Not everything you present in the job interview must come directly from your work experience. Sometimes a great story and a great skill springs from your personal life.
The trick is to choose the right attribute – and then present it well, so that it seems relevant to success at the job you're seeking, said Marc Cenedella, founder & chief executive of The Ladders, an executive job-matching site.
First determine what attributes you will need to demonstrate. Take a close look at the job description and the organization. Most jobs really depend on four to six key skills – for managers it might be financial management, analytical skills, leadership, people skills, change management – as the most important ones, Cenedella said.
Sometimes the key skills are obvious; but in times of great change at the organization or in the economy, it pays to ask the HR manager or recruiter what traits are most prized and sought after in this search, he suggested. Come right out and ask: "What are the three most important things to succeed in this job?"
That list could serve as a map into the new job. If the job requires an ability to win under any circumstances, you may be able to demonstrate that by telling how as captain of the local softball team, you lost two key players and still managed to make it to the finals. If the job requires adaptability and constant learning, your travels to 100 countries, and visiting lesser known cities – then blogging about it – will provide excellent examples, he said.
"What are you showcasing?.... It's not a social call. It's not about making new friends. Everything is about getting more offers and getting into the new seat" at a new job. It's your job to carefully select the stories that match up with that attributes list.
Then you must fit the right personal successes – as a volunteer or board member, a parent or an event planner – into a compelling, but concise story. Don't ramble on about the soccer team or the school carnival; focus on what you did and how it developed or showcased your talents. Make sure you frame the story from your personal life into the context of how it will help your future employer, and how it will improve your success.
Even if you have a lot of volunteer or personal experience and expertise, Cenedella suggests that you need to limit yourself to one good story and attribute from that arena. Most of your examples need to come from your professional life, he said.
Whatever stories you tell need to resonate and feel relevant. Consider them illustrations to the main points: I have demonstrated these key skills and I would be a great addition to your team.
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