When interviewers ask prospective employees to “Tell Me a Little About Yourself” I often find it to be counterproductive. A resume should the employer about where you’ve been and for me that’s not the most relevant question.
Instead, I strongly believe the best approach would be to ask, “What are you looking for now in your next career move? Why are you seeking a change?”
Until this week, I had almost forgotten a former employer asked interviewees to create a video to introduce themselves to share with the hiring committee. I should print that transcript and keep it with me just in case someone asks me again about my employment history at a social event. 😉
Actually, now that I think about it, I really want to revise my “career story” because when I reflect on the jobs I stayed with for 15-20 years, the narrative of how I got there is much more interesting and something I didn’t initially address in my video pitch.
For instance, I’ll never forget my first interview at AHSR (now AcademyHealth). I had absolutely no clue what Health Services Research was, but when I met my soon-t0-be supervisor we clicked right away. I felt an instant connection to her fun energy and quirkiness. She was so incredibly cool and approachable, I knew I wanted her to be my boss. When I left the interview I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, I have no clue what the actual job is, but I want it. She’s so amazing! I could learn a lot from her!”
My relationship with Learning Without Tears (formerly Handwriting Without Tears) started in a bagel shop at the recommendation of a friend to her friend. I had no idea that a short-term consulting gig to create an online store on a free shopping site would gradually evolve into something much bigger where I’d be teaching myself how to be a graphic designer, production specialist, e-mail marketer, and social media manager over the course of 22 years.
When I started running in Charlottesville, I was frustrated that there wasn’t an easier way to sign up for training programs or a quicker way to get race results. I also thought some of the race shirt designs could be improved. I never complain about anything unless I’m willing to fix it myself or to offer solutions. That’s how my 13+ years volunteering with the Charlottesville Track Club (CTC) began.
When I reflect on my accomplishments over the past 30+ years, I’m most proud of what I’ve achieved with the CTC and through my own race, the Rivanna Greenbelt Marathon & Half Marathon. My volunteer work is the most fulfilling and satisfying work I’ve ever done. I literally smile every time I see someone in Charlottesville (and beyond!) wearing a shirt I designed. That never gets old!
All this from someone with a MA in Women’s Studies and MFA in Creative Writing. One of my majors doesn’t even exist anymore (the name has changed) and I’ve never earned money from my writing, but I’ve had a pretty interesting work life that has kept me busy, productive, growing, and satisfied.
I have learned a lot from my experience in Congress, nonprofits, small businesses, and consulting. Eventually, I hope to develop a unique and funny way to share my “Lessons Learned” — the outrageous stories from interviews and workplace drama and how to learn and grow from even the most discouraging situations.
Stay tuned! :)
My strengths and what sets me apart from others:
One of my greatest strengths (and weaknesses) is my strong work ethic. I’m a workaholic. I always put more time into a task or project than any normal person would. I can’t really stop myself, it’s in my DNA. I learned it from my father who was an amazing strategic marketing consultant who created his own business after getting fired from corporate America. He taught me so much about decency, persistence, empathy, and grit. He became my career coach during my job search and always gave me the best advice. I didn’t always listen to him because sometimes I just have to do what I know is right for me, but he was never afraid to tell me what he thought and to give me his perspective.
My dad told me an interesting story this weekend when I called him for advice after recent challenges..
As a consultant, he did a focus group with customers for a client. When he stopped getting his calls returned, the client VP finally told him:
"You'll never work here again."
My dad asked why.
"Because you made me look bad."
Two years later that VP was gone and my dad got a call from someone who saw that focus group report and was impressed by it. Eventually he had more work with that client than ever before.
Moral of the story:
You never know how things will play out. Don't get discouraged with a roadblock. Always continue to do good work. You could be surprised with how things turn out.
I am so grateful to have a dad who’s been there to listen to me vent with empathy and kindness. With his vast experiences and knowledge, he’s also able to help guide me into a more productive direction when I seem lost. Thanks dad! I love you!
It’s no secret to my family that I’m a huge “Morning Joe” fan. I especially enjoy Mika Brzezinski because she’s about my age and has many similar opinions and observations.
One thing that I find quite meaningful and useful are her segments regarding the “Know Your Value” movement that she founded.
As a woman in her early 50s who’s been searching for the “perfect” job for longer than I want to admit, I have experienced a lot of rejections, many of which I believe are rooted in some form of bias against older and more experienced women. It seems counterintuitive that you would dismiss the potential of adding a team member who brings a wealth of knowledge and skills from a lifetime in the workforce, but I’ve seen it happen. I’ve followed up on positions I’ve wanted to find out they’ve become filled by people half my age with sparse LinkedIn profiles.
In my search, I have become quite the expert in salary ranges, job descriptions, company cultures, and HR practices. I know what’s fair, what’s realistic, what’s inefficient, what’s transparent, and with more than 100 interviews under my belt, I can more easily sense both good fits and red flags. That being said, experiences and expectations can change your perspective. I strongly believe that clear, direct, empathic, and honest communication will always be the fastest route to fostering meaningful relationships and to solving conflicts or problems.
Over the past few months I’ve had to re-evaluate my career objectives, my strengths, my weaknesses, what motivates me, what blocks me, what inspires me, what irritates me. I’ve had to think about what I’m worth, what I value, what I offer, what I need.
Making a lot of money has never been something important to me. Rather, I need to feel like I’m getting something useful done well and, more importantly, that I’m making a positive impact on someone else’s life. There are so many roles that can achieve those goals – from serving a cup of coffee to directing a road race. I’ve also learned over time to get out of my comfort zone and look for ways to have an impact that didn’t initially seem like viable or feasible options or opportunities.
For me, it’s equally important to demonstrate my skills and work ethic as it is to make an authentic connection. When that happens and someone appreciates both your efforts and your vulnerability, it’s magical. To be seen as someone with both talent and likability is priceless and empowering. I will never take that feeling for granted even if things don’t always work out the way I had wanted or anticipated.
I know I’m valuable and it can be frustrating when bureaucracy or bias blocks my desired path, but as a long distance runner who’s endured many setbacks, I will always strive to finish the race and, more importantly, to enjoy the journey to the next one.
“A precursor to ghosting is when either party doesn’t feel bought into the process or has that emotional investment. There has to be greater emphasis on approaching people you genuinely think are right for the job. And, if someone takes time out of their day for an interview, virtually or in person, they deserve feedback.”
Craig Freedberg, a regional director at recruitment firm Robert Half
Yesterday I spent an excruciating period of time documenting the past five rejections (or lack there of) after interviewing with a wide range of companies. I wanted to share it with a friend of mine who offered me a promising consulting project to give her some context on both how grateful I am that I currently have a seasonal position with an amazing group of people, but how scared I am to enter the job-seeking world again full-time when this role ends.
I have thought a lot about this. I keep telling myself that I am never going to accept another interview without certain conditions (i.e., a guarantee that I’ll be treated with respect and kindness) or that I won’t become emotionally invested in every potential opportunity.
I’ve even considered including a proper rejection letter as part of my cover letter. One that includes a personal touch which is lacking in nearly every email I’ve received over the past year. “Leah, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I really enjoyed hearing about your work with the Charlottesville Track Club. If I were a long distance runner I would definitely want to sign up for the Rivanna Greenbelt Marathon. It’s clear you’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into making it a fun community race.”
It doesn’t need to be a competition between which is worse: the generic rejection after you’ve shared a personal story that connects you to the mission of the organization or being ghosted after you’ve made yourself vulnerable by sharing your top two weaknesses. They both suck. They both hurt. Neither should ever happen in my opinion. It’s just bad business and it’s not kind.
Every applicant could some day be a potential client, customer, donor, or volunteer. Why in the world would you want someone to leave with a bad impression when showing some empathy and respect takes just a few minutes. One sentence is all it takes. One sentence that shows you listened and appreciated one unique thing about the person.
I know that it can be awkward to have certain conversations. I know that we’re all very busy and some things slip through the cracks or that it’s just easier to be impersonal and copy and paste.
I’m not perfect either. I have two emails I’ve been meaning to send, but put off far too long. One to someone who asked for feedback on the interviewing process after rejecting me and another about a volunteering opportunity that I haven’t had the energy to invest in properly. Those messages will be sent today. I’ll probably over apologize and over share, but I’ll be honest and even if I never get a response, I’ll know I did what felt was the right thing to do.
My other musings about the job hunt: