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Ask someone you know the following question: “What do you do?” More than likely, you’ll get a list—sometimes a very long list—of where the person has worked and what positions s/he held there. Does that tell you about skill level? Does that explain what s/he has to offer in any new situation? No, it does not.

 In a job interview, the standard first question asks the interviewee to describe him/herself. I call this your “60-second commercial” opportunity.  All too often this is an opportunity wasted, when it is answered with yet another list: “I’m dependable, trustworthy, hardworking, and honest.” I guess the interviewer is supposed to take the word of the complete stranger sitting in front of him/her as fact: “You say that you’re honest and work hard. Ok—you’re hired!” If only it were that easy.

These two examples show what I refer to as laundry lists: lists of information that don’t communicate much at all. We tend to use words and titles that have had some level of importance in our past lives. We list our job titles instead of the transferrable skills we possess because of the positions we once held. We use those ever-popular adjectives to describe our skills, but forget the actual skills entirely! This is the trap that many job seekers fall into. The key to being the successful candidate in the job search is to put your laundry list aside and refocus attention on your true skills—more specifically, your transferrable skills.

TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS are those that you have acquired through education and/or experience, and which you will be taking with you to the next position you hold . . . and the next . . .and the next. I suggest that we be selfish with our time and get the most out of every experience—make our experiences valuable for a lifetime.

When gathering information for your resume or interview, do the following two evaluations:

1.       Evaluate your education:

  •  Did I create or work on any projects, research, or presentations that are related to this next step in my career?
  • Would the reader or interviewer be interested in this information?
  •  Does the reader or interviewer have to assume anything (degree/school/minor), or am I being clear?
  • Why is my education any better than that of my competitors for this position?

2.       Evaluate your experiences:

  • Are my professional experiences related to the specific position for which I am applying? If so, how?
  • Are the descriptions of my experiences focused on what I am able to do versus what I was expected to do?
  • Do I have any volunteer work or unpaid experiences that are related to my career?
  •  What about my experience makes me an excellent candidate for this particular job?

After you have had the chance to evaluate these important details, you are ready to start a conversation with yourself and potential employers. You will be able to begin talking about what you can offer to a new situation instead of focusing on the laundry list of titles you have held in the past.

When I am asked, “What do you do?” I say, “I assist individuals in their search for a career fit. I use assessments and one-on-one interviewing to identify strengths, skills, and areas for improvement.”  I could have said, “I’m a career coach. I talk a lot. I’m a people person.” But while the latter answer is just a laundry list without much meaning, the former sincerely describes what I can offer to the new position I seek. And in the end, the employer is not so much interested in what you have done in the past as in how your past experiences point to what you can do in the job you now seek. 


This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here under a new date.