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Prepping for Interview Season

There are always jobs popping up in Higher Ed, but the spring semester is traditionally job-hunting season. Maybe you feel like it’s just time to move up in your career. Maybe you’ve realized your current position isn’t working for you anymore. Whether you’ve been searching for jobs for awhile or think you need to start, in this article we’re going to talk about what you need to do to prepare for interview season.

When people talk about job hunting, step one is typically getting your resume updated, right? You go back and add in the many, many responsibilities you’ve had to do since you got your current job. Yes, you’ll need an updated resume to actually apply for positions, but this isn’t where you need to start. When you start with your resume, you automatically focus on the things you do. Instead, I want you to talk about why you should start by focusing on WHO you are and HOW you do things.

So what’s the difference? When people apply for jobs, they typically apply for positions they have experience doing, or at the very least transferable experiences. When you’re asked, “why should we hire you?” You talk about all those experiences. Sure, you need to talk about those similar experiences in some way, but remember every other candidate is going to have similar experiences. Maybe not exactly the same, but the same enough to grab their attention and get an interview.

You may have tons of experience doing those things, but when people are looking at your resume or interviewing, you need to be more than the things you’ve done. You need to show potential employers who you are and how you show up at work. And when you start with your resume, you shift your focus away from the very thing that will decide if you’re the right candidate for the job.

So how do you do that? If you guessed, “By focusing on my talents?” You’re absolutely right. When you know and understand your talents, you can better communicate who you are and how you do what you do, not just what you’ve done. That paints a much more vivid picture for interviewers.

Let’s take res life. That’s my background, and I’m guessing many of yours. If you’ve worked in res life, you’re going to have things like supervised ___ professional staff members and ___ RAs; organized and/or developed team training; did room assignments for ___ students; etc. Yep, you sure did. So did I. So did at least 50% of the candidates out there. That’s nice, but essentially boring.

But what if instead of supervising, you said – and let’s set this up bullet point style…

  • I focus on clearly and frequent communicating with my team #Communication

  • I frequently upgrade my supervising strategy based on current research #Input or #Learner

  • I encourage my team members growth by coaching them to improve their performance on a daily basis #Maximizer

  • I am responsive to the needs of my team members and can quickly pivot to give them what they need to be successful in their role #Adaptability

If you were hiring someone, which approach would capture your attention more? Which gives you more information about the candidate? At its core, that’s what CliftonStrengths is about – how you do the things you do. When people are looking to fill a position, yes, absolutely you need to be able to check some boxes as far as experience goes. But at a certain point, it’s about who is the right fit. The second approach paints a much better picture of whether or not how you do things is the right fit for a position.

The CliftonStrengths assessment started because Dr. Clifton wanted to find out what talents the people who were best in their field had in common. The assumption was that the best CEOs or the best teachers or the best lawyers all had the same talents. But after thousands of interviews, they found the exact opposite. The people who excelled at their roles were the ones who focused on the talents that they had. That means what you do is far less important than how you do it.

There are plenty of people who could do whatever job you’re applying for because they’ve done the things you have. But when you show up as your authentic self and focus on the things you do best – your talents and your strengths – you’re going to both stick out to potential employers. They’ll be able to picture how you’ll be on the team, not just that you’re able to do certain things. If you’re the best fit, that’s going to be immediately obvious.

Of course, the flip side of this is they could also immediately see that you’re not a good fit. When you are job seeking, it’s always a blow to your self-esteem if you’re not selected for an interview or to not get hired if you’ve interviewed. But it is far better to miss out on a job that isn’t right for you. Yes, having a job is necessary, but to get a job that isn’t a good fit for your talents will quickly make you miserable. Maybe you’re in that situation now. Either way, showing up authentically allows both you and the interviewer to more quickly decide if this is the right job for you.

I do interview coaching and often people try to guess what they think the interviewer wants to hear. It’s natural to want to try to please the interviewer, after all they have the power to hire you. But there’s a difference between aligning your talents to the job and pandering to them so they like your answers.

The first approach is letting interviewers know this is who I am and this is how I’d approach doing this job. You should be able to tell by their body language, comments, and follow up question if who you are and how you’d do the job is what they’re looking for in a candidate. Again, if they’re not looking for that it can be awkward, especially during the interview because you feel like you keep getting the answers “wrong.” But you’re actually gaining valuable information about the job and the organization. It’s better to know now, so you can keep looking for the job that’s right for you.

The second approach is saying I can be who you want me to be. You may even be such an excellent actor that you convince both the interviewers and yourself that you can. And to some degree, I’m sure you can do any job. The question really is, will you be happy and fulfilled doing that job. Each of your talents has things it loves and hates; things it needs and values. If the job you take doesn’t align with those things, you’re absolutely going to be more stressed and it’s going to take more of your energy than one that does.

Not to mention, it’s really difficult to hide who you are every day. Eventually, your true self is going to show up. And if you’ve told the people who hired you that you’re someone else, they’re going to be confused at first. Then it’s going to escalate to disappointed or even anger. Basically, trying to be generic to get a job is recipe that will most likely leave a bitter taste for everyone involved.

Okay, so now that I’ve covered why the how is so important, what the BLEEP do you do to figure this out? Let me break it down into steps.

Step 1 | Take the CliftonStrengths Assessment

The easiest way is to start by taking the CliftonStrengths talent assessment. If you’ve already done this, perfect. If you haven’t here’s a link to purchase a code There are three different reports you can get - Top 5 CliftonStrengths; CliftonStrengths Report for Managers, which has your Top 10; and the CliftonStrengths 34, which gives you a ranking of all 34 of the Talent Themes. If you’re just getting started, the Top 5 is totally fine and will get you a long way to communicating who you are on the job hunt. FYI - If you want to take it and get help figuring all this out, we include them with our coaching packages, which you can find more about here -

Now can you do it without taking CliftonStrengths? You can, but unless you’re really have the time to invest in some heavy self-reflection and observation in addition to the self-reflection that I’m going to talk about in a second, it’s worth the $20 to just take the assessment. They’ve already invested the time and research into developing a reliable tool and a rich vocabulary you can use to communicate who you are both on your resume and during interviews.

Step 2 | Reflect On Your Results

Once you know what your talents are, read your report and underline or circle the words and phrases that resonate most with you. It’s also helpful to show that report to people who know you well, like close colleagues, friends, or family and get their feedback on how they see these things show up for you. It’s helpful because since our talents come so easily to us, it’s easy for us to take them for granted and not even notice how we’re using them every day.

Step 3 | Describe Your Talents In Your Own Words

Next, think about how you would describe each of your talents to someone else in your own words. You may feel like you “get it” after reading the report, but remember this is about being able to explain it to other people. The better able you are to talk about how you do things, the better able you’ll be to answer those pesky interview questions.

Step 4 | Describe How You Use Talents at Work

Now think of examples of how when you’ve done these things at work. When we do workshops, we usually just have folks pick one example of a time they’ve used ____ talent. But for interviewing, I want you to come up with a pretty substantial list. Think about how your talents have shown up for your current position and past positions, so you can use them during interviews.

One mistake a lot of candidates make is just telling interviewers how they would typically approach a situation. To really illustrate how you do things, you want to engage them in a story of a time you did that thing. This is for two important reasons. Stories help us connect with others. Whey you tell a story, it kicks in psychological and neurological processes that make our audience feel closer to us. When you tell a story of a time you did something, it paints a much more vivid picture of you in the role. In other words, they can literally see you doing this job vs. thinking theoretically you could do it. Those are very different things.

Step 5 | Incorporate Into Resume & Interview Prep

The last thing you want to do is transfer this new understanding of yourself into your resume and prep for commonly asked interview questions. Go back and add in what you do to your resume, but think about it in terms of how. What verbs reflect your talents? How can you help the reader visualize you doing all the things?

To prep for the interview, think about how your talents align with the job description? How do your talents align with the mission and values of the institution? Again, remember you’re talking about how you at your best – aka you working in your Strengths Zone - fits into their organization. And remember for interview questions, you want to include those stories.

You want to be very clear about not just that you can do what they need, but you’ll be doing it in a way that fits the needs of their current team and overall organization.

I always want to keep these posts short enough for folks to feel like they have time to read it, so this was a pretty quick overview of everything. If you feel like that’s enough for you to prepare for your job hunting, fantastic. If you’d like a bit more information, we’re doing a free webinar on Monday, February 14th at 1PM CST. Yes, we know it’s Valentine’s Day, but we titled the webinar, “Getting Your Dream Job: Using Your Strengths to Nail Your Interview.” You know, like to get your dream partner you need to go on all these dates and really sell who you are to make sure you’re a good fit. Get it?!? *Wink*

If you’d like to join us, you can register here – Getting Your Dream Job Registration. We know some of you might already have commitments at that time, if so, we’ll be sending out a replay that you can play at your convenience through the end of February. But if you join us live, we’ll select one lucky individual to win a free coaching session with a code for your Top 5 Report. Oh, and feel free to share with friends and colleagues as well – unless they’re your direct competition. Lol.

Hopefully this article has changed your perspective on how to approach job hunting. If you focus on your talents, you’ll be communicating in a new way that focuses on who you are and how you do things, instead of what you do. This will both stand out from other candidates and ensure you’re a good fit for the position you applied for. That’s a win for you and your future employer.

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