“Tell me about yourself”

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As I’m about to start interviews for a Digital Marketing Coordinator to join my team, I thought it would be a good time to share a blog post I wrote a while back in a previous role at Potentia.

The “Tell me about yourself” interview question can be one of the most dreaded questions poised to you in an interview. There is no real right or wrong answer, yet how you answer it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. As it’s such an open question it often throws people, unsurprisingly most people do not prepare for it. So when poised with the question one will think – what exactly do they want me to say here? What do they want to know? And then the panic sets in; some of you will freeze not being able to respond, start reciting every detail in your CV or worse turn into a rambling Michael Scott!

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way…” – Michael Scott (from the Office).

Whatever you do, don’t be a Michael Scott. So you ask, “what should I share when asked the ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question?”

Why are they asking you the question?

Before we get into how to answer the question, let’s think about why your potential new employer has asked you this question? They could be:

  • testing you to see how you will answer without direction;
  • trying to see how you articulate information about yourself in a few sentences;
  • trying to gain an insight into your personality and how you compare to the other candidates;
    trying to see if you will fit in with their company culture; or
  • ultimately wanting a high level overview of your achievements, knowledge, skills, abilities and personality.

It’s important to think about what they may be looking for so you can put an emphasis on things that you know are paramount in the person they’re looking for.

It’s your time to shine!

Now it’s time to work on how you will answer the ‘tell me about yourself question’, as this is your 5 minutes of glory and a prime opportunity to really position yourself as the right person for the role.

What you need to do in roughly 5 minutes is to explain in a structured approach who you are, what you do and why you’re the perfect candidate – essentially a slightly longer version of an elevator pitch. If you’ve never prepared an elevator pitch consider using the present, past, future formula to structure your response:

  • Start with who you are and where you are now in your career.
  • A little bit about your experiences, successes (relevant to the role) and skills you have gained.
  • Finish with the future – where you are looking to go, achieve and how this fits in line with the job you’re interviewing for.

Do:

  • Focus on skills and experience that are relevant to the role.
  • Relax and show your personality.
  • Be concise and enthusiastic.
  • Be prepared to be self-deprecating and/or use humility!
  • Summarise your background, achievements and objectives.
  • Talk about your career goals that are relevant to the interview.
  • Give them your “Unique Selling Proposition” – your biggest strength and benefit a company will get from you.
  • Including a quick mention of volunteer work, interests or hobbies that are relevant to the role or will show a bit of your personality.

Don’t:

  • Share your life story filled with personal information – they aren’t looking to find out if you’re married or what you hate about the city.
  • Badmouth past employers.
  • Talk about what you don’t want in a role i.e. working late.
  • Tell them that your dream or passion is something completely different to the role you’re interviewing for (you’re not exactly going to stick around then are you).
  • Avoid politics and controversial topics.
  • Dive into a long recital of your resume.

Finally, it’s a good idea to make sure what you are going to say is reflected on your professional profiles such as your LinkedIn profile and successes are mentioned in your CV. Employers will check out your social presence just as you will (or should) have checked out theirs! Now go prepare your brilliant answer and practice it with a friend, family member or a recruitment consultant before you head into your interview.

The original version of this post was on the Potentia blog.

Personal Branding On Social Media – The Challenge Of Positioning Yourself

Personal brand and network
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It wasn’t that long ago you could say ‘social media isn’t my thing’ and get away with not having a professional profile online. However, in these contemporary times, (and certainly more so for certain professions) it is expected that you have an engaging professional presence online as an individual.

Recently I happened to be dining with friends, several of whom are passively job hunting. The topic of your professional brand came up; each one of them agreed that it’s relatively easy to find help and advice on setting up and optimising your social profiles such as LinkedIn, Twitter and other industry related communities. However, the consensus was that they found themselves at a standstill when it came to working out how to pitch themselves without sounding generic, using clichés or sounding like a sales pitch for where they work.

For those of you who have always been active on your professional social media networks this of course isn’t a problem or hard to do, but for most people and particularly those who are not millennials, it can be quite daunting. Most of us struggle with this because there really isn’t one clear approach for developing and curating your personal brand online.

Essentially, you need to find an approach that resonates with you. So as a starting point consider these three areas to focus on when building your personal brand online: positioning, authenticity and engagement.

Positioning

It’s important to think about where and how you are going to position yourself. When you put all your ducks in a row, how do you want to be viewed? What kind of personality do you want to project? If you’re still not sure, think about how your values relate to the professional you. How can you position yourself with those values in mind

Why authenticity?

In my view, authenticity is critical when building your personal brand strategy as authenticity goes hand in hand with trust. If you can build trust with your peers, colleagues and community, you will have a much stronger brand than those who haven’t.

  • Be 100% genuine and truthful about everything that you say, the detail in your profile to the interactions you have with people. If you tweak the truth or aren’t your true self-online, your network and community will soon find out.
  • Be real – you don’t want to come across as a robot by simply posting and never interacting or commenting. Find your own style and tone of voice that is similar to how you would normally speak and hold a conversation. Put yourself out there and show some emotion and opinion in your writing.
  • If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face then don’t post it. No one likes people who hide behind their online profile, so be true to yourself.
  • Once you’re comfortable with writing and posting online, consider sharing some of your personal experiences, even those slip-ups or mistakes as these can be very powerful showing how you’ve dealt with situations, how others can learn from your experiences and how resilient you can be.

Engage with others

This may be an obvious one but in addition to starting discussions, you need to proactively engage with your networks content, posts, and shares. It may take a bit of time and you may need to schedule time into your calendar to do this but it is necessary as simply put, no one likes a one-sided relationship. Seek out those in your professional networks who you resonate with and share their content, give your two cents and praise where deserved. Also remember to have fun – not everything has to be serious, everyone loves a bit of good-natured humour.

You want to make sure people see you as a real person, that the image you put across focuses on what makes you unique and represents your worth, passion and ambitions. By being authentic, engaging with your community and by having the right positioning, your personal online brand will flourish. You will start increasing your networks, receiving recognition for your contributions, expand your knowledge in more areas and be able to showcase your skills to those who matter.

Finally, however you decide to look at it, the digital world and social media is here to stay. So it’s worth putting some time and thought into how you would like to represent yourself in the social sphere. Go on… give it a go!


 

This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

Are you surrounding yourself with radiators or drainers?

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Every year as winter lands on us, we start the winter routine of cranking up the radiators to keep us warm at night and ensuring the drains are unblocked of leaves to ensure the rain drains away.

One wise person once told me to surround yourself with people who are radiators and distance yourself from drainers. Radiators glow with happiness and bring out the good things in life, and the drainers, well they do the opposite – they bring you down and drain life out of those around them. So as winter is now upon us, and you have started your winter routines, how about also taking a look at who are the radiators and drainers in your life.

No matter whether you are on the job hunt, looking to take on more responsibilities in your role or have other life or relationship goals that you want to achieve, you will want to lean on friends and colleagues. However if these friends or colleagues are the drainer type, they will most probably pull you down or even stop you achieving these things. I’m not saying to necessarily completely remove these people from your lives, as sometimes they will give you a worthwhile reality check, but they can be detrimental to your success. Instead, you need to actively surround yourself with radiators. People who will pick you up, encourage you and support you towards reaching your goals.

If you are unsure whether someone is a radiator or drainer consider this:

  • When spending time with them do you find yourself speaking negatively about yourself? Do you find yourself saying more passive phrases such as ‘I will try or ‘I don’t know if I can’?
  • Are they big moaners who generally look at things from the glass is half-empty approach?
  • Do they support you and celebrate your successes?
    Do they make you feel energised?
  • Do they make you feel positive?
  • Do they inspire you to achieve your goals

How do your friends and colleagues see you?

As well as looking at whether you are surrounding yourself with drainers, it is important to consider whether you are at risk of becoming one or viewed as one through association. In the office, you don’t want to hang around with the disengaged employees who hate their jobs, bosses and the company itself, as other employees will associate you as being one of them. Also spending time with these types of people will most likely turn you into one of them.

So as you get into your winter routines take some time to assess who you surround yourself with and perhaps it’s time to clear out those drains and find a couple of great new radiators.


 

This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

Pushing past the ‘sugar coating’ to determine a company’s true culture

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You are so fantastic that everybody wants you! Now it’s time to be a bit selective – do you really want to work for them, yes it may be your dream role, but is the culture right for you? After all, it’s imperative to know whether they will appreciate your encouragement of staff to take up the next desk safari challenge.

On a more serious note, it can be hard to determine what a company culture is like, and culture can make or break a job as well as influencing your confidence and drive. When interviewing, your potential new employer (like you), they will put on their best game face. This means that you often won’t get a true sense of the culture in the workplace.

So how can you judge the culture of a potential employer and whether they like office pranks and desk safari challenges before signing on the dotted line? Workplace culture is extremely important to me as I’ve worked for the brilliant, the good, and the ugly – the difference it’s made to my performance and enjoyment is huge. So along the way I’ve devised the following strategies and questioning to help gain an insight into what a company’s culture is like:

  1. Look up company review websites, which feature reviews and ratings by current and former employees. One company review website, which is growing in popularity in New Zealand is Glassdoor.
  2. Check out the company’s social media accounts (and if you can current employees). Look out for what’s going on, if they have fun and if there are any an indicators of what it’s like to work at the company. Several years ago when interviewing for a contract, I noticed the director’s PA had tweeted saying “Ops I just spilt my coffee all over my boss #fail”. I slid this into a conversation in my interview, which to my luck generated a great conversation that not only gave me an insight into how she reacts to situations but also taught me how she interacted with colleagues and those she managed.
  3. Is there a social hierarchy? Find out whether the CEO and managers socialise, meet and connect with people outside of their team. Do they treat staff as an equal regardless of age, position or title?
  4. Ask to meet some of the team members/employees (especially if you are going to be managing a person or team). If the company wants to ensure you are the right fit for the team, they should welcome this request or already have it as part of their recruiting process. Ideally, when you meet it will be in a relaxed environment over a coffee or drink. You are more likely to receive an honest response from team members rather than those who are interviewing you, so it is worthwhile. At my current workplace, we have a peer review process, which involves the potential new employee going out for a casual drink with three or four of us (employees). Not only does that mean that we get to assess if they are right for us and our culture, but whether they see themselves fitting in.
  5. Ask in your interview what the company culture is like. I always ask this question and when I do, I am looking for two things in their answer. First, I want to know how employees work together and support each other. Next, I want to know if employees are sociable and if the company puts some effort into bringing everyone together as a team. Of course, it is unlikely that they will say something negative, however if they answer enthusiastically and spend a decent amount of time describing the culture, it’s likely they like the culture themselves. For bonus points, you could also consider asking, “why did the last couple of people leave?”
  6. Ask your interviewer what do they personally like about the culture, as well as what it’s like compared to the last place they worked at. This will give you a baseline to help understand their view on the company’s culture.
  7. What happens when someone makes a mistake? Are individuals able to learn from their mistakes or are they crucified the first time they make one or something goes wrong? We’re all human after all and things don’t always go to plan.
  8. What is the busiest time of the year or quarter? This will let you know whether they are always busy and perhaps overworked. Take note whether people work together at these busy times and if they are collaborative.
  9. Look out for humour and laughter. When you arrive at the office and while in the interview look out for laughter and humour.
  10. The good and bad statements staff make. Ask what is the most common “great” statement said by staff about the company, and on the flip side, what is the worst complaint heard regularly in the office? Amusingly the most common complaint I’ve heard at my workplace is that one certain colleague keeps leaving half a banana in the fruit bowl!

Finally remember here in NZ we pretty much live in the land of two degrees of separation so do ask your network if they know what the culture is like. There is always a good chance someone will know of someone who can give you their thoughts (although make sure you gain an insight into the context of their opinion to measure its worth).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your best method of determining the culture of a potential employer?


 

This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

There was the brick, the flip, the lipstick, and the smartphone… what’s next?

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Back in the early 80’s the cool kids on Wall Street owned the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (for those too young to know, it was a the first commercial mobile phone the size of a brick). In the 90’s cell phones rapidly shrunk to pocket-size and you were pretty fly if you were sporting a flip phone. Then in early 2000, phones rapidly decreased in size with the Nokia 7280 being nicknamed the “lipstick” phone or the “toy for the rich”. In 2007, Apple took a revolutionary bite into the mobile market with the first iPhone. The iPhone was slick, élite, and versatile offering an experience that no other mobile phone could offer.

The days of the iPhone versus Samsung office wars are over. They all do more than we know or have the time to use (seriously, I’m a year into my Samsung and I’m still finding “new” features). So, what will come next? When will the next revolutionary phone become part of our lives?

I don’t know about you but I’m a bit uninspired with the latest smartphones. I’ve been waiting a few years now for something new and innovative to happen in the market. Revolutionary things happen when a new name is announced and the old product is ditched. The first iPhone and Galaxy phones were exciting, but an iPhone7/Galaxy7 doesn’t sound that appealing, let alone exciting to me. This is because everyone loves a first – the first electric car, the first 3D printer or Sir Edmund Hillary as the first man to climb Everest. The interest dramatically decreases for the second, third, or fourth person or product – go ahead and try to name them. So come on Apple and Samsung – stop at six and come out with something new, or someone else will!

While the release of the Apple Watches and competitor smart watches are exciting, they are not in my mind ground breaking and I certainly won’t be exchanging my fossil watch for one anytime soon.

So what am I waiting for? Is there someone out there who can really rock the market with something to replace the number 6’s? Well recently, a Kickstarter caught my eye (as many do these days), their idea makes me think of the future and get excited!

Stop for a moment, and without getting too far ahead of ourselves; think about how good this would be: you have one less thing to carry, you do not have to juggle a large phone in your hand, spilling liquid onto it or dropping it isn’t an issue. Imagine a display on your hand, arm or lap, where you can change the screen size as you desire, do everything a smartphone can do, and all with the simplicity of being projected off your bracelet or watch?

The Kickstarter who caught my eye is Cicret, who have the vision to “make your skin your new touch screen” with their wearable technology called ‘The Cicret Bracelet’.

Now this truly is innovative thinking and a start to making a new revolutionary phone. Forget the bending phones that can fit nicely in your hand or pocket – that’s not revolutionary, it’s a crawling caterpillar approach. Let’s all become digital butterflies and make our futuristic childhood movie concepts come to life. I believe the Cicret Bracelet is only the start of what is yet to come – I just hope it comes sooner than later as I don’t want to see a number 7.


This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

Smartphones are meant to bend

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You’ve no doubt heard of the issues surrounding the iPhone 6, but do you personally know of someone that it’s happened to? It may be corporate espionage but that’s another topic… For today, imagine a material 100 times stronger than steel – flexible, elastic, transparent, can conduct heat 10 times better than copper and produces electricity 100 times better than silicon. No, I’m not talking about something from a sci-fi movie; I’m talking about graphene and it’s been around for a whole 10 years!

Graphene is one of those exciting discoveries that has opened doors for so many new advances in technology with many tech giants such as Google, Samsung and Apple working hard to patent new products. There is even a graphene & 2D Materials Live conference in its fifth year, which covers the latest technology, applications and commercialisation progress for graphene.

What is graphene? Graphene is made from graphite. It is a one-atom thick layer of graphite that is so thin that it is considered two-dimensional and looks quite like a honeycomb. To put the size into perspective, it is 1/1,000,000th the thickness of a piece of paper.

What are the possibilities for Graphene? There are many possibilities for graphene and in the short term, being transparent, thin and flexible makes it perfect for touchscreens – so truly (versus possibly faulty) bendable smart phones may not be that far away. Just imagine pulling a phone out of your pocket, which fits into the small palm of your hand, which you can then flip, and stretch open to the size of a large tablet – no longer will you have to debate the pros and cons of what size phone to buy.

Graphene doesn’t just stop at bending smartphones. It plausibly has the capability to be used for removing toxic waste from our oceans, power semiconductors, creating computer chips that run 10,000 times faster, and lots of medical applications and sensors for monitoring cholesterol, glucose levels and more. Then it really turns sci-fi movies into reality with the capability to see in the dark with night vision contact lenses, generating electricity through house paint that absorbs sunlight and finally high-tech temporary tattoos that are wired to light up or act as a display.

Why are we still waiting for the bending phone? Originally, there were whispers that we would be in the market by this year. Now there is conjecture that the next Samsung 6 could be bendable, however the reality is that there are still challenges with graphene including somewhat unsurprisingly cost, and manufacturing good quality sheets on a large scale that we first need to be overcome.

It’s no longer a matter of will we have a Smartphone that bends but a question of when. Moreover, it’s not just about bendable software – graphene has the potential to drive innovative change across many aspects of our lives. So who will win the race to make the first Smartphone that bends and is graphene the material of the next industrial revolution?

 

This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

Costly mistakes; everyone makes them

Mistake!
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In 1962, NASA took on the first interplanetary mission with spacecraft Mariner 1. Unfortunately, the mission was cut expensively short after a hyphen spelling error in a punch card, which caused the destination to change. The change in destination sent the spacecraft into a collision path, so 293 seconds into the mission the spacecraft had to be destroyed. This simple error in NASA’s code helped doom the Mariner 1 mission, which cost $18.5 million – remember that this was in 1962, and is equivalent to a lot more today.

The moral of the story is that everybody makes mistakes!

If you don’t believe you make errors or mistakes then you are lying to yourself; even the most skilled people make errors in documents, CV’s, code and more! Sometimes these errors can be brushed aside but at other times, they are critical, costly and can affect your company’s and your reputation.

I’m guilty of it – no matter how many times I proofread and spell check my work there is always that one small error. Unfortunately, you typically don’t see it until after you hit the send button or submit the final copy for distribution, which is then followed by that sickly feeling when the mistake comes to light.

So why do you make mistakes?

The problem arises most often when you are working hard; your brain optimises itself by interpreting words without reading the whole word. This means your brain can focus on difficult tasks such as forming complex ideas. The better you know the content the more efficient your brain is at optimising your reading by skimming over the words (as if you’re on autopilot) and the more likely you are to miss things.

How can you stop making those errors and mistakes?
To look at your work with a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ you need to trick your brain into de-familiarising itself with material you are working on; below are a few tips to stop you from making any troublesome mistakes.

1. Step away from your work
My first suggestion is to step away from your work and come back to it later. This is not fool-proof but using a different part of your brain and focussing on another activity can allow you to come back to your work fresh and ready to proof with a new set of eyes.

2. Change your spelling and grammar settings in word
It surprises me how often people have the advanced spelling settings turned off – this can be really helpful when it comes to proofing. One thing to note is that if you are a Google Docs fan is that Google Docs spelling/grammar settings aren’t as comprehensive – so export it and check outside Google. The same goes for writing emails in Outlook – write your email in Word first then paste it in Outlook.

3. When working online, proof offline
When working on your computer you are guaranteed to make typing errors (amongst others), so make sure you print out your work and proof read the printed version.

4. De-familiarise your brain with your work
The more attached you are to something or the more familiar it is to you, the more likely you will not see your errors so de-familiarise your brain. Do this by changing the colour of the text or background or changing the font type (i.e. switch between two distinctive Serif and Sans fonts). This will help trick your brain into thinking that it is something new that you are reading.

5. Get someone else to check your work
Lastly and where possible, get someone (who hasn’t been involved with your work) to check it, as they will have the best chance of spotting any errors.

Hopefully you work in an environment where a mistake won’t result in a multi-million dollar spaceship being blown out of the sky… but for most of us it certainly doesn’t make you feel great when one is spotted in your work!

Make sure you put the checks and processes in place to help minimise those mistakes and spelling errors, and ultimately give you some piece of mind.
If you want to read more on why our brains make mistakes, check out Wired’s post with psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos at the University of Sheffield. I welcome your feedback, any funny but less than ideal mistakes you have seen, and suggestions on how you prevent mistakes in your work (and hopefully there aren’t too many in mine above).

This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog