Job Hunting – Using Toastmasters Pathways to Prepare for the Interview, Part I

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Editors Note: This is a revised version of a previous post for how to use Pathways to help improve your job interviewing skills.

When I first joined Toastmasters in 2005, my main goal was to improve my job interview skills. I had served in the US Air Force for nearly 20 years, and had never been on a civilian job interview. I was drawn to the Toastmasters concept of Table Topics (a 1-2 minute impromptu response to a question) to help me improve those skills. When I joined, many people told me to volunteer for Table Topics and that doing so regularly would help me better prepare for the world of job interviews.

While this was basically true, what I learned was most valuable to me was not replying to random topics. The most valuable lessons came from using prepared speeches to better develop my skills for the job interview process. In other words, I could better prepare if I determined my content and practiced that content in the Toastmasters environment.

As a caveat, I want to stress that Table Topics do have value in developing those skills. But, in my experience, developing your content and practicing it specifically has more value.

What I’m suggesting is to use the Pathways program as your guide to prepare for job interviews. I believe these posts will serve to help you no matter which path you have chosen, but I also have done a little research into which path might work better after completing Level 1.

When taking the Pathways assessment, you have to chose three of 11 topics you would like to focus on learning in your path. For the sake of seeing what some generic answers would give me, I chose Speech Writing, Networking and Interpersonal Communication as my most important three.

You might choose Negotiation, Motivating Others, or another choice if it suits your goals better. Here is the full list:

Public Speaking
Coaching
Speech Writing
Project Planning
Leadership
Negotiation
Networking
Change Management
Time Management
Motivating Others
Interpersonal Communication

I also chose Interpersonal Communication as most important topic in the next 2 questions, then selected “unsure” for the remaining questions. This was to keep the results as generic as possible.

The first recommendation was Motivational Strategies. When I looked at the projects in this path, this seemed like a great first choice. The projects in the Presentation Mastery path look awesome for this goal as well. And if you’re a Project Manager like me, then the Visionary Communication path is an outstanding choice for the interview prep as well as getting better on the job (that was my first path).

Note: Effective Coaching and Team Collaboration came up as recommended paths in my test example, but if your goal is centered around job interviews, I actually don’t think these are a top choice for that specific goal.

Any choice you make will still work in my first three posts on how to use Level 1 to improve those skills. And the Job Interview project in Level 3 will be available as an elective in all paths.

Once you’ve purchased your path, I recommend specific criteria to use for each of the three projects in Level 1 (the same for all paths) that you can use to assist you. If you come up with additional ideas, feel free to share them and I’ll incorporate them into future posts.

In this post, I’ll discuss the Icebreaker Speech (Speech #1) in all of the paths. If you don’t have your path yet, you can go here to see the Icebreaker and even complete your preparation and deliver the speech before committing to a path.

If you’ve already given your first speech, or if you’re like me and you have one path (or more) completed, consider this as a way to do a second (or subsequent) path for improving your preparation.

Speech 1 – The Icebreaker.

This one may seem pretty easy to connect, but don’t underestimate how important it is. In most interview situations, “Tell me about yourself” will set the tone for the whole interview. Having a plan for how you’ll answer that (almost certain) first question not only set the right first impression for the life of the relationship, it will also help to boost your confidence for the entire interview. No pressure.

When you’re thinking of how to do the Icebreaker speech in your club, imagine how you want to respond to the interviewer asking, “Tell me about yourself”. Tell your evaluator in advance that’s what you’re doing, and maybe even ask the VPE of the club to help you find an evaluator who has job interview experience.

In the introduction, ask the Toastmaster of the meeting to explain your goal to improve your job interview skills, and that you have chosen the <path name here> path to guide you in the goal. I recommend that you include any relevant information if you have a specific company and/or position in mind. She can also mention that you’ll be speaking as if you’re responding to the question, “tell me about yourself”. In fact, ask the Toastmaster to actually say that to you as she shakes your hand.

For your opening, start as If you are responding to the interviewer question, “Tell me about yourself?” You may choose to speak to a single individual in the audience or work on eye contact with multiple members, that’s up to you. You could ask to be set up with a chair and another member seated in front of you to make it more realistic. Your opening line can be short, as in “I appreciate you taking the time to interview me for the <name> position here at <company name>.”

In the body of the speech, format your presentation to fit your style, career and other factors unique to the interview you’re preparing for. Here’s an example format:
– Start with your relevant professional experience. This will likely feel like your giving a synopsis of your Resumé, and in fact having your evaluator or mentor look at your resumé as you speak might be helpful. You should limit this part to 2-3 minutes
– Reference any applicable certifications or training. You can include professional organizations such as IEEE, SHRM, PMI or others here. This should be under one minute
– Include why you feel you would be a good fit at XYZ corp. Specifics that show you understand a little about the company can be useful here, without going into too much detail. This should also be under one minute

In this club presentation, I recommend including one story about success in your field. Be sure to include some specifics, such as team size, budget amount and timeline. Better specificity provides more credibility and will show that you not only have success, but can articulate accomplishments.

For a real interview, that story might be better given at a later point in the process. But in this 4-6 minute TM presentation you can include it and get feedback on how it sounds to the audience while feeling out how it sounds to you.

For the closing, you could slip out of interview mode and remind your audience that this is how you would answer the question, “Tell me about yourself”, and let them know that this is the first in a series of presentations to assist you with your job hunt.

When the meeting is over, find a few minutes to talk to your TM mentor about the presentation, and discuss plans for your next speech. And keep the notes from your evaluator, because we’re going to give this “Tell me about yourself” speech another time.

In our next article, I’ll cover project #2, Evaluation and Feedback. We’ll look at how to practice ways to impress your potential interviewer with succinct, relevant answers to their questions.

Good Hunting!

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