Friday, February 15, 2013

So, Tell Me About Yourself....

This dreaded opener is often asked at the beginning of interviews, and it's surprisingly difficult to answer. Where to start? You're a complex individual, and I think there's something in us that resists being summarized in a few minutes. And selling ourselves is somehow depressing, isn't it? We're not commodities.

But polishing an answer is like carrying a crisp copy of a resume wherever you go, because you can drop it into conversations at a conference you're attending, or even at a bus stop when someone asks you what you do.

Tips for answering:

1.  Before you think about the content of your answer, think pacing. As in, how fast are you answering, and are you coming off as a Gilmore Girl because you're answering too fast for the human ear to track you? Record your voice and listen.

2. Now, for content. Keep it relevant, but not too relevant. Throw out something quirky now and then, something that isn't all about achievement and can lead to conversation. So, where were you born? Are you a native, or from a far-flung country? Fill in your college, your major, companies or organizations you've worked for. But also, what do you do in your down time? And what projects are you working on now?

3. Wrap it up and ask for something. Well, not really ask, ask. Let them know why you want to work for them, if you're in an interview, or if you're at that proverbial bus stop, let them know you're job searching. This is so easy to say on paper, but so tough to do in person. We're not accustomed to asking for things from strangers. There's shame involved. Remember, though, it's a gift you're giving, this sharing. You're letting people know they're worth your time, and you're interested in their organization and their work.

When all this is put together, practice it in front of a mirror, recording it on your laptop memo program, or with a friend until it fits in a 30 second speech.

Here's my version of a quick intro. Depending on the context, I might also add that I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, that I teach knitting in my free time at a local yarn store, or that I'm trying to learn Mandarin but am mostly tongue-tied at this point. What I hope for is that I hear those magical words. "Oh, really, I did X,Y, Z too. Or I know someone who grew up there." You never know what will help you make a connection.

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Self-Doubt and Being Boring

This week has been a bit of a struggle. We've all been sick with the stomach flu, and at one point both my kids vomited at the same time.

What, you're still reading? Okay, then, I'll try to get to my point. We all have weeks that make us doubt our choices, and this was one of them for me. Unfortunately, becoming a career coach has not made me immune to career doubt. I spend most of my days with my young kids at home, fitting in part-time work where I can, you know, trying for that elusive career unicorn: work-life balance (which I do think is a myth, but a pretty myth with a rainbow mane and sparkly horn that I can't stop searching for).

On weeks like this, I fantasize about putting on a suit and going to a busy office full of adults and discussing matters of the utmost importance, then dining in vomit-free restaurants, where I sit down the entire time and don't have to break up a shoving match over the sippy-cup with the fishies on it. Did I mention I'm sitting down?

I thought I'd go back to work full-time after my first child was born, but I had a difficult childbirth, an emergency C-section. I felt like motherhood had broken me, and I needed time to rebuild myself into this new creature: A mom. I decided to stay home with my baby, and it's a decision I don't regret. Still, some weeks, like this week, I start to wonder if I should be going back to work full time. Like many moms at home, some weeks are so hard. And I wonder why more at-home parents aren't raving lunatics. Seriously. It seems like everyone's making it look so easy.

It's the loneliness that makes me doubt myself. There are people who stopped asking me about my day-to-day life after I decided to stay home, and it hurt. We're not close anymore. It's funny, I think there are some fascinating aspects to caring for young children. At-home parents have a front-row seat to developmental milestones, and not just first steps. The other day my son learned to jump. The joy on his face as he left the ground was unmistakable, and I loved helping him work out the details of how to do it again. We take so much for granted with our bodies, and seeing someone learn to launch himself, literally, is exhilarating.

But then there's the drudgery, the housework and lack of adult conversation. Two years ago, Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom wrote about boredom, and I was reading her thoughts and feeling inspired. Two years ago she chose fighting boredom as her new years resolution.  Her tips include choosing challenging media, taking action, and finding daily inspiration.

So, what to be inspired about in this week of dreary weather and stomach flu? There's a column I like to read in Harvard Business Review on careers. Recently Gianpiero Petriglieri urged readers who are questioning their career direction to stay with their career questions: 

"For all the value we put on plans and pursuits, what makes us who we are is often what we do with life's surprises. Temptations don't always point to what we really want, but often hint towards who we are trying to become. Maturity isn't the ability to pursue or suppress them. It is the ability to take them seriously without always taking them literally."

So, taking my business lunch fantasy seriously, but not literally....I think it's less about the clothes and the nice lunch, and more about a need for camaraderie. Because really, I like being boring, and I would love to hang out with other boring moms.

But in this age of Facebooking and Tweeting, boring is a luxury, one that's tough to indulge in. I've been afraid of boredom all my life. There's a part of me that fears that if I'm bored, then I'm boring to others, and if I'm boring to others, then I'm not worth much. If I can't deliver a good response to "What do you do?" when meeting someone for the first time, what then? If I can't be witty all the time, then who am I?

My hesitation with being an at-home parent, then, amounts to a reluctance to make peace with the part of me that has always been a homebody, who will always love a good book and a cup of coffee maybe with one good friend, more than a loud girls night out. I'm not one of those stay-at-home parents who says: "I don't know why they call us 'stay-at-home.' I'm never at home." People, I'm always home, and I like it. I love it. I have the frayed bunny slippers to prove it. A sunny spring day in the backyard with the kids, followed by an old Bruce Willis movie and a beer with the hubs? That's the stuff.

There, I've admitted it. And I'll be sure to go out and meet some new moms at the moms group mixer  soon. Tomorrow. But for now, some at-home time. Now, where did my toddler put that remote?