation, know your strengths and your limits and go interview them! Remember, it is all about you.

It is All in Your Attitude!

confidenceHave you ever heard the phrase “it is easier to get a job when you have one?” If I remember correctly the principle applied to the dating world, too (but that’s another story). Have you wondered why? Attitude. It comes through everything that you do. When you are accomplished and comfortable within your world other things open up to you more easily. Positive attracts positive. When you are stressed about finding employment, it can come across too.

Two tips I give at my workshops: when you have a phone interview do it in front of a mirror to make sure you are smiling and positive because it comes across the phone. Second: whatever your thoughts or mood when writing your resume or cover letter they will come across. If you do not feel confident, it will show.

It does not matter what my mood is before I speak in front of a group, whether it be anxious or lethargic, you will not see it when I speak. I get in the frame of mind that I am a damn good speaker, present with an abundance of energy and I will help or inspire someone in that room! Period. With that mindset I can go out and do what I do best. You won’t hear me whine that I do not feel good or that I am nervous, I save that for my wonderful fiancé at home. Poor guy!

When you are speaking to someone about a position whether that be in an interview, networking or casual conversation you need to be in that positive frame of mind. You are the best candidate, you are interviewing them for the job, they want you – there is not a challenge that you cannot answer! If you do not really believe that you can accomplish a task then guess what, it is going to come across. I love to study body language and intonation, they are so telling. Think back to when your kids were young and you knew when they weren’t quite telling you everything. You could tell even though they swore up and down they gave you the whole story. Others can pick this up on you, too.

Fake it until you feel it. Practice it in front of the mirror, with friends, with your dog – I do not care who your audience is, just practice, practice, practice that confidence! Soon it becomes second nature. You can’t sell it until you feel it, and let’s face it, you are selling your skills, your talents or abilities right now.

I love the quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” So simple but so true.

Lisa K McDonald

So Tell Me, Why Did You Leave Your Last Position?

“My boss was a butthead.”

No, no, no – it may have been true, but you cannot answer this way! We have all wanted to at one time or another, but no – I strongly suggest against it.

If your position was eliminated, were laid off, or anything that was truly out of your control then this question should be fairly easy to answer. Just a word of caution, remember to put it in a way that does not show disdain or disgust for that company. A simple way of answering would be, “Unfortunately, due to the current climate in the automotive industry, XYX Company had lost many contracts and it was necessary to cut personnel across the board for their survival.” Stating across the board infers that they were not cutting deadwood. Make sure you are honest in your answer. IF they only cut you then you should not state it was across the board, it was simply cutting costs by eliminating positions.

If you quit a position, that can be a little trickier. Ask yourself why you quit. Was the boss such a bonehead that he drove you out? But why, were you not receiving opportunities and challenges to grow? If you were being challenged and given opportunities you probably could have put up with a bonehead boss, right?

If you were fired, this is difficult indeed. To be honest but tactful, especially if you are applying for work in the same line. This is where you need to be honest with yourself in order that you can develop an appropriate answer. Was it an agreed upon separation? Are your strengths in client development and your position evolved into data entry only? Were you let go because you could not keep up with the requirements? In that situation I would state, “When I began with ABA Company I was heavily involved in client development, in which I excelled. Over time the position evolved into data entry, which I am competent but was not at the level that they would have preferred. It was mutually agreed upon that it was not the best fit for me or ABA. That is why I am looking to get back into client development and relationships where I can really bring value to your company.” You are letting them know what happened but ending in a positive emphasizing what you can bring to their company.

Most important in answering this question: be honest, end in a positive of what you can bring to this company and do not speak ill of your former employer. It will take practice and you must have this prepared before the interview. Do not wing this, trust me. You should have this prepared at anytime just in case you meet a contact at the grocery store you have a good, positive answer that will hopefully lead you to an interview.

Have a question on how to answer in your specific situation? Post a comment or go to our website and email me – I will give some suggestions on how to answer tactfully and in a positive manner. It is a tough thing to answer, you do not have to try it alone!

Lisa K McDonald

Career Polish

What are Your Weaknesses?

woman interviewed by twoThis question can be asked in many different forms during an interview, but the bottom line is you should be prepared to answer it in one way or another. It is a terrible question, I agree. I had to ask it when I was interviewing candidates and it was not much fun on the other side of the table either!

So, how do you answer this question? Let us start by first stepping back. Before you have even sent out resumes or filled out applications you should be prepared for this. You should do an honest self-evaluation of yourself. List your talents, your strengths, what you bring to a company, what your accomplishments are to date and yes, your weaknesses. You will be asked about all of these things so you should be prepared.

To answer the weaknesses question, you want to focus on how your strengths counter those weaknesses and how you overcome them. For example, I hate filing. Always have, always will. Hate it with a passion. I do not know why, I do not care why I just know this about myself. But, I am a very organized person, a list person, a person who likes to be able to set daily goals and check them off the list. I also pride myself in making the most of my time.

I use my strengths by creating a specific location in my office to put all of my filing. Through out the day I put anything needing to be filed in that spot and that spot only. I also mark a specific time on my calendar to file – from 3:00 – 3:30. Now each day is not going to allow me to file exactly at 3:00, but it is a goal, it is on my calendar, it is a priority. If I have to schedule a meeting at 3:15, I move my filing to another time, I do not ignore it. At the end of the day I keep my priorities, accomplish my goals and overcome my weakness.

Realize this question is an opportunity to showcase strengths, a realization about yourself, how you overcome and master your challenges. We all have weaknesses, no one is the perfect employee (or boss!) so it is important to recognized what qualities you need to improve on and how you do not let these interfere with your work.

A word of caution – do your homework, know what the position entails. There is nothing worse than being interviewed and your weakness is one of the most important qualities of the job. Case in point, I interviewed a young lady years ago for the position of Broker’s Assistant for a high level financial advisor. She would be responsible for excel spreadsheets, calculating various items in the client’s accounts and the like. The job description indicated an aptitude in mathematics was required. When I asked about her weaknesses, she told me, “I’m not very good at math, but I’m a people person!”

She did not get the job.

 

Lisa K McDonald

Career Polish

So Tell Me About Yourself…

The interview is set. You arrived a few minutes early, checked that you have a clean copy of your resume and references, dressed professionally – you are all set to knock their socks off during this interview. You are ushered into an office asked to please take a seat, watch your interviewer sit across from you, smile and ask, “So, tell me a little about yourself”. Ummmm

This is a very common question so do not panic. Actually, you should be prepared for this before you even woke up this morning. But for the many, many people who are not, let us look into this a bit.

First, let me explain, when an interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself, they really, really do not want to know about your kids, pets, high school glory days (unless you just graduated high school and even then…). Please, do not start with your winning the spelling bee in the third grade and detail every detail until the graduation of your children through college. Please. I beg of you.

This is also not a time that you jump at them and say, “I am a people person, I love people, I love working with people, I love interacting with people”. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to ask someone (just because it is the sarcastic side in me coming out) “So, you’re a people person, as opposed to what, a dog person?” I never did, darn it, I wish I did. Please do not do this either.

So now you might be asking, “Alright Ms. Smartypants, what do I say”. Actually, I prefer skirts to pants, but that is beside the point.

This question is asked by one of three types of interviewers. The first is most likely inexperienced and using it as an icebreaker, or stall so they can prepare for the interview because they were running late before you arrived. The second is someone who is really looking for something – they have a specific person in mind they are waiting to hear key words they are looking for. The third is asking this question to not only listen to your response but size up your body language, general communication ability and “sum you up”. Does it matter which type asked you, no. You should be prepared regardless.

Prepared. Know your strengths, know the company you are interviewing with, know the position you are interviewing for – do your homework. This is a sixty to ninety second free forum for you to give your experience, talents, education/training and skills. A minute (but less than two) of All-About-Me time. Do not memorize this opening, but do be prepared. You will want to tie these qualities into the position that you will be discussing.

More specifically, you want to hit on a brief introduction, your key accomplishments, your strengths as defined by these accomplishments and how these are important for the prospective company based on your research.

Once you give this wonderful introduction of yourself as you have anticipated and rehearsed (without memorizing) just one last favor I must ask of you – shut up. The worst thing you can do is mistake their silence for anything but them making mental notes of those wonderful qualities. Do not feel as though you need to keep talking. Trust me, they have more questions for you and once they process your introduction, they will ask you. Just wait for it.

Lisa K McDonald

Career Polish