Questions and Answers with Career Expert Pamela Skillings
Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.
Pamela Skillings is an author, interview coach, and career expert.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||To what extent do you find clients struggling with the same consistent challenges with interviewing? What are some of those challenges?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I work with many different types of clients — from college students to seasoned senior executives. Almost everyone has trouble with the concept of “selling themselves” effectively. Some people are too modest or feel awkward talking themselves up. Others push the hard sell and come across as clueless, obnoxious, or inauthentic. Even those who sell for a living often struggle with selling themselves. That’s because most of us don’t have a lot of practice talking about why we’re great. It’s awkward. And we rarely (perhaps never) get objective feedback after a job interview.
Of course, human beings are not used cars, but successful interviewers use sales techniques to communicate their strengths and fit for the job — whether they realize it or not. That means understanding who your buyer (interviewer) is and what his or her top needs are for the job at hand, then responding in a way that highlights your most compelling strengths and past experiences.
You don’t have to become someone that you’re not (Mr. Schmooze). You don’t have to memorize a script (you’ll just sound robotic). However, you must prepare if you want to speak confidently and concisely about why you’re the best candidate. You must believe that the employer should hire you — and be able to articulate why.
Most job searchers don’t spend enough time analyzing the job requirements and thinking about which strengths, examples, and qualifications they should communicate. Most never really practice delivering their interview stories. Is it any wonder that they end up blurting, stumbling, and/or rambling on when they get into the interview room?
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||In what ways do you feel your interview coaching is different from what other career coaches might offer?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I offer my clients several valuable perspectives on the job-interview process. First, I am an experienced career coach who has worked with hundreds of clients in many industries and I am proud of my track record of helping people land jobs. I also have many years of experience as a hiring manager at Fortune 100 companies, and I continue to work with corporate clients to train managers in job-interviewing skills. As a result, I have experience on both sides of the job-interview table. I know why interviewers ask the questions they do, where they’re likely to probe, and what answers will raise red flags.
And finally, I bring my expertise in marketing and communications to the process. I think this knowledge is the magic ingredient. I help my clients use marketing techniques to present their qualifications in the best possible light to employers.
My method is a combination of coaching, practice interviews (usually on video), and candid feedback. This approach is designed to help clients find their voice, build their confidence, and break bad habits.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||You do communication consulting for corporate clients. In what ways do the worlds of coaching job-seekers and consulting with corporations overlap? What can clients gain from your corporate experience?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| On the corporate side of my business, I provide training and communications consulting services to companies. These services include teaching corporate managers how to be better interviewers and how to identify the best candidates for their job openings.
Every day, I work with both hiring managers and job applicants, which gives me unusual insight into all aspects of the job-search and interviewing process. As a result, I can help applicants see the perspective of the recruiters and managers. I can also share information about the latest trends in the job market and how companies are recruiting.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Without giving away all your secrets, can you share a unique tip about interviewing that readers could benefit from?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| You can improve your interview results dramatically by becoming a better storyteller. Every job interview includes behavioral questions (“Tell me about a time when…”). Some are nothing but behavioral questions.
Do yourself a favor and develop some go-to interview stories (non-fiction only, please) about your top accomplishments and/or most relevant projects. And make sure each story includes a happy ending (positive results with numbers if possible).
Pick stories that demonstrate your most valuable competencies and those most in demand in your line of work. Good examples of leadership, teamwork, and problem solving are always crowd pleasers.
Next, practice telling these stories in the comfort of your own home until you feel you’ve got the right flow and the right level of detail.
By identifying examples of your best work and keeping them fresh in your mind, you will be prepared to show off your greatest hits when it’s interview time.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||One new employer trend is having applicants leave a two-minute voice-mail message describing why they should be hired. How would you coach job-seekers for that scenario?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I advise all of my clients to develop an “elevator pitch” and customize it for each job opportunity. They can use this elevator pitch to answer the still-all-too-common “Tell me about yourself” opening interview gambit (as well as other questions such as “Why should we hire you?” or “What makes you the best candidate?”)
This elevator pitch also serves them well for networking purposes and would work beautifully in a voice-mail-audition scenario.
I work with my clients to distill their high-level qualifications into a concise 1-2 minute statement and then practice (not memorize) until it feels natural and strong. I provide objective feedback on what’s working and what’s not (whether it’s confusing, irrelevant, or bland) and we record (on video or audio) so that clients can compare versions and hear for themselves how they come across.
For readers interested in fine-tuning their pitches, I advise first jotting down the top 3-4 qualities that you feel set you apart from other candidates for this particular position. What do you want the recruiter to remember about you when deciding whom to call back? These qualities should form the basis of your pitch. Then you must practice weaving them all together into an irresistible two-minute story. Turn on a recorder (iPhone voice memo feature works well) and see what comes out. Your first few tries will be terrible, but you will find the right approach and the right rhythm if you keep trying. Ask an objective friend for feedback if you start to feel too close to it.
Pamela Skillings is an author, interview coach, and career expert who has been featured by The New York Times, Newsweek, ABC News, Forbes, and other media outlets. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She is the co-founder of Big Interview, an online, video-based job interview training system and an adjunct professor for New York University. Previously, Pamela spent more than 15 years as a marketing and HR executive for Fortune 500 companies. Her company, Skillful Communications, also provides management training for the American Management Association and other organizations.
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