This week I took a phone call with a younger professional about her job search. She was feeling frustrated about her lack of success in getting interviews and asked if we could chat about what she could do better to showcase her candidacy.
She sent me her resume to review and it honestly needed an incredible amount of work. It lacked depth and it painted an incomplete picture of her professional experiences.
In chatting with her about it I was extremely honest about its deficiencies. I told her that her years of experience and all of her good work were not reflected on her resume. Your resume and cover letter are ways to tell your story and showcase your unique brand of professionalism, I shared with her. We went line by line and brainstormed examples of how it could be stronger.
She had several people review her resume before it got to me and she had not received this kind of critical feedback prior. Now, I do not claim to be an expert on resumes but any seasoned practitioner could have made these recommendations to her. But they didn’t. Why is that?
We must become more comfortable with providing folks with critical feedback or else we are filling the higher education pipeline with people who think their work is perfect, their attitude is superb and they have no room for growth.
I also conducted a phone interview with her and three things were immediately evident:
1) Lack of Professional Confidence: She appeared nervous, fumbled over words, and she did not fully answer the questions. This woman has many incredible talents but when asked “What unique strengths would you bring to this team?” she hesitated and struggled to answer.
If we can’t sell our own positive contributions how can we expect an institution to feel confident about hiring us? We must get better at affirming the strengths of our teams and telling the story of our successes (individually and departmentally) broadly.
2) Self-awareness as it Relates to Areas of Improvement: I’m impatient. I hate reflecting. I have a low tolerance for long meetings. I need to work on my assessment skills. These are all areas that I am keenly aware of regarding my own limitations.
Yet when we ask these very questions of entry level folks I have heard everything from “I don’t know how to delegate” to “I work too hard” to “I prefer to celebrate the success of a team over my own accomplishments.” This is not really what the question is asking. What the interviewer is really trying to know is: what areas do you repeatedly receive critical feedback in and how can your potential future supervisor help you?
Let’s teach professionals that it’s OK, no it’s actually REQUIRED, to critically look at yourself and know where your weaknesses are. I would rather hire a perfectly imperfect person with strong self-awareness than a person who has no understanding of their areas to improve.
3) How to Professionally Package Yourself: This includes but is not limited to:
The 90 second “elevator speech” about “who you are and why you want to work at XYZ institution?” Many folks seem to struggle with articulating WHY this school, WHY this department and WHY this particular job. Know the talking points that you want to share. Deliver them with confidence. This kind of “polish” shows that you are prepared and have thought about why this could be a mutually beneficial fit.
How to properly request information prior to and after the interview: If I get another email that starts with “Hey”… :)All communication that you have with your potential future employer is indicative of your professional communication style. Dazzle them with your skills.
The importance of follow-up and thank you notes: It matters. Generosity and gratitude win every single time.
Afterwards, I asked her how she felt about her answers and then I shared my candid feedback. She seemed surprised but grateful for the critique. The worst feeling is to not know WHY you may not be getting called. Talking through the possibilities and ways to improve seemed to be helpful.
It was a difficult but meaningful conversation. If we are going to cultivate a new generation of professionals who are professionally equipped to handle the challenges that mid and senior level leadership will undoubtedly bring it is incumbent on us to deliver this kind of feedback early and often.
To eliminate this from the professional development experiences of our employees does them an incredible disservice. To not provide this to them hurts them in the short and long term. It doesn’t model for them how to provide constructive feedback to students and student staff. It becomes cyclical as they move up. Our staff deserve better. Our students deserve much better.
The last thing I said to this woman is to not leave this phone call feeling badly for what she didn’t know but to feel relieved that now she did. I also learned a valuable lesson from her today. I can and must do better to ensure our younger professionals are ready for the realities of future leadership.
I am committed to making this a priority…are you in, too?
Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz