Whether it's on a blind date or a therapist's couch, some people just dread the question: "So, tell me about yourself." It's vague and open-ended, leaving too many possible ways to mess up the answer.
That's precisely why it's one of Jay Duke's favorite questions to ask job candidates during an interview. As a partner specializing in assurance services at U.S. accounting firm BDO Seidman based in Chicago, Ill., Duke has had extensive experience sitting both behind and in front of the interview desk. Duke oversees BDO's 170-person office in Dallas, Tex., which has increased its headcount fourfold in the past seven years. The office has added about 20 hires to its ranks this year and is constantly on the look-out for more talent. Duke recently talked with FINS and shared his advice and insights to help a job seeker get through the search process from start to finish with success.
1. Build a Network. Networking is a long-term process. It won't build itself when you may be in most need of one. "You're not going to get a job going in at nine and leaving at five to go home," says Duke. It's important to step into uncomfortable territory and develop those relationships. Duke's secret to networking success has been by getting involved in the community. Shortly after graduating college, he received a job offer while pushing a gelato cart at a street fair for a nonprofit organization. Having just accepted at BDO, he turned the offer down but that contact has remained in his Rolodex over the years.
2. Utilize the Network. With so many resumes appearing on his desk it's difficult to give them all a fair shake, but Duke is sure to pay attention to the ones handed to him by a trusted source. "I give more credence to an application when it comes through a parent or friend," says Duke. "I'll go the extra mile." Prospective interns have a competitive edge if their resumes come down the referral pipe from a former intern, he adds.
3. Be Consistent. Duke looks for signs of stability. It shows work ethic and experience. For a company like BDO, which prides itself on investing in the long-term growth of its employees, it can't be undervalued. For a candidate early in their career, Duke likes to see two to four years at his or her first job, and four to five years at the next. But Duke won't dismiss a resume with a more mobile background outright. Other impressive credentials and evidence of civic involvement could also land a resume in the "to be interviewed" pile.
4. Break the Ice. So you get the interview and it's a long quiet walk to the interviewer's office, now what? Duke scans the job seeker's resume in advance to find any common ground he may share with the candidate. He tends to focus on topics that lie outside the interviewee's professional life, innocuous subjects ranging from travel destinations, how the candidate's alma mater is doing in sports that year, and his or her involvement in a community organization. Similarly, job seekers should avoid interview crickets by reading up on the interviewers beforehand. LinkedIn profiles and Google searches can provide a wealth of information.
5. Mind Your Manners. Duke likes to put the candidates at ease during the interview by keeping it casual. But he warns that job seekers shouldn't forget they're still on an official interview. "It's an informal meeting but they shouldn't mistake that to mean that I'm their friend and make off-color remarks," said Duke. Anything that shows lack of judgment is a dealbreaker.
6. Talk to Me. So, tell me about yourself: What Duke is looking for is whether you are able to carry on an engaging conversation. As a field based heavily in client services, it is important to Duke that the candidate possess strong interpersonal skills. There may be nothing worse than answering an open-ended question in monosyllables. "We are a relationship business, so it is essential they are able to go out to clients with confidence and set a positive image," says Duke.
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