Candidates often complain that interviewers only hire people they like. Fair or not, this is an unfortunate fact of life in the job-hunting process. Just as people are drawn to like-minded folks for friendships, interviewers tend to hire candidates who share their values.
Rather than blaming inadequacies in the job-search system, figure out how you can create a bond with interviewers. One way is by appealing to interviewers' emotions as well as their logic. Sometimes, this can be accomplished by creating a "keystone statement."
Such a statement is different from your factual-interview responses because it involves how you feel about something rather than what you know. Typically, it should be based on a turning point in your life, possibly an event that occurred many years ago. Prepared correctly, it will communicate your personality or character or even explain why you're in your current profession.
By sharing a personal experience with your interviewer, you can express feelings that reveal an attribute, motivation or character trait. Relating a life-changing experience that describes how you became goal-oriented can be more convincing than simply telling an interviewer you are goal-oriented.
Drawing a Connection
An example of a dramatic keystone statement comes from a human-services professional in his 30s. Between his sophomore and junior years in college, he lost his right arm in a boating accident. He missed a semester of school but was determined to graduate on time with his classmates. Upon returning, he registered for 16 credits and enrolled in evening classes for an additional 15 credits. He also attended summer school and, as a result, graduated on time. His story showed his determination, goal-orientation and character. Assuming he had the required skills, why wouldn't a recruiter want to hire him?
Here's another keystone statement from a woman who was born in Sicily and moved with her parents to the U.S. at the age of seven. Her parents didn't speak English, and they frequently relied upon her as an interpreter. After some time, her parents began to depend on her for advice, and she became the de facto head of her household. Her early leadership experience enabled her to leave home at 19 and move to Washington, D.C., where she became the manager of a retail store.
This story shows she has interpersonal-communication, problem-solving and leadership skills, even though she never used those words to describe herself. Rather, she related an event that shed light on her desirable qualities. Her message was communicated through inference, without her coming across as boastful.
A 50-year-old electronics engineer has a different type of keystone statement. He grew up in Brooklyn, the son of a newsstand operator. He also collected money from customers on his father's paper route. On one occasion, a customer who was a retired judge asked the boy, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The 10-year-old replied, "I want to get into electronics."
About a month later, the boy's family received a phone call informing them that he'd been selected to receive a free home-study kit. The boy's interest soared, and he later pursued a career in engineering. As the years passed, the engineer wondered if the kit was an anonymous gift from the judge, or if he really had been selected as part of a promotional campaign. Regardless, he decided to thank the judge, but it was too late. The judge had died, so instead he expressed his thanks by helping young engineers. Clearly this expression of character would enhance his marketability.
Creating Your Own Statement
You can develop a keystone statement by reviewing events that led you to view your life from a new perspective. Be sure your story reveals skills or characteristics that will enhance your marketability. Also, make sure you relate this event in a reasonably dramatic way. The result will be a powerful motivational statement that will impress interviewers.
The first step is to make a list of events that formed turning points in your life. Don't rule anything out -- just write out your list. Include any event that led to change, whether positive or negative.
Next, eliminate events that didn't have an impact on your life or teach you a lesson you learned. Rank the events in order of importance. Which had the greatest or least effect on you? Select one (or several) that seems promising and write about what happened in detail.
Telling Your Story to Interviewers
Keystone statements have more impact if they are shared at the end of an interview. You might say, "I see our time is growing short, but I would like to share something about me that will help you to understand my value system." Or, "Before I leave, there is one more thought I would like to leave with you. It is something personal about me that I believe will help you to evaluate me as a candidate, and it will only take about a minute." Your story may help you to leave a lasting impression.
-- Mr. Keller is a consultant with CareerPro, a career-consulting firm in Willow Grove, Pa.
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