If you’re thinking about starting to look for a new job, the most important tool you'll need to get started is a skills list – that is, a long list of all the responsibilities and projects you’ve taken on in previous roles and the skills you’ve learned from each. It takes some time to create a skills list, but it's very worthwhile, because it helps you see your main strengths and pinpoint projects you were proud of. Not only will this be a huge confidence boost, but it will also serve as the basis for your resume and interview anecdotes.
To create a skills list, make a chart that lists out all the previous roles you’ve held. And don’t limit this to paid work experience either. Volunteer experience and leadership roles in school count as well. Even acting as a parent or caretaker can provide skills that will be useful at work – your skills can come from anywhere!
Under each entry, think about all the things you did in that role. What did your day to day look like? What were some key projects you completed? What were your biggest achievements? List them out, then look at each to extract the core skill you used for every task.
As you list out the skills, you’ll probably notice some repetition – and that’s a good thing! These are indicators of your main areas of expertise. And by creating a skills list, you now have evidence to back up the fact that you have deep experience in these areas. These are the things you are going to want to highlight in your personal branding materials and during interviews. Be sure to refer back to your skills list when you work on your job applications.
As you look at the final document, consider what tasks you enjoyed doing and would want to continue doing in future roles. Target your job search to roles that will let you utilize your main areas of expertise in a way that excites you. And most importantly, take a moment (or more!) to be proud of everything you've accomplished so far, and reread your list whenever your job search leads to self-doubt. Your imposter syndrome voice will quiet down when you force it to face the fact of everything awesome you've achieved.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Most job interviews will have some version of the question: Whats the biggest challenge you faced in your current position?
Your instinct might be to scream, "Nothing as challenging as this question!" It really can feel like a doozy. You want to answer the question honestly, but also not show too much weakness, or give away too many negative feelings about something (or someone) that might have been problematic at work, and at the same time, you want to show that you will be up for any challenge in this potential new role without being too cocky about your skills.
Skilled interviewers can also tell who has prepared for this question and who hasn't. We don't share that with you to add to your stress, but rather to reinforce the deep need to prepare. By preparing, you're also showing that you're the sort of person who takes yourself and your work seriously and that you're conscientious.
The first step to preparing an answer for this question is to consider why it's being asked. There are three main qualities that your interviewer is trying to assess here:
1. How well do you handle difficult or high-pressure situations?
2. Will the responsibilities of the position you’re applying for be too far out of your comfort zone?
3. Can you speak about your current (or most recent) position with poise and professionalism?
The second step is to figure out an anecdote that you can share. This is important for all interview questions, but especially here. The interviewer really wants you to be specific, so saying, "Well, we often had a lot of tight turnarounds on set, so that was challenging, but I made sure to work with the AD to keep everything on schedule" isn't going to cut it.
The anecdote should be a situation that sounds legitimately challenging and doesn't give away personal information about your current employer or proprietary information about a project. For example, maybe the following is true: "I worked on SHOW X, and our budgets were only $150K an episode, and the producers above me were insisting I book CELEBRITY A whose going rate is $80K, and there was no way to get it done with the rest of the show budget, so I had to come up with 50 other pitches of affordable celebrities while my boss screamed at me for being an incompetent fool." But you don't want to say all that, as it includes protected information and a lot of bitterness, and your interviewer might know the producer you're talking about directly -- this isn't the time for gossip or therapy. See if you can figure out a way to share that story without the details or bitterness, or pick a different story that's challenging for reasons that have less to do with mismanagement.
The story should offer an opportunity for you to show how you work through problems, what you learned, and what skills you developed as a result. For example, let’s say your company received an RFP from a coveted client, but your boss was on her honeymoon and you had to fill in to lead the team at the last minute, knowing that you needed to land this contract or your boss would come back upset, and that you absolutely couldn't bother her during her time away. You can talk through your ability to learn quickly, how you used your client services skills to cover for your boss so the potential client wouldn't think they were getting the short end of the stick, how you tapped into leadership skills by rallying junior members of the team to brainstorm awesome ideas, and leaned into your creative problem-solving and intuition to use the bones of a deck your boss had approved for a previous project for this one so you knew it would be to her liking, and ultimately landed the client. This story would also work if you didn't land the client -- you can showcase what you learned in the process and explain how it informed your approach moving forward.
One thing to note: if your actual biggest challenge is something you’re still struggling with, and you have yet to come up with a solution to your problem, find a different challenge. This questions is very much about what you've learned and how you solve problems. It's okay not to be 100% literal here with the "toughest" or "biggest" challenge, but rather just a memorable, illustrative one. If you choose a current challenge, you run the risk of getting mired in whatever is driving you out of your current role, rather than focusing on how the skills you've used over the course of your career will impact your next role.
Overall, keep this answer short and sweet. Don't give every detail of the challenge, but just enough to set the stage. Focus on what your personal role was in responding to the challenge -- not the team's role, but yours. Explain how your perspective has shifted because of this, and why you think your approach will be beneficial to the new employer.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Imagine you’re a hiring manager interviewing for an open role on your development team. You ask the candidate, “What are some of your biggest strengths?” and they reply, “Well, I’m very creative and have a good eye for story, and I’m really good at giving notes and collaborating with writers.” Not a terrible answer – certainly, those are qualities you’d want in a development executive – but it’s not convincing. Anyone can claim they’re really good at shaping story. But in an interview, you want to dig a little deeper and prove it.
Instead, imagine the candidate had said, “I’m really creative and love helping writers shape their scripts, and I’m able to communicate with writers in a way that brings out their best work. For instance, in my previous role, I was working with a writer to adapt a historical fiction novel. It was an amazing story, but the book was too dense for everything to fit into a feature. We wanted to preserve the themes and overall conflict, but we knew we needed to sacrifice some of the details. The writer was having a really hard time letting some of the scenes from the book go, and the second act was really suffering. I sat down with the writer to understand why they were feeling stuck, and once I understood their block, I suggested some ways we could show the character development they were adamant about including earlier on. By moving that to the first act, we kept the pace moving later in the script and had a better pay-off. Once we tightened the script up, we were able to secure financing and attach Actor X, and the film just wrapped.” Much more convincing, right?
With an anecdote like that, the interviewer gets a better sense of the candidate’s approach and style and can picture how they’d fit in on their team. As you prepare for an interview, think of examples of accomplishments or challenges from different points in your career, and use them in your responses.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Detail-oriented. Strong written and verbal communication skills. Go-getter.
These are the soft skills that are most often listed in job postings. They’re also the easiest ones for hiring managers to assess during the hiring process! And no, this is not because you’ve listed them on your resume. In fact, if you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that we recommend avoiding listing soft skills on your resume, and instead showing how you used those skills through bullet points that reflect tangible accomplishments.
One of the reasons we make that recommendation is because anyone can claim a soft skill, and without evidence to back it up, why would a hiring manager believe you? Beyond that, hiring managers can directly see if you have some of the soft skills they require through the application process. Let's go through a few examples how they assess these three skills.
Hiring managers can tell if you’re detail-oriented very easily. First, did you follow the application instructions in the job posting? If they asked for a cover letter, and you didn’t send one, you obviously missed that detail. If they asked you to include your top three favorite TV shows in the cover letter, and you don’t, they know you don’t pay attention to details or follow instructions. (That kind of call out is actually designed almost exclusively as a soft skills test, which is why it’s listed more in entry-level postings where applicants may not have proven their soft skills professionally yet!). Another way to see if you’re detail-oriented – does your resume match the job posting? Is it clear why you applied? Or did you send a production-oriented resume for a development executive role? A detail-oriented person will read the posting carefully and thoroughly and review their resume to make sure it aligns with the role.
Similarly, communication skills become evident throughout the application process. For example, if a person with strong written communication skills is applying for a job over email, they’ll send a short, well-written cover email instead of a blank email or a one-line “See attached.” When they’re contacted for an interview, they’ll respond professionally, with full, punctuated sentences, and no typos or grammatical errors. If a hiring manager reaches out to set an interview, and you reply to the email, “Yupp Monday 10am is good Thx,” you’re not demonstrating strong written communication skills for a professional environment. It’s also easy for hiring managers to get a sense of your verbal communication skills during the job interview. Sure, they’re looking to see if you’re really a fit based on a deeper dive into your professional background, but they’ll also know in a moment or two whether you are able to communicate your thoughts concisely and articulately.
A skill like “go-getter” is obvious to hiring managers too! Someone who truly takes initiative will do so during their job search. First, they’ll make sure their materials are as strong as can be and tailored to the job posting. Then, they’ll go the extra mile to see if they can get a referral to the position through their network or try to find a recruiter on LinkedIn who they can speak to directly. Even if they can’t find a connection, if they do get an interview, they’ll show proactivity by arriving on time, answering questions that demonstrate they've researched the company and projects, and sending a thank you note within 24 hours.
As you apply for jobs, keep in mind that hiring managers are vetting you beyond what’s written on your resume or said in your interview. One of the biggest missteps candidates can make is claiming a soft skill they don’t have, as it raises red flags about all their other qualifications the moment a hiring manager discovers one is a misrepresentation. Make sure you cultivate these skills (coaching can help!) and demonstrate them throughout the application process.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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