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Don't just say you're a 'people person'

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
 

Job hunters can be so stubborn. They complain that "I can't get offers" while insisting on doing things over and over in job interviews that make potential employers eager to lead them to the nearest exit.

"I couldn't wait to end the conversation which had just begun," one employer told me, after interviewing a woman. "She made the same mistakes I see every day. I asked her to tell me about herself. By the time she had gotten through her memorized list of strengths and that crap about being a 'people person,' I was praying my phone would ring so I could end the interview."

That may seem harsh. But that's how ineffectual you sound when you glom onto hackneyed, meaningless, overused phrases to answer that overused, but nevertheless you-better-be-prepared-for-it question: Tell me about yourself.

I don't care how sick you are of hearing this question. It's an ice-breaking oldie but goodie that sets the tone and direction for where things go from there. And you are losing a delicious opportunity if in responding to it, you can't make yourself sound more interesting than the other 500 people who described themselves in similar gobbledygook.

Just what do so many job hunters say that turns employers' bright and hopeful eyes into bleary-eyed orbs• Let me name the top one: the notorious, previously mentioned "I'm a people person."

Job hunters who like people, get along with others and enjoy interacting with customers and clients love to list this — usually first — as one of their greatest attributes.

It's not that you may not indeed be a "people person" — but what in the world is that• And once you can define it, why not say that so it has some teeth and relevance to the employer?

For example: "I am very skilled in working with people. I am sensitive to others. And through my empathy and good listening skills, I can bring calm to emotional situations so we can move on to solve the problem." Or: "I enjoy building relationships with customers. I want to really know them and build trust so I spend time meeting face-to-face to understand their problems."

But do not just copy and use those words, or they will sound like a cooked-up response that you stole from someone else because you thought it sounded good — which is exactly what you'd be doing. Figure out what being a "people person" really means for you so it's credible and you can expound on it.

Sometimes job hunters think they should say they are a "people person" because a position entails dealing with others. What job doesn't• Whether you're making sandwiches or software you will interact with others. But you don't have to be the most affable, gregarious human on earth to be good for a business. Being pleasant, kind, respectful and aware of other people works just fine. So don't make up stuff you think an employer wants to hear.

E-mail Andrea Kay at andrea@andreakay.com .

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