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

When I first joined Toastmasters in 2005, my goal was to improve my job interview skills. I had served in the US Air Force for nearly 20 years, and had never had 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, determine my content and practice that content in the club.

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 communications program, the Competent Communications (CC) manual, as your guide to prepare for job interviews. I have specific criteria to use for each of the ten projects in the CC manual 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 the CC manual. If you’ve already given your first speech, or if you’re like me and you have your CC (or more) completed, consider this as a way to do a second (or subsequent) CC manual for improving your preparation. I’ve complete the CC manual multiple times, including using the format I’m suggesting here. If this is your second (or later) CC, I recommend getting the Evaluation Guides, Item 228 from the TI store. It’ll save you a few bucks rather than buying the entire manual again.

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 (likely) 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 done job interviews recently.

For your opening, let the club know that you’ll be responding to the interviewer question, “Tell me about yourself?” I recommend that you include any relevant information if you have a specific company and/or position in mind.

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:
– Talk about your relevant professional experience
– Reference any applicable certifications or training
– Include why you feel you would be a good fit at XYZ corp

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, 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 CC Speech #2, Get to the Point. 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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