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Balloons and job interviews? Yes. All my blogs talk about the importance of storytelling and active listening in all forms of communication: “small talk” in the office, in writing science articles, and in acing that job interview.
When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.” Never say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. SHOW how you work hard—and work BETTER. In other words, if the interviewer asks you a question such as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” he or she wants more information than “I successfully meet challenges when I’m faced with them.” Too vague!
You will want to give a story such as the one below (and this actually happened in my own professional life when I was marketing and sales director of a U.S. publishing company):
It was September 12 and 13, 2001. The Twin Towers had just crashed. People were devastated, but they also wanted to buy any and all available books about the Twin Towers. It just so happened that my publishing company had recently published such a book. Demand for the title was overwhelming. I was dealing with my own shock of the situation—we all were—yet I was able to work with people in production, customer service, and acquisitions to develop a production plan that would immediately meet the public need, and yet not produce too many so that we would be inundated with returns. It was a horrible time in our history, yet we had a public service to do, and we did it very well. (We ended up with very few books being returned.)
In the story, above, I illustrated how I was able to demonstrate team work, leadership under stress, both professional and emotional. THAT is the kind of story you would want to have at your disposal.
Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four of these stories. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use this story to answer the question “How well do you deal with stress?” as well as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” Have a story ready for the following questions:
- How well do you work under stress?
- How successfully do you meet challenges?
- What is your strong point?
- What is your weak point?
- How do you demonstrate leadership?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? (Yes, even for a question like this, have a story ready: this story should demonstrate how you have taken some job or task and made it better / more efficient. That story will show how you are always looking to improve both the work situation and yourself. Then conclude the story by tying it in to the job interview at hand: “So you can see that I am always eager to try new things, to do things in a better way. I look forward to doing this, and perhaps rising within your company.” Even if you’re pretty sure you won’t want to stay with that company, NEVER SAY that . . . always show your creative, innovative side, and how that can benefit the company you’re interested in now.)
So. Start thinking of stories.
SHOW, not TELL.
When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.
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“Asian women, ” I hear you say; “you can’t write that, that’s racial profiling!” Oh, I’m sorry if you feel that way!
*Ding ding!!* Oops, you see, I used the word “sorry” right away. That’s the problem, that’s what women do–they apologize too much. That’s one of the problems.
And you’re right, this blog isn’t just about Asian women. But I lived in Singapore for more than a decade, and I’ve observed that women from various parts of Asia–Singapore, Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam–are especially vulnerable to certain pitfalls regarding speaking, both in public and in general. These days, many of these women are dealing with people from all over the globe. So this blog is especially devoted to them.
I’ve observed how extremely polite women can be when speaking to others. I have nothing against politeness, but my first bit of advice: get rid of some of the politeness. You can do that and NOT be a bitch. It takes some work, but it can be done. Remember this, Asian women: you are tiny compared to bigger, often obese Westerners. If you are speaking to a bunch of Australians, for example, there’s a good chance many of them will be a little overweight to obese. You will dwindle away to a speck surrounded by those mounds of flesh. It’s real important that your voice compensates. That doesn’t mean yelling. It means learning to speak in a measured, controlled manner.
Unfortunately, it’s still a man’s world, though a lot of progress has been made. Please note that many men will be quick to overlook women if they appear too reticent, and–this is the killer–men will put women down if women seem too authoritative. You can’t win!
So what can you do?
Tip #1: Do not speak too fast. Often, women (and men, but they’re not penalized as much for it) talk quickly when they get excited, nervous, or passionate about something. Resist the urge. Speak in measured tones.
Tip #2: Do not speak in a high-pitched voice. Many of us associate high-pitched voices with, well, nagging wives or nagging mothers. It’s true.
A famous piece of music, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” (Mussorsky/Ravel) musically depicted various scenes, including women shopping at a marketplace. Their voices were imitated using high-pitched, rapid tones: “The bitching women of the bustling market place gabble furiously in music of astonishing virtuosity,” writes Paul Serotsky.(1)
Gabble. See that? Ducks gabble! Geese gabble! And Serotsky isn’t even writing about women per se! If you speak in a high-pitched voice and if you speak too rapidly, you’ll be seen as a GABBLER, an ineffectual whiner of a woman. Don’t let that happen.
Tip #3: Stress words and individual syllables in words. Learn how to do this and lose your own stress when you speak to others. Many Asian languages are syllable timed, not stress timed. That means Asians often stress individual syllables, whereas English speakers stress certain parts of words.
Let’s take the sentence: I told you to buy me a bunch of red roses.
When Singaporeans, for example, speak standard English, the effect is like rapid gunfire, so they would say the above sentence thusly:
I-told-you-to- buy- me-a-bunch-of-red-roses.
All the words would have equal value. This can actually lead to aural (hearing) fatigue, for it doesn’t add emphasis to any part of the phrase. Indeed, many people unfamiliar with the accent might think that person speaking sounds like a computer.
A native English speaker would utter the sentence “I told you to buy me a bunch of red roses” like this:
I told you to buy me a bunch of red roses.
Different parts of the sentence are emphasized; it’s easier to listen to and comprehend.
Tip #4: The pause can be your best friend. When you speak, take the liberty of pausing for real emphasis. Not only should you emphasize certain words within a phrase, but think about pregnant (so to speak) pauses. They can work wonders. If you have the confidence to pause, the audience will sit up and take note.
Tip #5: Vocal tone. Think of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech”. It’s been played to death because its rhetoric and delivery are truly breathtaking. Imagine King uttering his words in a droning monotone; he never would’ve ignited millions of people to demand what should be theirs (social equality, in case you don’t know). Learn the artistic capacity of your voice. Play with it.
Tip #6: Don’t apologize (as I did with “sorry …” at the beginning of the blog) or put yourself down. Often, women worldwide will demurely murmur apologetic bits into their conversations: “I know I shouldn’t say this, but . . . ” “I’m not really sure . . . ” Men don’t do it. Don’t do it. Period. (In fact a Pantene hair colour ad actually had women saying “sorry!” all the time, and then switched to showing powerful women who didn’t do that–see this link here: Don’t say “sorry!” all the time.
Tip #7: Question tags. “I really enjoyed that talk, didn’t you?” That gives the other person the opportunity to expound away. And, usually, the woman will listen, give feedback, say something else. And the man? He will overlook what she said and expound again. This is an unequal dialogue; it’s not a dialogue, it’s a monologue. Nip it in the bud.
Tip #8: When you laugh, do not cover your mouth. PLEASE. You’re a grown woman. Showing humor is–just fine. You’re allowed.
I know this list should conform to the magic number 10, but never mind. Hope these tips are useful. If you have others you would like to add, feel free to leave them in the comments section.