What are the skills you need to demonstrate when you apply for jobs? It’s usually not very difficult to identify what employers are looking for; their 3000-word, in-depth job descriptions don’t leave much to the imagination. Many firms also post videos, have Facebook sites and Twitter feeds touting their organizations and why you might want to work there.
Skip these resources at your own peril — they are telling you exactly what you need to know to be a strong candidate.
But, what if most everything on the job description is a great match for your skills, but they want one or two skills or accomplishments you don’t really have a lot to say about? A good example? Leadership skills.
So many jobs are looking for people with leadership skills. You know you need to address how you are a great leader in the interview, but, truth be told — you haven’t had a lot of opportunities to lead. Maybe you’re an entry-level candidate or you’re trying to move into a leadership position. However, as far as specific stories about how you led a team to greatness, you don’t really have it.
Some things to consider:
It’s acceptable (and expected) to share non-work related leadership stories if your job isn’t very leadership focused. Volunteer work is very useful for this. Maybe you led a team and raised a lot of money for a cause. Or, you galvanized a lot of other volunteers and accomplished a big goal. Your leadership stories do not need to focus entirely on your paid work experiences.
That said, it does help to be able to work in information about how you demonstrated leadership at work. Focus on what skills are useful to have as a leader…Break down the topic of “leadership” and see if you can identify some matches between what you’ve exhibited on the job and your career goals. (Note: remember, you can break down the topic for any skill you want to illustrate.)
For example a leader:
- Shows (and takes) initiative — enthusiastically
- Takes responsibility for his or her actions
- Has strong communication skills
- Can think on his or her feet and make decisions
- Is able to convince others of a viewpoint or plan — and inspires them to cooperate
- Demonstrates dedication and confidence
- Is comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity
- Is focused on the best possible ways to get the job done
- Thinks analytically and focuses on the task at hand
- Sees the bigger picture and makes suggestions to avoid obstacles
- Hones strong relationships
- Shows good judgement
- Is imaginative and innovative
Consider addressing a question about leadership like this:
When I think of the best leaders, they demonstrate dedication and confidence, can think ahead and make good decisions and have strong relationships with their teammates. (Then, tell a story illustrating a time when you used those three skills.)
Framing the definition of “leadership” and providing a story showing how and when you used those characteristics will help you answer a question that might otherwise have stymied you — if you were thinking of a very traditional example of you “leading” a group or a team, but you have not done that on the job.
What suggestions do you have to answer interview questions that might otherwise really stump you?
Resources for this list:
An article by Barbara White, who has over twenty years experience in leadership. She is President of Beyond Better Development, which specializes in motivation and training in interpersonal skills.
photo by Leo Reynolds