Monthly Archives: April 2018

How to Protect Your Branded Value and Expertise with the Two Most-Dreaded Interview Questions

nervous candidate in office

I should file this post under “More Nonsensical Advice from (Former) Recruiters” but I won’t. I just watched a couple YouTube videos from “career experts” that claimed two of the worst interview questions a decision maker can toss your way are these:

  • “So, tell me something about yourself…”
  • “What’s your worst (work) habit or greatest weakness?”

They are only the worst questions if you aren’t prepared because most candidates don’t anticipate these questions or don’t know how to respond by promoting their branded value and expertise.

Let’s begin with Question 1: “So, tell me something about yourself.” This is NOT the time to respond with “uh…what do you want to know?” or reciting your résumé…for crying out loud, the decision maker probably has your résumé on his or her desk and has looked at more than a couple times if you’ve been called in for an interview. You’ve been given a golden opportunity to promote your branded expertise and value (“branded expertise and value” is a key phrase I use a lot, so learn what it is and how to apply it). I enjoyed asking this question because I wanted to see if the candidates really got the idea behind it.

Here’s a template for your response: “I’m a <personal fact No. 1>, a <personal fact No. 2>, a <personal fact No. 3>, a darn good <position for which you are interviewing>, and I have an eye on your <No. 1 key item of importance to decision maker> and your <No. 2 key item of importance to decision maker>.  Here’s a real-life response from an Android platform programmer I interviewed back around 2009 (he was hired on the spot):

“I’m a cello playing kids’ soccer coach, a member of the PTA; I’m a darn good Android programmer who has an eye on your project schedule and project budget.”

Wow! He nailed it. I learned that he, like myself, played classical music, was involved with his kids and the community, and he knew two things that were important to ME: project schedule and budget. And he did it in one sentence that took less than 15 seconds! He didn’t recite his experience or education; he didn’t “brag” (I don’t consider self-confidence as “bragging” because he had the background to back it up), and he didn’t beg or plead for the job. He positioned his branded expertise and value in such a way that influenced the hiring decision.

Let’s look at Question No. 2:  “What’s your worst habit or greatest weakness?” Why on earth would ANYONE give a “brutally honest” answer to this question? If a compulsive liar says that he’s a compulsive liar, how will that influence whether or not he gets a job offer? It’s almost a trick question and no interviewer worth his or her credentials would ask such a question of candidates, but they do. You can try to soften the response with something like, “My co-workers would say that I’m tenacious at problem-solving and won’t quit until I have the solution” which is a softball-type of response that (1) decision makers are wise to; and (2) it’s not really a “worst” work habit.

I once responded to this question with: “Only my wife and my pastor know what my greatest weakness is, but for my worst work habit, my references are in a better position to provide unbiased assessments.” That response didn’t hurt my chances of moving forward in the hiring process at all because it showed that I protected my branded expertise and value by not blurting out some stupid response that would have stopped my progress cold! It’s 5-star impression management!

So, that’s how you respond to those two most-dreaded questions that not only preserve your value, but better position you to influence a decision to hire you or buy from you. I teach these strategies in my “Presence-Driven Leadership” programs that reveal the steps behind engaging –> positioning –> influencing –> and converting decision makers to become your ally, advocate, champion, client, customer or whatever your end goal is.

What are your experiences with such questions? Any other good responses?

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Positioning/Influence Strategist, Brand Leverage Catalyst, Success Expeditor, and Global Leadership Speaker Donn LeVie Jr. has nearly 30 years experience leading and managing people and projects with such Fortune 100 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, and Intel Corp., the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA), and academia (adjunct faculty, University of Houston Downtown College, Dept. of Natural Sciences and Mathematics).

Donn is the author of two award-winning books on professional advancement positioning and influence strategies, and is a popular conference keynote and seminar speaker. His “Influential and Persuasive Intelligence” and “Presence-Driven Leadership” corporate programs help assure CEOs they won’t have to deal with ineffective leaders in the C-Suite. 



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“One Million…One BILLION Résumés Reviewed!” And Other Recruiter Nonsense Claims


Dr. Evil

I found this statement on a career expert’s blog (he’s actually a former recruiter):

“I’ve reviewed more than 500,000 resumes during my career and have developed an optimal resume format that works for 95% of the workforce.”

horse wagon fertilzer

Sorry, but that’s a load of horse fertilizer. Let’s look at the math first: It doesn’t really lend itself to the actual idea of “reviewing” in detail all those résumés. Let’s assume this person has reviewed 500,000 résumés over a 30-year career. That comes out to 16,666 résumés reviewed per year, or 320 per week for 52 weeks (no vacations). Taking it down one more step, that’s 64 résumés per day or 8 per hour.

Is that possible? Well, MAYBE, if that’s all you ever do day in and day out every year for 30 years.

In my 30 years in management and leadership positions with hiring authority for Fortune 100 companies, I will guess that I’ve reviewed somewhere between 1200 and 1500 résumés TOTAL, mostly for positions on my team or in my department. Let’s do the math on the 1500 over 30 years. That comes out to 50 per year, a little over 4 per month, and slightly over 1 per week. That’s probably a little high, but close. But it came in spurts. I might have reviewed 10 to 12 résumés over the course of a week and perhaps called in a couple of candidates for interviews. Then I might not see another résumé for 6 or 7 months. That’s in addition to managing people, projects, stakeholders, in-person interviews, meetings, travel, etc.

But, a recruiter doesn’t “review” résumés in the true sense; they “scan” them for defined criteria sent to them by the company that hired them to screen applicants. They may receive a shopping list from a client company that states, “Send me only candidates with MBA or MS degrees, 7 years experience, and knowledge of XYZ.” A three-second glance can tell recruiters if they need to review any further.  Recruiters may also conduct phone screens or preliminary in-person interviews to brief the candidate on the background of their client and what they are looking for.

If a client wants people with MBA degrees, any résumé that crosses a recruiter’s desk without that MBA degree listed is quickly discarded. Does that count as a “reviewed résumé”? One former recruiter told me, “If I touch it, it’s been reviewed.”

But consider the compensation structure for many recruiters: the more candidate résumés a recruiter can forward to the client that come close to meeting the criteria for the position, the higher the odds the client will find one or two candidates to interview and offer a position to one of them, and the sooner the recruiter gets paid the commission.

Let’s look at the other problem with that recruiter’s statement: That he has “an optimal résumé format for 95% of the workforce.” Second load of horse fertilizer.

There is NO SUCH THING as an optimal résumé “format.” There are, however, certain criteria every résumé should have once you get past the education or “years experience” requirement: How you convey your branded expertise and value through accomplishments and achievements that contributed to the higher strategic objectives of your previous employers. Forget “duties and responsibilities” (well, don’t omit them, just don’t think they will differentiate you from others) because everyone with a job has duties and responsibilities.

I have spoken and written about this many times: if you are changing jobs within an industry or profession, use a reverse-chronological style résumé that focuses on what you did and accomplished for each employer starting from your current or most recent employer.

If you are re-entering the workforce after a long absence or changing careers altogether, a functional style résumé best serves your purpose because it focuses on the transferable functional skills you can bring to that new career. There’s less importance on previous activities with former employers and positions (you won’t find bullet lists of “duties and responsibilities” on such formats).

If you’re seeking a full-time teaching position at a university, the curriculum vitae (or CV) style will address that purpose, though some institutions request a résumé. The CV is a multi-page document (often 10+ pages) that details your education history, your teaching experience, publications you’ve written, edited, contributed to (you’d better have more than a few books or peer-reviewed journal articles on that list), and lots of references.  Some legal and medical positions require CVs instead of résumés, and in England and other countries, the term “CV” is used interchangeably with “résumé” where they are considered different documents in the United States.

There are also composite or “blended” résumé versions that contain elements of both the reverse-chronological and functional formats.

YOU are the expert on YOUR experience and expertise. Be very careful about allowing a recruiter to edit/revise/enhance your résumé without first getting approval from you and THEN getting approval AFTER they make any changes. The compensation model has just enough incentive built in for some unscrupulous recruiter to modify your experience to make you look better than your actual skills or experience. That could doom you to failure at your next employer.

One last consideration: recruiters can and do expedite the onboarding process for client companies. I’ve worked with some great professional recruiters who were tuned in to the type of candidates I wanted; however, recruiters are removed from the final hiring decision because that’s the client’s domain. The decision maker that counts is the one with the most direct knowledge of the position, and that’s often a manager or executive with hiring authority.

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Speaker, award-winning author, and positioning/influence strategist Donn LeVie Jr. has nearly 30 years experience in various leadership and management positions with such Fortune 100 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, and Intel Corp., the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA), and academia (adjunct faculty, University of Houston Downtown College, Dept. of Natural Sciences and Mathematics). He is the author of two award-winning books on professional development positioning and influence strategies and a popular conference keynote and seminar speaker. He holds certifications as a “Certified Fraud Examiner” (CFE) and in “Project Risk Management” and “Managing Projects in Large Organizations” from George Washington University. 

Request Donn’s free e-book, ACCESS GRANTED: A 10-Step Social Media Plan for Gaining Access to Decision Makers