Sabotaging your prospects: cookie-cutter style

As a member of a new community of resume writers and career coaches called the Career Collective, this post is one of many responses to the question, “Are you a cookie cutter job seeker?” I encourage you to visit other members’ responses, linked at the end of my reply! Please follow our hashtag on Twitter: #careercollective.
We hope it seems easy and fun! Don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have questions. There are instructions on each page of the wiki about how to add your information to any page.

As a member of a new community of resume writers and career coaches called the Career Collective, this post is one of many responses to the question, “Are you a cookie cutter job seeker?” I encourage you to visit other members’ responses, which will be linked at the end of my reply by 9th October! Please follow our hashtag on Twitter: #careercollective.

Imagine you are in front of an interviewer right now.

Your interviewer leans back comfortably in his chair, smiles and encourages you to break the ice. “In less than a minute” he grins, “I want you to tell me about yourself”.

Ah ha! You’re ready for this question.

“Well” you venture brightly, “I’m very team oriented. I have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, and I’m definitely well organised and reliable. I feel that I am very good at solving problems and I am a very hard worker”.

You stop and smile pleased with yourself. You have said all the right things and easily beat the one-minute deadline. You’ve done well.

Haven’t you?

Not by the look on the face of the interviewer who clearly is undergoing an attitudinal shift. Still polite of course, but the smile has wilted somewhat and the warmth that greeted your arrival has been replaced with what appears to be disappointment.

What went wrong?

You took the “cookie cutter” way–using the same stock standard phrases that you have heard from a thousand different sources starting with your high school careers class. These phrases have become entrenched in your way of thinking under the category of: “Things You Must Say To Employers”

The key issue with mimicking friends and taking job search advice from non-experts, is that the employer or recruiter or HR person has heard it all before too. Over and over and over again in fact. On every resume, and by every enthusiastic jobseeker who ever attempts to impress at a job interview.

This so-called tried-and-true approach has a number of problems:

  • It indicates a lack of originality or creativity; as far as the interviewer is concerned when pressed to come up with an original thought, you resort to clichés.
  • It makes you look as if you truly believe that being organised, articulate and likeable is the panacea to company problems which is unrealistic at best. (Arranging pens nicely on the desk and having a team focus is unlikely to resolve a difficult union negotiation or bring in the big dollars on a complex sales deal. Or cut costs, or boost productivity or fix quality problems in manufacturing for that matter).
  • By resorting to clichés and doing what everyone else does you have proven yourself in the interviewer’s eyes as being unoriginal, a follower, unable to impress or present information in a stressful situation, and that you are far from a risk taker.

Is that the “you” you know?

Is that the way you want people who don’t know you to perceive you?

Let’s rewind (I’ll give you an opportunity that none of get in real life!).

Your interviewer leans back comfortably in his chair, smiles and encourages you to break the ice. “In less than a minute” he grins, “I want you to tell me about yourself”.

“Well” you say, “I am an Executive Assistant to C-level executives. I started my career in administration as a word processing operator and in just a few years I’ve been privileged to work with some of the top executives in the tourism sector. I think that if you asked my current boss, the CEO of X company, he’d call me his lifeline! [pause to smile]. My role is to relieve him of any administrative burdens so he can do what he does best. As a result of that, I’ve had to learn some really complex work in finance and operations so I can speak confidently with other executives and get things done. If you asked me to summarise, I see myself as a management proxy and solution provider”.

Just 33 seconds.

In 33 seconds you have painted a word picture of who you are and what you do.

  • You have shown yourself as articulate (you didn’t have to say you had “excellent communication skills”—you proved it!)
  • You have provided background indicating that you have worked hard at self-improvement and that your efforts have paid off as you are now chosen to support C-Level executives.
  • You have indicated that you’re not afraid to learn and you have the capacity to understand complex material.
  • You have shown you are modest by citing your employer as saying that you are his “lifeline” (it is not boasting as you are citing a source!).
  • You have indicated that you understand how important your role is in allowing the company to prosper (you free the executive to do what he does best).

And to wrap it up you place yourself in the position where you are able to competently act as a proxy for your manager, and solve problems.

Yes in just 33 seconds.

It sure beats clichés and doing what everyone else is doing doesn’t it?

So here’s your homework; stop sabotaging your efforts by resorting to the cookie-cutter style. Rid yourself of clichés and discard the advice of well-meaning people outside the careers industry. Think about yourself in terms of how you make a difference, who you are and what you do that sets you apart from others. Take what you know to interview and replace the fluff on your resume.

(Best to do it now)

Don’t you deserve to be seen as the person you really are?

 

Other posts from the Career Collective on the same topic can be found here:

The Emerging Professional: On the “Cookie Cutter” Approach to Job Search: Do You Need a Recipe?

Sterling Career Concepts: Job seekers: Break out of the mold!

Dawn Bugni The Write Solution: Dawn’s Blog Is your job search “cookie-cutter” or “hand-dropped”?

Rosa Vargas, Creating Prints Resume-Writing Blog: Being a Cookie-Cutter Job Seeker is a Misfortune

Heather Mundell, life@work: How Not to Be a Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

CAREEREALISM: Cookie Cutters are for Baking…Not Job Searching!

Sweet Careers Passive Job Seeker = Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Career Trend Blog: Eating Bananas Doesn’t Make You an Ape

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers: How Can a Job Seeker Stand Out?

Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters Tips Blog:Avoiding Being a Cookie-Cutter Job-seeker In Your Resume and Throughout Your Job Search:

Heather R. Huhman, HeatherHuhman.com: Break the Mold: Don’t Be a Cookie Cutter

 

Rosalind Joffe, WorkingWithChronicIllness.com Forget the cookies! Start with vision

Career Sherpa, Hannah Morgan

Career By Choice’s Expat Success Tips: Ongoing Career Management is No Longer Optional for the Expat in Today’s New World of Work

32 Comments

  1. Davinia

    Really like this post – great advice for job seekers. Too many people out there simply “going through the motions” of an interview, assuming they’re doing the right thing. Great stuff!

    Reply
  2. Davinia

    Really like this post – great advice for job seekers. Too many people out there simply “going through the motions” of an interview, assuming they’re doing the right thing. Great stuff!

    Reply
  3. Gayle

    Thanks Davinia! There’s just so much old information coming from so many sources that it takes on a certain legitimacy after a while. I don’t blame people for just doing what everyone else does but hopefully a few of them will read this! Thanks for dropping by! Hope you visit again.

    Reply
  4. Gayle

    Thanks Davinia! There’s just so much old information coming from so many sources that it takes on a certain legitimacy after a while. I don’t blame people for just doing what everyone else does but hopefully a few of them will read this! Thanks for dropping by! Hope you visit again.

    Reply
  5. Jennifer Bruton

    Great post. It is so true that the cookie cutter responses that we were all taught don’t convey who a person really is and what they are capable of. I think it really can leave the impression that the candidate is a little lazy. Hopefully others will read this and think thoughtfully about their responses.

    Reply
  6. Jennifer Bruton

    Great post. It is so true that the cookie cutter responses that we were all taught don’t convey who a person really is and what they are capable of. I think it really can leave the impression that the candidate is a little lazy. Hopefully others will read this and think thoughtfully about their responses.

    Reply
  7. Dawn Bugni

    The two scenarios you describe really drive home the difference between a well-rehearsed cliche- ridden response and a well-rehearsed communication, conveying value. Well-rehearsed is always good. Cookie-cutter cliches are not. Excellent illustration of the difference.

    Reply
  8. Dawn Bugni

    The two scenarios you describe really drive home the difference between a well-rehearsed cliche- ridden response and a well-rehearsed communication, conveying value. Well-rehearsed is always good. Cookie-cutter cliches are not. Excellent illustration of the difference.

    Reply
  9. Gayle Howard

    Thanks Dawn. Conveying value is definitely the way to go as it differentiates the jobseeker from all the others. How could anyone make a proper assessment of a candidate if they all say the same things so robotically? I wish I had a dollar for every “Excellent and interpersonal skills and well organised I’ve seen and heard in my career!”

    Reply
  10. Gayle Howard

    Thanks Dawn. Conveying value is definitely the way to go as it differentiates the jobseeker from all the others. How could anyone make a proper assessment of a candidate if they all say the same things so robotically? I wish I had a dollar for every “Excellent and interpersonal skills and well organised I’ve seen and heard in my career!”

    Reply
  11. Megan Fitzgerald

    Hi Gayle,

    Great post!

    I think because my blog post was the first on the list on the wiki – you must have missed it.

    I too have contributed to the career collective conversation on this topic:

    Career By Choice’s Expat Success Tips: Ongoing Career Management is No Longer Optional for the Expat in Today’s New World of Work http://bit.ly/lJYDi

    I look forward to continuing to explore career collective topics with you!

    Best Wishes,

    Megan Fitzgerald

    Reply
    • Gayle

      I’m sorry I missed it Megan! It has been added now!

      Reply
  12. Megan Fitzgerald

    Hi Gayle,

    Great post!

    I think because my blog post was the first on the list on the wiki – you must have missed it.

    I too have contributed to the career collective conversation on this topic:

    Career By Choice’s Expat Success Tips: Ongoing Career Management is No Longer Optional for the Expat in Today’s New World of Work http://bit.ly/lJYDi

    I look forward to continuing to explore career collective topics with you!

    Best Wishes,

    Megan Fitzgerald

    Reply
    • Gayle

      I’m sorry I missed it Megan! It has been added now!

      Reply
  13. Career Sherpa

    Gayle:
    Wonderful “make-over”. There are far too many people using version number one. They think they are doing it right… hope they see your post!

    Reply
  14. Career Sherpa

    Gayle:
    Wonderful “make-over”. There are far too many people using version number one. They think they are doing it right… hope they see your post!

    Reply
  15. Chandlee Bryan

    Gayle, I couldn’t agree more.

    I am currently taking a class on storytelling from Narativ (www.narativ.com). Two of their top tips for telling stories–which translates well to the interview process–

    1. Give specific details, and

    2. Don’t provide interpretation or assign feelings. In other words, be concrete and say what happened rather than how you felt.

    I’ve found that using this strategy helps craft great openers like your “non-cookie cutter” approach suggested above…

    Great post!

    Chandlee

    Reply
  16. Chandlee Bryan

    Gayle, I couldn’t agree more.

    I am currently taking a class on storytelling from Narativ (www.narativ.com). Two of their top tips for telling stories–which translates well to the interview process–

    1. Give specific details, and

    2. Don’t provide interpretation or assign feelings. In other words, be concrete and say what happened rather than how you felt.

    I’ve found that using this strategy helps craft great openers like your “non-cookie cutter” approach suggested above…

    Great post!

    Chandlee

    Reply
  17. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Career

    Gayle – How true! Knowing how to answer the all-important “tell me about yourself” in a way that doesn’t put the listener to sleep is a crucial hurdle for job seekers! I love your point about incorporating a “quote” from someone else…This is not something most people consider as part of their “intro.”

    Thanks for your great insights. I’m delighted that you’re partnering with us for the Career Collective!

    Reply
  18. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers

    Gayle – How true! Knowing how to answer the all-important “tell me about yourself” in a way that doesn’t put the listener to sleep is a crucial hurdle for job seekers! I love your point about incorporating a “quote” from someone else…This is not something most people consider as part of their “intro.”

    Thanks for your great insights. I’m delighted that you’re partnering with us for the Career Collective!

    Reply
  19. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    Very well put, Gayle! Your ‘before’ and ‘after’ illustrations of the less-than-60-second ‘tell me about yourself’ interview situation were ‘spot on!’

    Having been in the careers industry 12 years, I’m still mesmerized by such examples. Your ‘before’ example is so visually and audibly generic, but I hear it daily in reviewing resumes and consulting with job seekers.

    Your ‘after’ script perked up my ears and helped paint that individual’s unique career portrait.

    Well done!

    ~Jacqui

    Reply
  20. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    Very well put, Gayle! Your ‘before’ and ‘after’ illustrations of the less-than-60-second ‘tell me about yourself’ interview situation were ‘spot on!’

    Having been in the careers industry 12 years, I’m still mesmerized by such examples. Your ‘before’ example is so visually and audibly generic, but I hear it daily in reviewing resumes and consulting with job seekers.

    Your ‘after’ script perked up my ears and helped paint that individual’s unique career portrait.

    Well done!

    ~Jacqui

    Reply
  21. Rosa Vargas

    Gayle, the examples and advice you share here are excellent methods to encourage job seekers to engage in an interview and stop with the cookie-cutter answers.

    When I use to interview candidates I use to meet job seekers who made a great impression, seemed qualified, but I could not gauge if they would be the right fit for the team I was to place them in. That because they were so on script I could not see who they were. Well, needless to say qualifications are primary, but when so many others are qualified, the connection a jobseeker makes with the employer and team really makes a difference.

    Fantastic post, Gayle.

    Reply
  22. Rosa Vargas

    Gayle, the examples and advice you share here are excellent methods to encourage job seekers to engage in an interview and stop with the cookie-cutter answers.

    When I use to interview candidates I use to meet job seekers who made a great impression, seemed qualified, but I could not gauge if they would be the right fit for the team I was to place them in. That because they were so on script I could not see who they were. Well, needless to say qualifications are primary, but when so many others are qualified, the connection a jobseeker makes with the employer and team really makes a difference.

    Fantastic post, Gayle.

    Reply
  23. Barbara Safani

    Great points! I also hate when job seekers use cookie cutter answers from the “how to” interview strategy books. No one wants to hear the answer you memorized from page 23 of a book. They need to hear an authentic story about your unique value.

    Reply
  24. Barbara Safani

    Great points! I also hate when job seekers use cookie cutter answers from the “how to” interview strategy books. No one wants to hear the answer you memorized from page 23 of a book. They need to hear an authentic story about your unique value.

    Reply
  25. RosalindJoffe

    You’ve really nailed it here and I can only agree with the comments. And particularly with Jacqui who pointed out how your before/after scenario illustrates what you’re saying so well.

    Reply
  26. RosalindJoffe

    You’ve really nailed it here and I can only agree with the comments. And particularly with Jacqui who pointed out how your before/after scenario illustrates what you’re saying so well.

    Reply
  27. d

    what a lengthy and in depth article but full of useful information

    Reply
  28. d

    what a lengthy and in depth article but full of useful information

    Reply
  29. Laurie Berenson

    Gayle, That is an exceptional example of how to revamp and personalize an answer to a very common interview question. Yours is a valuable post for job seekers to read.

    Reply
  30. Laurie Berenson

    Gayle, That is an exceptional example of how to revamp and personalize an answer to a very common interview question. Yours is a valuable post for job seekers to read.

    Reply

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About Gayle Howard

If you are interested in working with Gayle Howard—an executive resume writer, Certified Master Resume Writer, multi-award-winning resume writer, and Master LinkedIn profile writer, drop her a line now using the contact form at the link above. Gayle can help you get interviews for your dream job and bring the world of business to you by maximizing your exposure and connections on LinkedIn.