But First, Who Are You — Really?
Does your job search stretch across several industries, and maybe even more than one career field? If so, don’t be surprised to wake up one day and be shocked to learn that your true identity is unclear — even suspect — to hiring authorities.
I’m talking not about the fearsome fraud of identity theft, but about multiple — and sometimes conflicting — online identities that can result from a broad digital job search.
The problem with multiple identities
Why is the issue of multiple online identities emerging as a dilemma for job seekers in this digital age? Why is it important to you? What can you do about it?
The answers to those questions become clearer after you review the underlying reasons a confused online identity has consequences in the job market. Here’s a recap of those reasons, followed by examples.
- Job history focus is a hiring magnet. Employers try to minimize financial risk by hiring people who are doing, or who have recently done, the same job they’re filling. Employers are less interested in taking a chance on you if you lack proven qualifications for the job.
- Relevant industry experience is highly valued. Even if you haven’t done the exact job for which you are a candidate, are you at least in the same or industry or a closely related one? Employers want to know that you’ve survived the bumps in their industry for a specified number of years — or, at least, that you understand the industry’s behavior in the marketplace.
- A tailored resume is widely preferred. Employers like you to customize your resume to show exactly how you’re perfectly qualified for their job opening — not sort-of qualified, not maybe qualified, and certainly not flat-out unqualified. By contrast, generic resumes and social media profiles usually miss the mark of spelling out that you provide the exact “fit” for a specific job.
Examples of online multifaceted identities
Imagine this scenario: Suppose you have a genuine work history that includes these three main occupations and industries:
- Retail pharmacist
- Electronics manufacturing manager
- Replacement-window sales manager
You need a job, and you would work again in any of these three roles. That’s why you blast three online versions of your resumes and public profiles all over the Internet.
Catch me if you can
After awhile, you receive a call to interview for a job at a hospital pharmacy. Well, the nibble seems like good news, even though your last pharmacy gig was nine years ago, right? Not so fast. Once inside the interview room, sunny skies quickly turn cloudy.
The interviewer kicks off the meeting by asking which of your three resumes and profiles best describe your real expertise. Is it You 1? You 2? You 3? Are you a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker?
Taken aback, you quickly realize the interviewer must have Googled you and discovered you seem to be three different people with three very different sets of qualifications.
Your prospects quickly go from bad to worse when the interviewer tartly says that the hospital pharmacy isn’t planning to sell replacement windows or manufacture electronics, but does plan to hire a pharmacist with heavyweight experience in the retail pharmacy industry. “So who are you, really?” the interviewer asks.
The rest of the discussion doesn’t go well for you, not only because you’ve been away from the pharmacy industry for a number of years, but because the interviewer’s directness catches you off guard — and you certainly don’t want to admit you’re desperate to find employment in this decade of a shaky job market. Gulp!
The Internet never forgets!
To avoid your own episodes of this simmering-under-the surface dilemma, why not merely post differing “private” versions of profiles and resumes? An obvious solution, but, alas, not much remains hidden on the Internet today.
Most hiring professionals now Google candidates and screen them on social media before inviting them to interview. Here’s what they look for:
- Work history
- Education and training
- Recommendations from previous employers
- Hobbies and interests
- Activities and “likes”
- Posted comments
- Group affiliations
- Pictures and videos
- Comments and links posted by candidate’s friends
Although most of what employers look up online is pretty standard information, some recruiters try to uncover more controversial stuff and contract with a new breed of social media screening and monitoring service, such as the Social Intelligence Corporation in Santa Barbara, Calif. Such a digital backgroundchecking service can crack open even closed databases in the deep web.
(For details of how easily your life and career path can become an open book, browse for articles like “Data Mining: How Companies Now Know Everything About You,” by Joel Stein.)
The challenge of presenting more than one of you
The multiple-identity pitfall is being noticed by experts who pay attention. As career-management legend John Lucht (www.ritesite.com) says, “A good rule is to assume that everything you put out online will be read — and in the context of everything else you have put out.”
Career authority Miriam Salpeter (www.keppiecareers.com) comments that the dilemma of multiple online identities is certainly a modern job seeker’s problem and makes this observation: “Gone are the days of being able to have multiple job/career personalities in place without being found out! There is really no perfect answer, but there are some considerations.”
Salpeter, who is the author of the top-rated book Social Networking for Career Success (Learning Express), offers a number of ways to defuse the confused online identity problem before it happens, including this tip:
“Don’t post multiple versions of your resume all over the Internet. In general, posting resumes online is not a useful strategy, anyway. If you’re a job seeker with several targets, it’s even less constructive to plaster information that may cause someone to think you can’t decide what you want to do.”
Before digital days, positioning yourself as a perfectly qualified candidate for a specific job didn’t used to be so steep a hill to climb as it is for some candidates today.
Putting Out Identity Fires
When you’re after a choice job in a super-competitive market, the most likely outcome of your multiple-identity exposure is that you just won’t be invited to interview. You may never know why you’re missing out.
But in case you’re called in for a closer look even though your presence online reveals two, three, or more separate professional identities, here’s what you can do to boost your candidacy.
Untangle a same-name mix-up
You and another job seeker may share a common name. It happens. If you receive a screening call, sprint beyond this potential barbedwire fence with a simple response, as this example illustrates:
I assume you checked online resources for “Karen Lee.” That’s me, Karen Lee the science teacher, but it’s also the name of Karen Lee the photographer, and Karen Lee the retail store manager, and Karen Lee the so on, and so on. What would you most like to know about me, Karen Lee the science teacher?
Project Renaissance-quality talent
Assume that you have three professional identities. Wear your multiple abilities as a badge of honor. Explain that you are not three different people, but one person with superb skill sets that can be applied in multiple industries.
Add substance to your claim of exceptional ability in multiple areas by giving examples of famous people who often are described as “a Renaissance person.” Three examples follow:
- Renaissance wonder Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, engineer, and inventor. We now know da Vinci as the great painter of the Mona Lisa, but in his time, he was sought out for his work as a military engineer. (Thanks to Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, www.career-success-coach.com, for suggesting the Renaissance strategy.)
- Before he was an engineer, a designer, an author, a systems theorist, and an inventor, Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller invented the geodesic dome, wrote more than 30 books, and created terms like synergetics and Spaceship Earth.
- Woody “Renaissance” Allen, one of the most notable American film directors of the 21st century, writes, directs, and stars in his films — and, on the side, he plays a little jazz clarinet. He does it all.
Expand on your talents
Early in your interview, without seeming to be boastful, take a page from Renaissance talent and say something like this:
Luckily, I’m gifted with several strong talents. Thank you for recognizing how my ability and experience seem to be a perfect match for the requirements of your job. For example, —.
Lean in to the challenge
Display a positive attitude: “Without question, I’m highly qualified for more than one type of position.” When challenged, the best defense is a good offense: Confirm the advantages earned in your diverse work history.
Yes, I was the senior vice president of marketing and sales for a giant company, as well as the CEO of a smaller one. And yes, they were in different industries. I’m a quick study. After succeeding in both positions, I believe I’ve demonstrated my versatility to move smoothly among various key posts that — in common — share the need for above-average competencies in management and leadership.
Doing Your Best in an Online Job Market
Because this book targets interviewing performance, I emphasize what to do and say to minimize rejection from conflicting identities after the problem surfaces in a meeting.
But for now, as Miriam Salpeter astutely observes earlier in this segment, there are zero perfect answers to preventing the problem from occurring in the first place. There are tactics to minimize your risk, but no money-back guarantees that any of your online identities will remain hidden.
Moving on, I call your attention to the bone-crusher of all job interview questions, and it usually is the interview’s opening round.
Answering a Very Broad Question about Yourself
In trying to figure out whether you’re the right person to hire, interviewers usually start with the parent of self-revealing questions, often phrased as a statement:
Tell me a little about yourself.
No matter how the question is worded, take care to get your act together for it, because it comes early in an interview — at the very time when an interviewer is forming an initial impression of you.
A good beginning sets the stage for the halo effect to kick in. The halo effect happens when an interviewer is impressed with you right off the bat and may assume that if you excel in one area, you excel in others.
When you start to tell about yourself, focus on aspects of your life that illustrate your value as a candidate for the position you seek. In addition to knowing that you have competencies, skills, and experience related to the potential work, employers want to feel confident that you’re the sort of person who
- Can do the job
- Will do the job
- Gets along with others while doing the job
Employers want to know how well you accept management direction. They want to know whether you have a history of slacking off as you get too comfortable on a job. They want to know whether — despite their lack of longterm commitment to you — you will jump ship at an inconvenient time if another employer dangles more money before your eyes.
When answering the Tell Me About Yourself question, bear the following thought in mind:
Focus on the Best You.
In sticking to the Best You theme, you may ask, “But isn’t that kind of like lying?” No. Lying is a time bomb that doesn’t travel well.
I know a woman who did not inflate her previous salary — instead, she did the opposite, lowering it because she didn’t want to be considered overqualified for a job she wanted. After 11 months, she was fired for lying when her reference checks finally caught up with her. The week before that, she had been offered a promotion!
Always be honest about the wonderful parts of you. But don’t wildly exaggerate your best traits to the extent that your performance bears no relationship to your promise — remember that the piper who lives down the road will demand to be paid, and maybe paid at a very inconvenient time.
Shade your answers to pack a punch
A careful questioner hears not only your lyrics, or content, in response to the self-defining question. The questioner also listens to your music and where you choose to turn up the volume:
- Do you focus on your competencies and skills, your education and training as they relate to the job? The interviewer is likely to conclude — hooray! — that you’re work oriented.
- Do you focus on your hobbies? The interviewer may decide that you’re more interested in your leisure hours, working only because you don’t want to starve to death.
- Do you focus on your present job? The employer may think that you’re still attached to your current haunts and not ready to move on. Or that you’ll cynically use a job offer merely to leverage a counteroffer from your boss.
Narrow the question
You can jump right in and answer the Tell Me About Yourself question, or you can ask for prompts:
I can tell you about experience and accomplishments in this industry, or the education and training that qualify me for this position, or about my personal history. Where shall I start?
Employers typically answer that they want to hear about both your work and relevant background — or a little bit of everything.
Writing Your Marketing Pitch
The sensible way to make star tracks in responding to a request to tell about yourself is to memorize — literally memorize — a personal commercial about yourself. Your “show and sell” bit should run between one and two minutes.
Think for a few seconds about what a commercial does. It focuses on selling a product in a blink of time. It grabs your attention fast with information of interest to you. Then it tells why you should buy the product.
Your personal commercial works exactly the same way by enabling you to
- Grab employers’ interest with a confident statement about yourself and your value related to the job you want
- Support that statement with specific facts
- Sell employers on why they should hire you instead of someone else
I wasn’t kidding about memorizing your personal commercial. Practice until it sounds natural. Just like an actor, you need to learn your script and deliver it in character. No stumbling. No ad-libbing.
Perhaps you’re not so sure about that advice. Won’t all this memorization make you sound as canned as a tin of tuna? Maybe. But which would you prefer — to sound a bit stiff or to flounder about as though you have no idea why you’re there, or why you’re right for the job, or why you have marbles in your mouth? Duh.
Depending on your experience level and the job you’re trying to land, your personal commercial can include any or all of the following information:
- Competencies, skills, and experience for the job
- Academic degree
- Positions of leadership
- Specific job training
- Date of expected graduation (if applicable)
- Honors or achievements
- General goals
- A branding brief
Crafting Personal Commercials
A prospective new graduate applying for a news website start-up may use a personal commercial like this:
Your need for a web editor who can handle breaking news deadlines is just what I want and am qualified to handle. Working and attending school full time taught me to organize and prioritize for superior timemanagement skills — I wouldn’t have succeeded without mastering these skills. Considering the demand of deadlines, I see multitasking skills as especially important in a journalism career.
I will graduate in May from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. I was a feature writer on the school’s website and the student newspaper. I would have been named editor, but I worked throughout my education to pay for 80 percent of my school expenses. At the same time, I managed to maintain a high GPA, so I expect to graduate cum laude.
A seasoned manager’s personal commercial highlights accomplishments and experience. For example:
I am an experienced line manager with extensive knowledge in team building that ranges from organizing project teams to informally encouraging people to work together. I’ve developed solid skills in hiring and retaining employees.
I also have incorporated technological advances into a company where such advances require a significant amount of employee retraining.
Additionally, my track record is substantial in major presentations to clients, which has led to as much as an 87-percent increase in product adoption from the year I took over.
In summary, I believe I have the required skills and experience you seek for this position, as well as the technological savvy and a positive attitude toward implementing change. Is my background on the mark?
How many personal commercials should you work up for your repertory theater? The answer depends on how widely you’re touring the job market.
- You can create one all-purpose personal commercial (think core commercial) and edit it on your feet to make it fit the requirements of the position you seek.
- If you’re not too hot at instant editing, prepare several different personal commercials aimed at related but slightly different types of jobs. Tweak the appropriate version and rehearse before each interview.
- When, as discussed at the start of this chapter, you’re presenting multiple identities online (butcher, baker, candlestick maker), rehearse a personal commercial for each identity. In advance of an interview, be certain you’re not pitching your identity of baker to the candlestick maker.
Try writing your own personal commercials. Avoid seeming stiff in your presentation by adding pauses, smiles, gestures, and timing. (Try your commercial in an off-Broadway setting: Check out participation in a local chapter of Toastmasters International.)
Describe your experience, competencies, and skills that are relevant to the type of position you want. Make the information interesting and illustrated with true stories; remember to sell rather than tell employers what you’ve got and why they want it.
Raising the Curtain on Specific Questions about You
For the following questions in this chapter, ShowStoppers are answers that work for you; Clunkers and Bloopers are answers that work against you.
What is your most memorable accomplishment?
- Relate an accomplishment directly to the job for which you’re interviewing.
- Give details about the accomplishment, as if you’re telling a story.
- Describe the challenge, the action you took, and the results (known as the CAR technique).
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Give a vague or unfocused answer.
- Discuss an accomplishment with no connection to the job you want.
- Discuss responsibilities instead of results.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? How does this position fit with your long-term career objectives?
- Say you hope your hard work has moved you appropriately forward on your career track.
- Answer realistically: In a changed business world where a long-term job may mean three years, speak of lifelong education to keep abreast of changes in your field and self-reliance for your own career.
- Describe short-term, achievable goals and discuss how they will help you reach your long-term goals.
- Explain how the position you’re interviewing for will help you reach your goals.
- Strive to look ambitious, but not too much so that you threaten the hiring manager.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Say that you want the interviewer’s job.
- Describe unrealistic goals.
- Flippantly say that you expect to see yourself in mirrors and on YouTube.
- State goals the company doesn’t need or can’t satisfy.
What is your greatest strength?
- Anticipate and prepare to discuss up to five strengths, such as
- Skill in managing your work schedule
- Willingness to do extra
- Ability to learn quick
- Proficiency at solving problems
- Team-building skills
- Leadership skills
- Cool, analytical temperament under pressure
- Discuss only strengths related to the position you want.
- Use specific examples to illustrate. Include statistics and testimonials.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Discuss strengths unrelated to the job you want.
- Fumble around, saying that you don’t feel comfortable bragging about yourself.
- Sell yourself too hard without delivering tangible evidence to back up your claims.
- For women only: Bring up the fact that you’re president of your child’s PTA (unless you’re interviewing for a job selling school supplies). Discriminatory? Yes, but studies show that moms may be seen as less committed to jobs than either childless women or men (with or without kids).
What is your greatest weakness?
- Because of the corrective action you took, you were able to transform a starting point of failure into a success story of strength. Four examples follow:
- Not being a natural techie, I was underperforming when I first worked with X word-processing software. So I took a class in that program at a community college on my own time, and now I’m the best administrative assistant in my office.
- I didn’t always know what I was doing — right or wrong — when I took my first managerial position. So I took online classes in managerial techniques, read management books, and paid attention to how managers whom I admired operated. As a result, I give careful thought to the quality of guidance that I give my direct reports before launching a project. I’m not yet perfect and may never be — I’m my own toughest critic — but, as the record shows, my leadership has improved dramatically in motivating the productivity achievements of my teams.
- I’ve had trouble remembering the timing of every appointment when I had to move like lightning across town from one sales call to another sales call. But I’ve corrected that scheduling problem with this terrific smartphone. I haven’t missed a call since I got it.
- I’m determined to complete whatever I start, and occasionally I can see myself getting hard-headed about it. But then I step back and recall the difference between completing a project and committing an act of stubbornness and make a course correction. Shall I tell you about the time when I —?
- Cite a shortcoming you are working on, even if you haven’t completely turned the weakness around — yet. Three examples follow:
- I’m working on my time-management skills, quickly learning not to take on an overload of work if it threatens the quality of my work products. For example, I now write to-do lists and assign priorities.
- I’m working on cooling my tendency to be impatient. It’s my nature to want to accomplish things as fast and efficiently as possible, and when others stall my progress, I lose patience. I remind myself every morning that others are busy people, too. Now I cut coworkers more slack on getting back to me before I send a friendly reminder.
- English is my second language. But I’m taking a class and listening to speech on TV, and my language ability is getting better every day.
- Balance a weakness with a compensating strength. Three examples follow:
- I’m not a global thinker. But being detail minded, I’m a top-notch staffer to an executive who is a big-picture guy.
- I don’t pretend to be a gifted trial lawyer. But I’ll stack my legal research and business structure skills up against any other lawyer in town.
- As a newcomer to this city, I can’t bring a clientele to this job, but I can use my talent for public presentations to build one faster than you can say “Give me a quote.” I have a plan to attract clients by quickly becoming known as a speaker at local club meetings and civic events.
- Choose a weakness that doesn’t matter to the job’s success. An example follows:
- I’m a very organized person, but you’d never know it by looking at my desk, which sometimes qualifies for the cover of Better Landfills magazine.
- Rhetorically rephrase the question aloud to make your shortcoming seem less of a minus. One example follows:
- Let me think . . . what attributes, when improved, would make me perform even better in this job? Hmm. . . . Then identify areas in which you want more training or guidance.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Mention a brutally honest negative, such as you’re hard to work with, you’re easily bored, you’re lazy, you don’t get along well with minority coworkers, you have a poor memory or a hot temper, or you’re exhausted by stress.
- Fall back on clichés. Examples: You’re a workaholic. (My boss has to shove me out the door every night to make me go home.) You’re a perfectionist. (The devil is in the time-eating details, and I sweat every one.) But even clichés sometimes work for very young candidates.
- Say you have no weaknesses.
- Volunteer key weaknesses that were likely to go unnoticed in the hiring decision.
What are your outside interests, including sports? Do you spend much time on social networks? What books/magazine/blogs have you read recently? What movies/TV shows have you seen?
- Be enthusiastic.
- Tell why you enjoy the activities you mention.
- Focus on team-oriented, active hobbies — usually sports over reading.
- If possible, show how your hobbies or reading materials help you in your work.
- Focus on media that relate to personal growth.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Say that you don’t have any outside interests — just work.
- Discuss extreme solo sports, unless applicable to the job you want.
- Mention vampirelike fiction, horror, or violent media. (Stick to business and news.)
Would you rather work with others or alone? How about teams?
- Discuss your adaptability and flexibility in working with others as a leader or a follower. At heart, you’re always a team player, but in certain situations, you prefer to work alone.
- Give concrete examples.
- Mention the importance of every team member’s contribution.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Appear to be overly dependent on a team to see you through.
- Let the interviewer think that you’re a pushover, willing to carry the load of team members who don’t contribute.
- Say you don’t like to work on teams.
What is your definition of success? Of failure?
- Show that your success is balanced between your professional and personal lives.
- Relate success to the position you want.
- If you have to talk about failure, do so positively. Show how you turned a failure into a success, or discuss how and what you learned from the failure.
- Demonstrate that you’re a happy person who thinks the world is more good than bad.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Spend a great deal of time talking about failure.
- Say that you’ve never failed or made mistakes.
- Discuss success as a ruthless, take-no-prisoners shot to the top.
How do you handle stressful situations?
- Give examples of how you’ve dealt with job stress.
- Discuss what you do to relax, refresh, and refill.
- Give positive illustrations of how job stress makes you work harder or more efficiently.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Say that you avoid stress. (What, me worry?)
- Imply that stress is usually the result of lack of preparation or knowledge.
Is there anything else I should know about you?
- Discuss any selling points the interview failed to uncover and relate those selling points to the job you want.
- Repeat the selling points you’ve already discussed and remind the interviewer why you’re the best candidate for the job.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Say “No.” And not another word.
- Remark that you will require the first two weeks off every June for vacation because that’s when your timeshare is available.
Why should I hire you?
- Prepare at least three key reasons to roll off your tongue that show how you’re better than the other candidates.
- Use specific examples to illustrate your reasons. (As a senior student, I was voted most likely to succeed in business. I want this job, and I hope I have given you reasons why you want me in this job. Are there any areas you’d like me to discuss further?)
- Tell something unusual or unique about you that will make the interviewer remember you. You can refer to a branding brief, described in the sidebar at the end of this chapter titled, “Cool tool: The branding brief”; leave a print copy behind.
Clunkers and Bloopers
- Dance around this question (I live nearby.) without really addressing it.
- You would be an asset to the company bowling team; you are tired of living with your parents; your house payment is overdue; your brother needs help paying off his student debt; you need a change of scenery.
- Tell the interviewer, “You need to fill the job.”
Mastering More to Tell about Yourself
Most of us have scant experience in interviewing for jobs. Contrast that with the experience of hiring authorities who interview for a living. Some human resource specialists and even hiring managers ask tricky questions that are spin-offs of “Tell me about yourself.”