Category Archives: Professional Development

How to Position 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 (I hired him 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 work 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 techniques in my “Power of Presence” seminars 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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Are you a meeting professional with an upcoming conference that needs a dynamic speaker with a program that offers high energy and high takeaway value? Give me a call at (512) 797-3035 and let’s see whether my programs would be a good fit.

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



Are There Really Generational Differences in the Workplace?

graphic for generational differences blog post

We keep reading about soft skill generational differences among Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials and whether these real and perceived differences should be accommodated by employers. The truth is that each generation arrives in the workplace strongly influenced by whatever technology drivers are current for them as well as the influence of pop culture.

As a career strategist and former Fortune 500 hiring manager, I personally never bought into the idea of a business or company accommodating a particular generation’s work ethic (“soft skills”, however, are a different animal) over those of other generations. To me, that’s the tail wagging the dog. It contributes to vertical silo social/organization structures rather than horizontal structures.

Instead, what I have found to be more effective for accommodating the workforce generational difference and the bottom line is a combination of several factors, primarily aligning/re-aligning people across generations based on their particular work styles and perspectives.

Deloitte created a system called Business Chemistry that identifies four primary work styles (Drivers, Guardians, Pioneers, and Integrators), and related strategies for accomplishing shared goals. Existing personality tests aren’t tailored to the workplace and rely too much on personal introspection. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other personality assessments put people in one category or another, but the brain isn’t wired like that and even the Myers-Briggs Foundation cautions against integrating results with hiring decisions. The Business Chemistry process, which is based on neural chemistry, pulls diverse work styles together – regardless of generation. These four primary work styles are found across all generations, not just within one age group.

According to the research, organizations that emphasize cognitive diversity rather than generational or even racial diversity can harvest the catalytic benefits such organizing work styles offer. In it’s search for effective value-driven diversity in the workplace, could neuro-diversity base on cognitive assortment be The Answer?

Want to know if you’re a Driver, Guardian, Pioneer, or Integrator? Email me and I’ll send you the Business Chemistry self-assessment worksheet as found in the Harvard Business Review March/April 2017 edition.

So, what about those soft skills?

Here’s a scary statistic: Only 23% of employers measure quality of hire, a metric that has been shown to be critical to understanding the effectiveness of an organization’s hiring process (source: SHRM Research, 2016). When employers complain about bad hires, it’s sounding more like the echo of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you don’t at least look for soft skills proficiency, well…you get what you pay for.

The higher up one advances in the organization, the greater the need for soft skills execution (see my previous post for more of soft skills). While some assessments can provide a window into a candidate’s soft skills inventory and application, most companies will have to select those soft skills that do the best job reinforcing their particular business process. HR and hiring managers will have to work together to determine which soft skills to look for and assess.

Work environments must establish an atmosphere that provides opportunities for people to succeed with hard and soft skills. While a person’s core personality core can’t be changed, they can learn strategies for engagement and influence to better manage the daily interactions with peers and upper management.

YOUR TURN: what are you strategies and tactics for addressing generational work style differences in the workplace? Are they working, or are you looking for something else? 

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Donn LeVie Jr. is  a former Fortune 500 hiring manager (Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corp), award-winning author (Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 – Second Edition and Strategic Career Engagement), keynote speaker/seminar leader, and strategist. Over a 30-year career, he has reviewed thousands of résumés and cover letters, interviewed hundreds of candidates, and hired countless technical, marketing, and communications professionals in the earth and space sciences, software development support, and microprocessor design support. 

Today Donn speaks on career engagement strategies; positioning and influence strategies; and personal breakthrough strategies as well as providing 8-week Elite Small Group Mentoring/Strategist programs. Follow him on Twitter or contact him directly at

Part II: How a Strong Career Development Presence Can Boost Your Association Conference Return on Event (ROE)  


Taking Your Successful Conference Professional Development Track to the Next Level

In Part 1 of this series (How a Strong Career Development Presence Can Boost Your Association Conference Return on Event (ROE) – Part I), I discussed several ways association conferences could greatly impact both the return on investment (ROI) and return on event (ROE) for their members through the establishment of a strong Professional/Career Development program.

ROI might be considered the ultimate measure of event success by finance people; for those in charge of membership retention and growth, ROE may be deemed the most important consideration by conference and event coordinators. But in truth, both measures try to take into account the extent that psychological, attitudinal, and behavioral changes translate to added value in the workplace environment.

A strong ROE usually indicates the event has a long tail; in other words, it’s value remains high as measured over time after the event through what’s termed the “chain of impact.” (This chain of impact is more often associated with ROI evaluation.) The impetus for positive behavioral or attitudinal change (i.e., learning) begins at some time point during a conference (during a keynote, a breakout session, a one-on-one conversation) and in time leads to the acquisition of new skills or knowledge, which in turn influence the performance of a work-related task that later results in some increased value to business performance.

We know that the further removed we are from a conference, excitement, inspiration, and retention drop off precipitously. Streaming presentations and using cloud storage for registered attendees helps revisit content to reinforce retention. We also know that without frequent reinforcement, the gains experienced immediately following the conference can be lost altogether. But even with retention reinforcement, assigning ROI in the absence of methods to measure at various links in the chain is a difficult proposition.

So the question becomes: What post-conference approaches can associations embrace to help attendees extend that chain of impact to a measurable result?


Not all conference attendees are looking for the same thing from a Professional Development track. Career development is part of professional development and a good percentage of attendees want to know not only how to do what they do better — some want information on getting their careers to the next level. Attendee expectations are very often tied to their current or future roles in the workplace and differ from one industry or profession to the next. That understanding (roles vs. industry) will be critical when designing post-conference follow-up email and tweets to help reinforce knowledge retention. Segmenting members/ attendees by role instead of industry will help make follow-up microlearning more individually relatable because it contextualizes the content specifically to the function, increasing the likelihood of the message being viewed or read.

Drip marketing is used to maintain a “top of mind” position for a product or service. The same technique can be used for post-conference retention efforts whereby brief emails, ads, blogs, YouTube messages, or tweets “drip” information from keynotes or breakout sessions at frequent intervals to attendees. Often all that’s needed to induce recall is the repetition of a brief statement or fact. Someone watching that conference video on corporate compliance might benefit from an email with a link to a related TED Talk or blog post. The association’s social media staff should work with HR and education managers to develop a strategy for drip marketing channels.

When a conference Professional/Career Development program helps send the ROE through the roof, how can an organization capture that value for its members and incorporate it into a more permanent option rather than at annual events or sampling during the chain of impact?  One successful method is to integrate those successful elements from the conference into a member benefit (or student benefit) package.


If your organization already has an online job bank where employers post vacancies or a résumé upload database that lets employers review member résumés, well..that’s a good start but it’s not nearly enough today. Every association and organization has a percentage of its members who are looking for a job, considering a career change, or advice on building their business to get more clients or customers. A professional development member benefit package today must incorporate effective, high-value career development strategies that are easily accessible for members.

Here are several ideas for incorporating career development strategies as part of an organization’s Professional/Career Development member benefit package that can enhance and extend the event ROE.

“Connected Career” Column

Have career strategists from a recent successful conference provide a career strategies column for the organization’s newsletter, website, or magazine. Authors for that column can be rotated among those interested. It’s a great way to maintain the post-conference “buzz” with topics and authors the members are familiar with.

Cover Letter, Résumé, LinkedIn Profile Evaluations

Cover letter, résumé, and LinkedIn profile evaluations are likely to be the most popular option for a career development strategies member benefit package. There are several ways in which this program can be incorporated. The association can partially subsidize discounted evaluations (perhaps through a subscription fee to the career strategist conducting the evaluations), or members can pay for the evaluations themselves.

Podcasts, Webinars

Another career development strategy is to have career strategists provide webinars and podcasts on different aspects of moving forward with careers or developing small business, all designed to extend the conference ROE value (the event) into the member benefit package (the program).

“Ask the Expert” Column

Another resource is to have guest career strategists respond to career questions from members on the association website or newsletter.


Extending the chain of impact, drip marketing, and even gamification (using gaming techniques for elearning) can help keep those high-value conference learning opportunities and career strategies “top of mind” with conference attendees once they have returned to their jobs. Perhaps a future “return on extended event” () measure might yield some interesting ROI.

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Meeting planners and conference coordinators: Would you like to upgrade your status to Superstar? Contact Donn to learn how he can help you push that ROE over the top. Visit to learn more about his Career Strategy Member Benefit Subscription Program.

Keynote speaker, seminar leader, career strategist, and award-winning author Donn LeVie Jr. helps event planners and conference coordinators become superstars.

Donn has nearly 30 years experience in hiring manager positions for such Fortune 500 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and many others. In addition, Donn has taught at the University of Houston Downtown College in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and worked for the federal government with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Donn is the author of Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (Second Edition), WINNER of the 2012 International Book Award and the GOLD MEDAL WINNER of the 2012 Global eBook Award for Business:Careers. He is also the author of Strategic Career Engagement: The Definitive Guide for Getting Hired and Promoted, RUNNER-UP of the 2016 International Book Award and SILVER MEDAL WINNER of the 2016 Global eBook Award for Business:Careers.



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How a Strong Career Development Presence Can Boost Your Association Conference Return on Event (ROE) – Part I



Fine-Tuning Your Conference Professional Development Track for Added Association Value

The world of conferences and conventions is a magnet for gathering people of like minds, professions, and interests. Like moths to a flame, conference attendees congregate to learn the latest tools and techniques in a variety of breakout sessions, to check out new products in exhibit halls, and to network with other professionals in the hallways and corridors.

Such events typically are viewed as investments for a specific purpose. As an investment, event planners should be aware of the different measures available to assess the financial value of such programs. They should also be responsive to those methods for evaluating the intrinsic (psychological, attitudinal, behavioral) value for attendees, which often can influence projected financial expectations for future events.

Many conferences host job fairs with local or industry employers, or have conference- sponsor HR representatives provide cursory cover letter and résumé feedback in response to the ever-present percentage of attendees looking for jobs or career changes. Such minimal services hardly qualify as “professional development.”

There’s still room for enhancing professional/career development services beyond the aforementioned cursory options which in turn can improve the conference “return on event,” elevate the return on investment for attendees, and generate higher feedback ratings for the sponsoring organization. But first, let’s briefly look at return on event and return on investment individually in this context.


Ira Kerns, Managing Director of GuideStar Research and Meeting Metrics, described the term “return on event” (ROE) in 1991 to account for the perceived benefits expected before an event (the baseline) with post-event benchmark results from various measurements and attendee feedback. The greater the positive difference between the anticipated results and measured results, the more successful the event, yielding a high return on event.  While many pre- and post-event variables must be measurable and quantifiable, some variables (such as written and verbal attendee feedback) provide a different dimension regarding the success of a conference.

Kerns also developed the Core-7 Meeting Dimensions that identify psychological and behavioral perceptions that have become useful pre-event baseline and post-event assessment measures:

  1. Knowledge/understanding (“I know”)
  2. Opinions/perceptions/beliefs (“I agree”)
  3. Feelings/attitudes (“I want to”)
  4. Abilities/skills (“I can”)
  5. Intentions/commitment (“I will”)
  6. Behaviors (“I am doing”)
  7. Business results/impacts – ROI (“I am delivering value”)

A pre-event baseline consists of identifying the needs, interests, and priorities of the targeted event audience, and then developing marketing/communication collateral for the appropriate channels to create interest and registrations from that audience. This phase must involve potential attendees in a focus/planning group who can provide that necessary perspective.

A post-event measurement or evaluation assesses attendee satisfaction or value received (for example, did not meet/met/exceed expectations) regarding the acquisition of new knowledge or skills offered through different conference tracks; change in behaviors, perceptions, or attitudes as a result of information presented; the value of pre- and post-conference workshop content; effectiveness of speakers, trainers, etc.

The following questions help assess that ROE:

  • Did the programming of topic tracks, presentations, and speakers result in changes in attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors?
  • Are there processes in place to ensure attendees will both act on or retain those changes post conference?
  • How will attendee evaluations and feedback shape subsequent conference/event planning to provide even more value for members and attendees?
  • What are the long-term implications of high ROE on the association/organization?
  • Can lessons from a post-conference ROE evaluation lead to changes in association/organization member benefits?


Conferences and other similar events have no hard and fast across-the-board rules or financial benchmarks for which to determine event success and attendee retention. Each gathering consists of intangible experiences shared by event planners, attendees, and participants; however, there are two components to attaching overarching value to ROE:

  1. The financial return on the investment (ROI) which compares actual costs to real and perceived benefits to the sponsoring organization
  2. The “grass roots” return on investment that confers a financial value on individual feedback (numeric and verbal) and measurement results on the value (knowledge received, incentive for behavior change, etc.) received by attendees

Professional associations exist to serve the needs of the membership primarily, which suggests placing an equal if not slightly heavier emphasis on the “grass roots” ROI than the financial ROI in most cases. Professional associations exist so long as the membership is being served by highly valuable conferences, networking opportunities, valued certifications in the profession, and other member benefits. Member retention rates are critical to the organization’s financial longevity and health.

Professional associations can extract strategic value from ROI and ROE in many ways (use of mobile conference apps can engage more attendees to provide real-time feedback and may allow for on-the-fly event changes):

  • More focus on conference breakout session categories that attendees find higher value with
  • Eliminate those conference amenities that attendees don’t feel add significant value
  • Increase conference registration and attendance for subsequent recurring events
  • Invite speakers that attendees rate high to submit proposals for future events
  • Delivering high content value for attendees can lead to increases in association membership
  • High ROE adds to the overall value of other member benefits provided by the association or organization


A focused Professional Development track (or stem) can enhance all of the 7 Meeting Dimensions that contribute to a highly successful conference. In every professional association there are members who are looking for a job or better internal opportunities, seeking a new career, or trying to add customers or clients. Members and attendees want those psychological and behavioral perceptions affirmed and fulfilled at conference events that take them to the next level in their jobs or careers. Yet, in many professional associations, the extent of “professional development” is limited to an online job bank or “post your résumé here” option.

As a speaker, seminar leader, career strategist, I have also served on the board of several national and international associations. I have also participated in helping other associations shape successful Professional Development member benefits as well as Professional Development tracks for conference attendees that have directly contributed to higher ROE, increased membership, and enhanced membership value.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a focused Professional Development track that goes beyond inclusion of breakout sessions:

  1. Focus on providing breakout sessions geared toward individual aspects of finding a job or changing careers (cover letters, résumés, LinkedIn profile reviews, etc), or strategies for adding clients to an existing business; invite career experts* to lead breakout sessions or pre-conference half-day seminars
  2. Include session tracks that teach attendees the latest social media strategies for gaining access to decision makers and hiring managers
  3. Hire career strategists to conduct personal career evaluations with conference attendees. One successful approach is to have attendees pay a discounted fee ($30 to $50 per person) for a 30-minute session with a career strategist. The discounted attendee fee helps offset the career strategist fee charged to the conference sponsor.
  4. During morning and afternoon conference breaks in the exhibit hall, have speakers present short mini-sessions on a stage or platform in the exhibit hall. Such topics might include: “20-minute Cover Letter Makeover”; “7 Cover Letter Clichés You Must Avoid”; or “An 8-Step Social Media Plan to Gain Access to Decision Makers.”
  5. Hire a portrait photographer to take free head shots of attendees. At a recent conference at which I was hired for conducting personal career consultations and several breakout sessions, for two days the line for the free head shots was easily 30 to 50 people long most of each day. Attendees thought that the free head shots was one of the best Professional Development activities of the conference.

* I use the term ”Career experts” to include seasoned hiring managers, expert career strategists, and those who have actually screened, hired, and managed hundreds of people. Be cautious when hiring “certified” career professionals as many of those certifications can be earned by watching web-based videos and taking an exam – all without the experience of hiring anyone.   

When such a Professional Development package is so positively received by conference attendees, the next step to consider is whether some of these activities and services can be incorporated into the association member benefit package.  Such services could include cover letter evaluations, résumé evaluations, LinkedIn Profile evaluations, and Job Interview Coaching strategies.  Be sure to hire the best available career strategist(s) to take on these responsibilities – preferably professionals that members have interacted with at a recent conferences.


When conference coordinators and event planners can provide value-driven Professional Development options (and the right people to deliver them) that exceed conference attendee expectations, their strategic contribution to the event success makes them look like superstars. That momentum can carry over into growth for the association or organization as word spreads throughout the professional community about the value-rich events associated with that organization.

(Watch for the followup article: How a Strong Career Development Presence Can Boost Your Association Conference Return on Event (ROE) – Part II)

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Meeting planners and conference coordinators: Would you like to upgrade your status to Superstar? Contact Donn to learn how he can help you push that ROE over the top. Visit to learn more about his Career Strategy Member Benefit Subscription Program.

Keynote speaker, seminar leader, career strategist, and award-winning author Donn LeVie Jr. helps event planners and conference coordinators become superstars.

Donn has nearly 30 years experience in hiring manager positions for such Fortune 500 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and many others. In addition, Donn has taught at the University of Houston Downtown College in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and worked for the federal government with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Donn is the author of Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (Second Edition), WINNER of the 2012 International Book Award and the GOLD MEDAL WINNER of the 2012 Global eBook Award for Business:Careers. He is also the author of Strategic Career Engagement: The Definitive Guide for Getting Hired and Promoted, RUNNER-UP of the 2016 International Book Award and SILVER MEDAL WINNER of the 2016 Global eBook Award for Business:Careers.



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