The Art of Introducing Yourself

When you have an interview, you know the request is coming in some form or another. Usually right out of the gate. “Tell me about yourself.” “Walk me through your resume.” “Tell me about your background.” When you have an interview, you typically have plenty of time to think about, prepare, and practice your answer. We often work with clients to help them craft the perfect two-minute pitch.

But, what about all the other times that you “tell [someone] about yourself?” At a networking event, a reunion, a cocktail party, your kid’s soccer game? The request is rarely so formal, and although your response will be a whole lot shorter, it is arguably equally important. After all, it is often your network that refers you to the best jobs. Do the people that know you get what you are about? Do they know what you do? Will you come to mind when someone else in their network mentions they are looking for someone to fill your dream job?

So, what do you do?

Did you pause? Have to think about it? Is your response more than one sentence? Would the question-asker be bored or confused by your response?

Remember to always keep your response brief and in layman’s terms. If your listener doesn’t understand you, or if they are bored, they won’t ask questions. You want your listener to ask you questions – that means they are engaged and more likely to remember your message. For more tips and ideas, check out this pithy article that gives some great templates for a perfectly simple answer to this perfectly simple question.

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Could a ‘Career Boomerang’ Be Right for You? One Darden Alumna Shares Her Story

Katherine Brownson (MBA ’12) shares her career experience of returning to work for a former employer in the following guest post to the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services’ Career Corner blog.

As I pressed the elevator button for the eighth floor, I glanced around to my fellow riders to see if I recognized anyone. It was just a matter of time until I ran into someone who would possibly question what I was doing in the building.

Coming out of Darden, I never imagined spending more than two years at a Fortune 500 company. Prior to Darden, I’d worked at startups with an average employee base hovering around 25 people. At first, my goal at DaVita was to get a big company name on my resume and gain experience that I could apply to a startup endeavor. As I settled in to the post-MBA world, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my job and big company life. I was surrounded by intelligent, motivated people who pushed me to learn and grow while in an environment with resources I could never dream of in startup world.

After three years in a hybrid operations and finance role, I transitioned to DaVita’s corporate strategy team. I knew quickly the role wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t enjoy the consulting style of work and being further removed from the nuts and bolts of DaVita’s core business. I was unfulfilled. For the first time, I felt uncertain of my path ahead within the company. I broached the subject with my immediate boss, but her recommendations and subsequent career path conversations didn’t motivate or excite me. When an opportunity to join an early stage startup arose, I jumped at the chance to make a change.

My DaVita team wasn’t terribly shocked when I gave my two-weeks notice. I truly believe my co-workers were supportive of my decision to leave. I finished my final two weeks committed and positive. I told people honestly that I was leaving with mixed emotions. I’d grown so much personally and professionally and developed lasting friendships. Yet, I needed to see what else was out there. During my exit interview with the head of my group, I shared my honest opinion of the company and my team — the good and not-so-good — and left with a smile.

I didn’t vet the startup company as thoroughly as I should have. The strategic direction of the company was somewhat fluid across the multiple conversations I’d had with the founders. I convinced myself that was okay when I should have pushed harder to understand their vision at the onset. For numerous reasons, I knew it wasn’t a lasting situation for me. I chastised myself for making a hasty move, and yet, I knew exactly why I had.

As I’ve done in numerous other situations, I sought advice from Darden Alumni Career Services. When the initial suggestion of returning to DaVita was floated, I laughed.

After a few days and lots of deliberation, I began to warm to the idea. Would they have me back? What if I could go back into a role that fit me better? I liked the organization. I enjoyed the challenges of health care and having an impact of patient care. It seemed like a pretty straightforward decision with one major exception: my pride.

I began reaching out to mentors, both at DaVita and elsewhere. Everyone had their opinion about my next move, but, ultimately, it came down to my choice. It didn’t take long for word to get out at DaVita that I might be back in the job market. The positive response I received from former DaVita co-workers about a possible return abated the fears I had of bruising my professional pride.

After a few initial discussions, I felt fortunate to have a couple of warm opportunities available back at DaVita. I was determined this go-around to ensure it was the right role, right team and right boss for me. I ultimately narrowed my interest to a director of strategy position with one of DaVita’s smaller business units, Lifeline Vascular Access. Lifeline’s smaller size and challenging external environment due to changing regulations made it feel more entrepreneurial than other areas of DaVita, plus I liked that the role had a closer tie to operations.

Despite knowing many of the individuals at Lifeline, I went through the same formal interview process as everyone else. I submitted my resume, spoke to recruiters and interviewed with the team. I’ve realized that interviewing is a two-way engagement. It’s necessary to be critical and recognize when something feels right, or not. Meeting my now boss solidified my decision to accept the role if offered. And when the offer came, I knew I was making a sound decision.

Seven months after leaving DaVita with a box of belongings in my hands, I walked back into the building to assume my new role, a bit apprehensive, but excited.

It’s been four months since that day, and I’m still very happy with my decision.

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Winter – A Great Time for Reflection and a Good Read

Been looking for a good read in the self-help genre? Check out these books reported on by our Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services coaches:

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Last fall, an alumnus I met in Seattle recommended, rightly, that I read Ego is the Enemy. The author, Ryan Holiday, who at an early age found ego to be his enemy, demonstrates the ways in which ego is a great limiter in the various cycles of one’s career: during aspiration, during success and during failure. By sharing the stories of past and present fallen heroes whose egos sealed their fate, Holiday holds up the proverbial mirror, forcing you as his reader to reflect on your own ego and how it impedes your progress. He also gives refreshing examples of leaders whose humility, service-orientation and resilience enable great success. I derived many takeaways both personally and as a coach:

Never stop learning. You are never done. You are never entitled to sit back. “…updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life — but it is almost always a component of mastery.”

Help yourself by helping others. Don’t worry about getting the credit; let others have it. “[You will] develop a reputation for being indispensable [and] have countless new relationships [and] an enormous bank of favors to call upon.” Be a team player. Holiday quotes soccer coach Tony Adams: “play for the name on the front of the jersey and they’ll remember the name on the back.”

Know what is important to you. Know why you do what you do so you can ignore what doesn’t matter. “Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that is independence.”

Failure does not define who you are as a person. It’s the way you handle failure that defines you. Take responsibility and admit you messed up. “[Don’t] throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.”

And my favorite…

“Perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but rarely the other way around.”

Reviewed by Jen Coleman

 

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

“If you are successful, you will be happy.” Designing Your Life dispels this success myth and offers a design-thinking framework to guide us in building our ways toward meaningful careers and fulfilled lives. The book grew out of the Stanford course where Burnett and Evans teach the concepts of design as applied to the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Reframing this notion of an endpoint is key to the work of design — accepting and embracing that a happy life is constantly evolving and there is no one right path.

The approach begins with a very simple self-assessment, then builds a guiding compass through answering a set of thoughtful questions about your views on life and work, develops a lot of possibilities, adapts those into some real alternatives, then explores the alternatives by asking good questions and creating new experiences. Methods like brainstorming and prototyping are applied to our life and career paths, and we’re encouraged to practice designer mindsets:  curiosity (seeing opportunity everywhere), bias toward action (trying lots of stuff), reframing (confronting and changing dysfunctional beliefs), awareness (focus on the process, not the outcome) and collaboration (asking for help).

Designing Your Life has excellent advice for anyone struggling to find meaningful and satisfying work.  The authors present an actionable framework and also expose the inherent flaws in traditional job search, presenting a compelling case that a well-lived life is a rich portfolio of failures, experiences and adventures.

Reviewed by Marty Speight

 

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra

This book turns the concept of becoming a better leader on its head. For most leadership coaches, the process of working with a leader is focused on introspection and learning even more about yourself. Ibarra, however, suggests that the most important thing to do as a leader is to “Act First, Think Later.” She highlights three areas where a leader should work on this: redefining your job, diversifying your network and becoming more playful with your self-concept. She threads her “outsight” principle throughout the book, encouraging people to develop from the outside rather than the inside.

I’d recommend this book more for newer leaders than extremely seasoned leaders. Her theories are very interesting and she offers many anecdotes where her ideas have been successful. She offers suggestions on how to play with the three areas mentioned above to help a leader accelerate their progress. She even tells an amusing story about her struggle to command the classroom when she was a new professor at Harvard Business School and had to “fake it ‘til she made it” to succeed. The concepts are all good for new leaders to consider, but may be a bit redundant for those more experienced.

Reviewed by Lindsay Guthrie

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Want to Relaunch or Advance Your Career? Volunteer!

By Hallie Smith (MBA ’98)

I’ve always been pretty leery of New Year’s resolutions, but as 2016 comes to a close, I’m reflecting on how I’ve spent my time and energy in the past year. I’m certainly eager to contribute to the greater good in 2017. Community service has been personally rewarding to me, but there are great reasons to volunteer from a professional perspective. Volunteering can make it possible to build your network, explore new functional areas, develop new skills and take on leadership roles. Working with nonprofits can also provide a path to nonprofit board positions, which can be effective resume-builders for executive roles. Volunteering, as I’ve personally experienced, can also be an effective way to re-enter the workforce.

After Darden, I spent several terrific years at Deloitte. But when child number two came along, I decided to “stay home.” I quickly found limitless opportunities to volunteer in my children’s schools and our community, but I was looking for a better way to tap into my MBA skills. That’s when I heard about Compass, an organization that assembles teams of MBAs and other business professionals to provide pro bono strategic guidance to nonprofits. Next thing I knew, I was staffed on a Compass project for Horton’s Kids and, afterwards, was asked to join the Compass Board. When I was offered a position on the Compass staff this summer, I leapt at the opportunity. Today, I manage selecting our nonprofit clients, recruiting volunteers and staffing our project teams. One of the best parts of my new job has been working with our 16 partner business school alumni clubs, and especially reengaging with the Darden community.

Through Compass, I’ve witnessed and experienced these many benefits of volunteering. Volunteers not only leverage their expertise, but also find opportunities to develop new skills that can augment their professional capabilities. They engage with nonprofit leaders and make professional connections on teams. Compass team members see the impact they have on a nonprofit’s ability to carry out its mission more effectively and efficiently, and they often build lasting relationships with clients that extend long after the projects end. Many Darden alumni have not only served on Compass projects, but also have participated in Compass’ On Board program, where professionals are matched to nonprofit boards.

Just in time for the New Year, I’m thrilled to announce Compass’ 29 new Micro Projects in Washington, D.C., which will run from late January through May. We are also launching Chicago’s first round of projects in January.

If you feel as if your for-profit efforts at work are outweighing your philanthropic efforts in life, are looking to dust off your MBA or want to get involved in more substantive volunteer work, you may find a Compass project rewarding on many levels. Please visit http://compassprobono.org/ to apply for upcoming projects in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, as well as learn more about On Board — headed up by Nalini Rogers (MBA ’86) — and our ongoing projects in the D.C. area and Philadelphia. We would love to connect with you and help more Darden alumni than ever find meaningful community engagement in 2017!

Hallie (Hastert) Smith graduated from Darden in 1998 and now serves as Director of Consulting Programs for Compass.

If you are interested in exploring how volunteer opportunities might enhance your career, reach out to Alumni Career Services, and schedule time with a coach.

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Demystifying Executive Search

If you are actively searching for a senior-level job, or if you simply want to be considered for new opportunities in your field, executive search professionals are an excellent resource to include in your proverbial Rolodex.

Recently, BlueSteps,* the executive career service of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), hosted a free webinar entitled, “Executive Search and Your Networking Strategy.” The webinar included three panelists who are senior leaders of top-tier executive search firms. These professionals provided valuable information that addresses the primary question our alumni clients ask: “How do I make myself visible to executive search professionals?”

  • Focus on the relationship, not the transaction. Find a small number of search professionals that are a good match for you and treat them like any other important networking contact. When you reach out to a search firm, don’t spam the entire office — try to find the person in the office who represents your target industry or function.
  • Convey a clear goal. Perhaps you are afraid of pigeonholing yourself; perhaps you aren’t certain — in either case, a search professional does not want to have to figure out what’s best for you. This is good practice in general networking — you are easier to help when your audience knows what you want and why.
  • If a search professional calls you, call back! Try to be helpful even if you aren’t interested. Spencer Stuart, one of the most respected names in executive search, actually keeps track of candidates’ responsiveness and willingness to suggest ideas.
  • Take LinkedIn seriously. Complete your profile with a professional photo and content that is likely to appear in searches executed by your target audience. If you need help with your LinkedIn profile, schedule a review with an ACS coach.
  • If you are contacted by a search professional, be honest about your interest in the role. If you are interested and this is a professional/firm that you trust, be honest about your compensation history and expectations. If you have concerns about sharing your compensation history or are unsure of your expectations, an ACS coach can help.

* If you are interested in becoming a BlueSteps member, Darden alumni are eligible for a discount. Click here for more information.

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Introducing Alumni Advisors

The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is thrilled to announce the launch of our pilot Alumni Advisor Program.

What is the Alumni Advisor Program?  Similar in concept to the Second Year Advisor program offered by Darden’s Career Development Center, the Alumni Advisor Program is designed to offer our clients the opportunity to speak with senior-level alumni in their professional areas of interest.

What areas of expertise do the current advisors represent? For the pilot, we have enlisted six highly accomplished alumni to serve as advisors. Marketing, entrepreneurship, private equity and management consulting represent the professional areas of expertise for four of the alumni advisors. The other two alumni are focused on very specific types of career challenges — career relaunch after hiatus from the workforce and transitions to the private sector from military careers.

What is the difference between a coach and an advisor?  ACS Career Coaches are paid, trained coaching professionals whose guidance is generalist and applies across industries and functional areas. Most importantly, ACS coaches are here to provide ongoing relationships and support to our clients. Advisors are alumni volunteers and are available for one-time informational conversations around their specific areas of expertise.

How do I connect with an advisor? If you are interested in speaking with an alumni advisor, please reach out to Alumni Career Services today! If you haven’t already been working with one of our career coaches, we suggest that you have an initial dialogue with one to ensure that you maximize the value of your conversation with the advisor.

Why do I need to speak with a coach before speaking to an advisor? In general, we prefer that you start with a coach to ensure that we pair you with the correct advisor and to broker a conversation that will be most productive.

What if I want to be an advisor? If you are interested in volunteering for the Alumni Advisor Program, please contact Alumni Career Services.

The Alumni Advisor Program is a celebration of the strength of the Darden network and the vibrant sense of community that is special to this institution. Alumni Career Services is incredibly appreciative of the generosity of our advisors, and we hope that you will take advantage of this valuable resource.

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Land the Job with a Solid 90-Day Plan

Landing a new job requires not only demonstrating that you’ve got the required skills, but also convincing the hiring manager that you’re a great fit for his or her organization. Once hired, you typically have about 90-days grace period to establish yourself. This first three months in any new role or company is crucial. It’s a time to build credibility, get traction and assimilate.

Creating a detailed plan for your first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job can increase your chances to shine in interviews. In fact, for senior management roles, it’s increasingly common for the prospective employer to ask for a plan as part of their evaluation. Even if you aren’t asked to formally create a 90-day plan, it’s an excellent way to prepare for late-stage interviews or start in a new position.

By taking the time to build a specific plan, you’ll demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and that you take personal responsibility for being effective and productive as you on-board. A plan will reveal your ability to think strategically about the company. It also ensures the hiring manager that you understand the role and are ready to tackle any challenges it presents. As you communicate your ideas about a smooth transition, you’ll help the hiring team envision you in the role.

So, how do you go about creating an effective 30-60-90 day plan? To be sure, there are challenges — you may face time pressures, lack of visibility into the organization, or uncertainty about specific goals. But remember, making a plan at this stage isn’t about getting everything right, it’s more about asking good questions during initial discussions and researching to develop an informed point of view.

The plan itself is simply an outline of how you’ll approach the first three months on the job; it should be both detailed and customized to the specific employer. The information you need for building your plan can be found in a variety of ways:

  • Job description and discussions with recruiter — be sure to delve deeper into specific pain points and what’s driving the need to hire for this role
  • Interviewing — asking pertinent questions in the early rounds of interviews
  • Networking — gathering details from both current and former employees; look to public profiles (e.g., LinkedIn) of peer or related positions
  • Company’s public presence — checking multiple sources including the company’s own website, social media presence (Twitter, Instagram), investor and analyst reports, etc.

As you construct a plan, consider these key aspects of each phase:

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Proactive planning is a great preparation aid for late-stage interviews or getting off on the right foot in a new position. Leadership guide and author Michael Watkins points out in The First 90 Days, “Your day-to-day actions during your transition will establish the pattern for all that follows, not just for the organization, but also for your personal efficacy and ultimately your well-being.” Check out his book if you’re interested in a deeper look at transition challenges.

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Coming to a Chapter Near You…

Alumni Career Services is excited to announce that we are going on the road this year! Been thinking about a career change? Want some networking tips or feedback on your LinkedIn profile? Seeking a promotion? Considering reaching out to Alumni Career Services but haven’t picked up the phone? Well, we are going to come to you!

Starting in September, we will be visiting one Chapter a month to host an informal networking gathering and invite alumni to sign up for a one-on-one session with a Career Coach.

Click here for our coach bios and sample coaching topics.

Click here to learn what career coaching is all about.

We will be kicking off the road show in Richmond on Friday, September 16th, followed by Atlanta on October 28th and Seattle on November 11th. More locations and dates to follow. Look for details via your Chapter email listserv and social media.

We are looking forward to meeting you!

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What a Career Coach Can Do For You

What exactly do Alumni Career Services (ACS) coaches do?

This is the question that starts many of my coaching sessions. In my first eight months at Darden, it has been my privilege to meet with many Darden alumni who are pursuing change and advancement in their careers. I am hopeful that an explanation of our career coaching might encourage more of you to take advantage of our services.

In thinking about my role as a career coach and what ACS coaches can mean to you, I can’t help but draw on parallels from my coachee experience. Some of you know that I am an avid triathlete. (Avid, not elite!) Since 2011, I have competed in about a dozen triathlons including one full and four half Ironman races. I am currently training for the Louisville Ironman and am working with a seasoned and certified triathlon coach. While I can download hundreds of training plans off the internet for free, I extract notable value from working with a professional. A coach holds you accountable, shares knowledge and offers perspective.

Every day, I log my workouts online for my coach’s review. This accountability can be the difference between me running on a cold, dark winter morning and staying in bed. You don’t graduate from a top program like Darden without exceptional personal accountability, discipline and achievement orientation. However, when you are juggling work, family, hobbies, volunteering and life, career management might slip off the radar screen. Partnering with a coach to set goals can provide the extra motivation you need to turn goals into accomplishments.

ACS coaches can work with you to establish goals, a framework, a timeline and deliverables.

A great coach is not always a great athlete, but should possess great knowledge of her sport. My triathlon coach happens to be a great athlete, but that is not what makes her valuable to me. First, it is her understanding of the science and the techniques of triathlon that help me make the most of my abilities. In ACS, we do not know your business better than you do. In most cases, you are the industry or functional expert. We are here to help you recognize, measure and articulate your expertise, talent and value to an organization. We know the questions to ask and the techniques to share so that you can showcase your unique abilities.

What I value most about my coach is her perspective. She has competed herself and trained other athletes for many years. She has seen everything on the success-failure spectrum. She helps me to benchmark and set my own expectations. As achievement-oriented, highly successful people, you are likely to be your own harshest critics. Career management, especially job search, can be humbling and tiring. Networking can be intimidating. As career coaches, we in ACS have “seen it all.” Let us help you to reflect on what is possible, to remind you how talented you are and to give you that boost of energy to keep you moving forward.

ACS coaching can be a one-off conversation or a series of sessions — the frequency and duration of your relationship with ACS is driven by you and your particular needs. Whether you are actively seeking change or simply trying to position yourself for advancement, we are here to be your sounding board, your knowledge resource and your advocate.

And unlike my triathlon coach, we are free of charge to Darden alums!

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Increasing Interview Confidence

“When I get to the interview, my brain just goes blank.  What can I do?”

This is one of the most common issues we hear in Alumni Career Services. While at Darden, you were most likely interviewing and networking with more regularity than you are now. As alums, it is not unusual to go many years without an interview, so feeling nervous and unprepared is quite normal. There are both tactical and strategic things you can do to increase your interviewing confidence.

One of the more energizing ways to gain confidence is to do a two-minute power pose before your next job interview (in your car or in the bathroom). Of course, you are wondering, “What in the world is a power pose?” Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy conducted extensive social science research on how to “fake it until you become it” and then unveiled her research in 2012 in the second most popular TED talk (33+ million views) of all time. She explains how body language affects how others perceive us, but also how our own body language affects our personal testosterone and cortisol levels, thereby affecting our performance. She has discovered that doing a two-minute power pose before something stressful like a job interview can lead to much better results. Watch the video to see exactly the pose you need to make and then find a quiet place before your next interview to do this power pose to increase your confidence.

Of course, doing a power pose doesn’t solve the problem of what to talk about once the interview begins. We find that having seven to nine prepared stories in your arsenal makes a huge difference in being able to answer most behavioral interview questions. To come up with the stories, you can use the  STAR chart (yes, a very similar chart to the one used while at Darden with the Career Development Center). Try to pick stories across a range of your professional experience, though concentrate most of them around your most recent positions. In addition, when you are filling out the STAR chart, remember that the interviewer is most interested in your analysis and results and less interested in the situation and task. The chart already has six categories built in, but we recommend adding two or three more based on the job description for which you are interviewing.

In addition to the STAR chart, it’s also very helpful to go over common interview questions. Glassdoor published a good list recently of the top 50 most common interview questions.

After you get your STAR chart ready, your confidence will continue to grow if you can do a few mock interviews prior to the big day. The coaches in Alumni Career Services are always willing to do a mock interview and your former Darden classmates are also incredibly rich resources for preparation.

Approach the mock interviews like a real interview as much as you can so that you can identify areas of improvement. Generally, two or three 45-minute mock interviews will be enough to help you practice your stories, increase your confidence and tweak anything that needs fine tuning.

As always, we are here in Alumni Career Services to help you be successful. Please feel free to contact us to set up a one on one coaching session, and review our job search toolkit for templates, tools and advice on approaching your next search.

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