Often times in a meeting with a prospective client or employer, you want to tell a success story. You want to speak about something that you have accomplished. You want to have it directly connect to their issues, products, services, or something they can relate to.
What if you don’t have anything?
What if you are talking to someone in an industry where you have no experience?
What if you have never done anything great – or anything at all – that communicates how they could anticipate you would perform for them on their specific issues?
When you freeze up and you’ve “got nothing,” what do you say?
You tell the truth. You tell the truth about who you are and what you have done. No, you don’t say, “I got nothing.” You don’t have “nothing.” You have a lifetime of everything you have done.
When I ask candidates a question about their experience, sometimes I see this wild, fearful look in their eyes. In that moment, I know they have forgotten the most important thing about everyone in the room (or on skype or by phone).
They forget we are all just people. Real people, speaking to real people.
Here’s the ideal thing to say.
“I am concerned that I don’t have a direct example to give you. Would it be all right if I shared an experience that I think is relevant, and would you tell me if I am making a connection that makes sense, given this position (or project)?”
You are going to get encouragement to share your experience. It’s up to you to have stories in mind, prepared in advance, that get to some core issues that are almost unavoidably involved in any type of work. This would be where your personal intelligence and personal brand development work will win the day (or the project or the position).
What could be relevant? Your ability to
- Identify the root cause of a problem
- Sift through resources to find relevant data and findings
- Use information to develop different solutions
- Model implications or consequences, positive and negative
- Set up decision-making rules and use them
- Present choices to decision-makers
- Cooperate with others to implement a decision
- Test and measure results
- Capitalize on positive results and re-purpose successful programs
- Bounce back from failure and persevere by revisiting your initial work
That’s ten stories you’ve got to have “on trigger,” ready to articulate with details that make your experience come alive, especially when you have no direct connection. Worst case, you might not be the fit they are looking for this time. However, you will have made an indelible impression, and be top of mind when you do fit.
The terrible truth of work is that almost anyone can do anything. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but open up the UCLA Extension course catalog, a MOOC or watch a few “how-to” YouTube videos, and you get my drift. Education and skills are the easiest things to acquire.
Leaving out advanced neurosurgery, the super-tasking executive producer of major live sports events on television, and maybe engineering stem cell regeneration of body parts: it doesn’t take long to come up to speed on most job requirements. That’s why this quote from Carnegie Institute of Technology rings so true:
85% of your financial success is due to your personal traits and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical ability.
When you consider how you are spending your time in preparation for a career or the advancement of your career, do your priorities make sense?
It may occur to you that you know less about your excellent personal traits than you know how to use Excel. You probably have spent more time setting margins of documents and unjamming your printer than you have working on the type of traits that actually matter to success.
You never regret a day of education; it’s simply the type of education that I am cautioning you about. Communication, negotiation and leadership flow from personal intelligence, which is the ability to self-regulate. That is, manage yourself and manage your interactions with others.
Part of self-management is gaining or polishing the one-of-a-kind traits you possess, so you can express them to the people around you. Of course, that is largely what personal branding is, although there’s a bit more to it.
Visibility and promotions largely come from being more of yourself, or as I said to Claire my teaching assistant: get bigger. You be you, just be more of the best of yourself. Become formidable, a force, and a monument to what your most valuable traits are. She is an elegant and intelligent person with a sharp wit, on her way to becoming a commander-in-charge.
That is the extraordinary magnitude of expression that you must exert for us to see you and respect you; then feel compelled to ask you to ascend over others in an area of your expertise, function, or team. That outsized version of yourself is what puts our trust into you. That’s how you create a positive reputation, really an uproar about how valuable you are to our organization.
If you know nothing else about yourself, consider that anyone can be a force of innovative ideas. Innovation is a process, more than it is an ability or knack. It takes external stimuli, which isn’t hard to get given the world at your fingertips via the web. Harvard Business Review recently added its seven ways to innovate, and any one of them will set you apart from your co-workers or other job candidates.
- Look for differences. Before you interview or attend a meeting, contrast what a competitor’s product does that is remarkably different from the company’s offering.
- Trend spot. Look at Instagram or Pinterest and see what colors, images, words, attitudes and photos are beginning to dominate the consciousness of the people who matter.
- Assess angry words. Read the hashtags, comments, and blogs for what is going wrong. In every problem of reasonable size, there are great opportunities.
- Question everything. Most businesses are way past the NIH (not-invented-here) mentality, and are actively seeking ways to modify the way people work, the way products are developed or distributed and the way messages are crafted.
- Look at the deviants. There are always “outliers,” as Malcolm Gladwell calls the fringe elements. What workarounds, avoidance behavior or personalized adjustments are people making?
- Go away. Take a field trip or informational interview to a place that does nothing like anything you are familiar with. The natural history museum, planetarium, or Bloomingdales can refresh your brain and ignite your creativity.
- See what’s working in other industries. Are hardware companies selling spare parts with new machines, so there can be on-the-spot repairs? Is deflating a football by the weight of a paperclip the key to winning the big game? How can you apply that in your field?
If you have not a thing to offer that is so much more magnificent than other candidates or competitors: these are seven ways to use your brain in a novel way. Think new. Think innovation. Think for yourself.
As a career coach and business communications expert, I often surprise people by knowing something about them that they have never told me – and maybe never told anyone else. I am not psychic. I am empathetic.
When I ask you a question, and your brain re-routes it to give me an unrelated answer: I know you’ve got a lot on your mind, and lots of it is sad, frustrated and filled with regrets. Sometimes your answers – and even your questions – are touched by bitterness, jealousy and fear.
I know this, and so do most people around you. The difference between them and me is simple. My job is to help you find your authentic self, and then help you represent yourself. By that I mean, structuring a way for you to show us the real you, the person we want to hire, fund or choose as our business consultant or favorite company to patronize.
I help you find your inner wisdom, self-acceptance, and clear-eyed optimism.
My job is to tell you how you are coming across. Then, help you make the genuine transition to the person who stops losing, who stops failing, and who is never again less than your potential or desire. In other words, I help you get what you want, what you really, really want.
Nothing I do is magic. I don’t do hypnosis. I have a process that helps you unsheathe your truth, your power and your future. That means, I have to listen for the pain, and sometimes the confusion that has created a fractured self-image, rotting career, failing business or stunted ambition.
What’s going wrong today for you at work or even in your life, flows from what I call your “ocean of negativity.” That’s the toxic soup of criticism, lack of validation and neglect that’s been brewing since childhood.
My work is showing you how to be what I call “self-positive.” How to find your valuable, shiny self that’s been tarnished, simply by being overlooked. And match your really wonderful qualities with authentic opportunities for your business or career.
I’m putting together a distance-learning course, so you’ll have more access to this process as soon as I can get it completed. If you want to know when the course is ready, just email me at Nance@NanceRosen.com. Subject line: Authentic.
In the meantime, here are some questions to get you started cleaning up that ocean of negativity. If you send me your answers to a few questions – the ones that mean the most to you: I’ll be sure to keep them in confidence, and get back to you with a personal message.
- Your most fearful moment?
- What people first meet you, what are you afraid they will think?
- A period of time in your life when you felt unprotected?
- A person who made you miserable for a long time?
- Something on your mind you are afraid to share
- A plan or projects you worry may fail?
- The greatest amount of emotional pain you have ever endured?
- Your greatest fear?
- The most important thing in life?
- A piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?
- Three words that describe how others view you?
- If you could change anything about the world?
- A smell that makes you pause?
- List of professions you’d like to try?
- How you plan to spend the last years of your life?
- Your current philosophy is?
- You would shout with joy right now if someone told you this?
- A list of your proudest accomplishments?
- A newspaper headline you would like to read about yourself?
- Your biggest acts of kindness?
- The best piece of advice a friend gave you?
- Your proudest moment? Someone who shared this moment with you?
- You are far better than most people you know at doing what?
- Three things for which you are often complimented?