What makes you stand out in an interview?

It is no secret, I LOVE interviews. To make it even more strange, I love to be interviewed. The challenge of crafting the perfect answer and organizing my thoughts into eloquence is thrilling. 

In my head it’s the same energy and “ta-da” vibe as those book of world records kids who stack cups. It is exhilarating to watch! That’s what my brain does with answers in an interview. I’m not saying it’s sane, I’m just saying it’s fun! 

Pageant girls are really, really good at this. They can stack words into 30 second or 1 minute sound-bytes that will make your head explode. And being on their support team is one of my favorite jobs. 

Recently, I have been asked to help professionals prepare for interviews ranging from the federal government to private enterprise. A very, very different arena for sure, but the goal is the same; show them why you are the best for the job. 

In the federal government, at a certain level, there are a handful of candidates for a specific job posting. Usually the candidates have all worked together, this one training that one, that one nominating this one for an award and so on and so forth. But for the most part, the resumes are quite similar. I asked my client, what is it that makes you standout next to Judy and James and Joseph as the correct choice for this position?

 “I have excel and powerpoint?”

“No”

“I have a certification in…” such and such fancy titled training thing?

“Um, no”

“Ok, then I don’t know”

I’m guessing, unless you are a pageant girl, you probably don’t know either. Take a deep breath, put your note pad down, it’s not as complicated as you are making it seem. 

With all things being generally equal on the resumes, the only distinguishing factor is YOU. Your life, your experiences. I don’t mean that one seminar you went to that one time. I mean YOU! 

I have one client who uprooted her life in Alaska when she married a military guy. They had a little boy, then another. While stationed a continent away from her support system, with her husband deployed, she decided to go to work at the child development center so she could provide income for her family (no, we don’t pay our soldiers enough, but that’s for another essay) and still be with her babies. That grew into a nice position at the center which allowed her to finish her paralegal certification. When her family was moved again, because military, she was qualified to earn an excellent position in Washington DC due to her experience, her reputation for hard work and newly minted certification. Now years down the road, she has the flexibility to make her own schedule and work from home. She picks up her boys every day from school and has yet to miss a soccer game or golf match. 

This year, she prepared to interview for a fabulous and much-deserved promotion, I asked why she didn’t mention any of this in interview practice. This story is beautiful and passionate and personal.

“I didn’t think that mattered for the job…”

I blink in disbelief. 

Her story is beautiful and inspiring. But if you read her resume you would see only a monotone portrayal of qualifications. It’s the basic pencil outline of you.  It is the full YOU, the road you took to get here, the lessons you learned, the failures and successes, the way you speak of the “why” and “how…” that is what fills in the picture with brilliant color. 

So much focus is placed on resume building in school and early professional life. But does anyone actually give guidance on HOW TO SPEAK after you hand over that well-crafted resume?! (I mean, I do but that’s not really my point.)

The profound poet of my youth was spot on when he penned, “There is no one alive that’s you-er than you…” so speak on it!

I wish someone told me, part III

So I would like to make you aware of something that is going on and maybe you can appreciate it earlier than some of us slow learners.

Some of your teachers may seem exhausting, endlessly demanding or down right mean. Teachers don’t yell at me, I said SOME. Whereas, some of you are lucky enough to have a teacher who is truly invested in preparing you for real life. Honor these heroes, they do the Lord’s work. Stay in touch with them. You are going to need answers and probably references at some point. I was EXTREMELY blessed with the teachers at my very small school. They knew me and I knew them. I still go back and visit a handful of them when I’m home. An irony not lost on me, considering I spent the entirety of my early education “trying to escape” as one of said teachers wrote in my yearbook.

However, there were a few I just could not bring myself to enjoy. You know the ones. Are you thinking of your math teacher (algebra, my nemesis) or maybe it was your english teacher who CONSTANTLY asked you to read aloud? Perhaps it was a spanish teacher who would make you write sentences for chewing gum…again. (shout out, you know who you are).

Please understand that you are not going to love everyone in your life. And that goes both ways. This is an important lesson to learn as you enter the cold heartless world of adulting.

It may sound hard to believe, but at some point in your career, you will have a job that requires you to work with people you don’t care for, for whatever reason. Maybe you don’t like their work style, their overall demeanor or their moral compass doesn’t point due north. OR heaven forbid, they simply don’t like you. (Unthinkable for sure. Clearly you are a delight.) This person may be a colleague or worse yet, a boss. You still have to find a way to do the job you were hired to do.

As shocking as it is, these people are not here to be your friends. They are here for a step up in the their industry, for the love of the company but more often then not, they are just here for a paycheck. 97% of the time it won’t be about you so stop making it that way. 2% of the time it will be about you so quit being a self-centered jerk and think about the team. 1% of the time there will be nothing you can do about it so do the job to the best of your ability until you can promote up or out.

That’s it. As Tom Hanks famously stated, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” (if you don’t know who said this and why, stop reading and ask your mom to send you a list of must-see movies. If she won’t, message me, I will.)

I wish someone told me, part II

College is going to be tumultuous. Just know that going into it, like a captain on Deadliest Catch, steering his weather-worn boat out towards an icy haul, it is going to be hard and lonely and cold (figuratively and literally depending on your school of choice). It will cost a stupid amount of money and some level of your dignity (humble thyself and do the homework, you do not in fact know everything). I know, that last part is hard to hear. In fact you may have never been slapped with that message before. I assure you, youngling, you do not know everything. You, in fact, know very little. Unsettling isn’t it? There were many of these lessons I learned in college that were severely unsettling.

For instance, many of your high school friends were actually not friends at all. They were only acquaintances by proximity. You will begin to see a mass exodus of your “friends” after you begin a college hundreds of miles away. The upside is, the one or two REAL friends you made in high school will become solidified as life-long friends.

Shock #2, the world is a WHOLE LOT bigger than I first realized. There are ideals, faiths, theories, beliefs that I had never even imagined. Be willing to discuss genuinely and sensitively, these differences with your fellow classmates. I grew up in a deeply religious home. But in college, after being questioned about my faith, I realized I knew nothing. I had adopted my parents religion without understanding why. I spent many years questioning, ignoring, researching then ultimately discovering my own thoughts on these matters. In my very humble opinion, this is what college is about. I had to experience, and wrestle with, all of the differences. This is a good and beautiful thing to do. Grapple with ideals. Study. Read ALL THE THINGS (in books, not on the internet). Pray, meditate, talk to your professors (unless they are crazy, then maybe just pass the class and get out), talk with your parents, schedule a meeting with a pastor you trust. The Bible specifically says, “seek and ye shall find.” I mean God is begging for you to dig and discover these things. 

I also highly recommend doing this in the early years before you have two beautiful baby eyes looking to you for all of the knowledge and wisdom in the known universe. Utterly exhausted and stressed to the nines as a new parent is not the time to be searching for your spiritual foundation. Also, realizing early that you know little to nothing about life will have you one step ahead on parenting when your children slap you in the face with this truth

every.

single.

day.

I wish someone told me, chapter 1

School is important. I should probably start there. It teaches you obvious things like math and letters and how to (reluctantly) dissect a frog. It also teaches you intangible things such as how to mentally prepare for hard things, like dissecting a frog or algebra. But those are things you already know. Today I would like to begin a series of posts about the things that don’t show up in a text book but are vital to surviving adulthood. Listen, dear heart. Learn from the ignorance of my youth. Do better than I did, learn from those who went before you.

I did the normal tour of duty in high school. I entered Junior College two months after graduation, state college three years later then moved to out-of-state private college to fully round out my Tour de Education. So I have a bit more experience than most in this particular area. I speak from hard fought victories and spectacular defeats. Shall we begin?

In high school, nobody knows where they are going and the ones who tell you they do, have not lived enough life yet. I vividly remember my senior year, I was doing extra homeschool classes just to graduate because in my earlier years I just couldn’t be bothered with minor details like homework and attending class. But I put my head down (cried) and got the work done. It just didn’t seem right for the student council Vice President to not graduate with her class. But what about the day after graduation? What about college in the fall? NOT. A. CLUE.

The night after graduation I loaded two of my girlfriends into my car and took a road trip. The first stop was to my dad’s house. I left my two friends there the next day and drove over to my cousins wedding. I was a bridesmaid and not a very good one. BUT, she sat me down at a table with the Director of the Music Department at the local junior college, the Show Choir Director and Assistant Director. Thankfully, my cousin had (and still has) a stellar reputation resulting in me walking out of that wedding with a full ride scholarship. Boom. College decision made.

My degree was determined at birth, music courses thru my veins. And so it was written. I am eternally grateful that I agreed to wear a puffy pink dress for my cousins wedding (this was before I fully appreciated the more feminine things in life). I thank her regularly. My point is, you may have an idea where you want to go next or you may be sitting in a cap and gown ( or maybe in a pageant dress after giving up your last title…) not knowing what you are going to eat for dinner. THAT’S OK!

What is not ok is staying there. Google some stuff, visit some schools and get yourself enrolled somewhere. Junior College, Vocational School, Military…all are viable options. Just pick one and go. Your life is not poured in cement. If it doesn’t suit after the first year, try something else. I did not know this sort of fluidity was an option. Not because I had dictatorial parents, quite the opposite. I had wonderfully loving and encouraging parents. I just didn’t know I had options for my future. Let me tell you, bright-eyes, you have options. Your life is not predetermined. You have many talents, some haven’t even been uncovered yet. You graduated high school, thats step one of succeeding at this life thing! 

So deep take a deep breath. Take a good look around your life and start walking towards a goal. You can do this. You are not lost, a failure, unable or unworthy.

We will remember

Today, I watched as a hero in our family was laid to rest. A man who ran into not one, not two, but three wars on behalf of his family and his country. From an early age he honored the legacy of this country and the countless lives who fought this same fight so that we may be free. So that we may know peace. 

Today, nineteen years ago, thousands of men and women honored this same legacy by running towards the chaos. They were drawn in by the same honor, the same duty that makes this country a beacon of hope for all the world. To serve, to protect, to help another. There were no other questions asked, only “Who needs help? I am here!”

Today as we mourn the loss of so many lives, I’d like to add one more to the list. Colonel Thomas Miller. His life was separated from theirs by generations but eternally linked by one theme…

They were all heroes and will be remembered. 

Not All Miss Americas Wear the Crown

Undoubtedly, by this point, you have googled my name to see what incredible accolades I have accumulated. Let me save you the time, I held two preliminary titles, I competed at Miss Florida in 2005 where I won a talent award, then three years later competed at Miss Tennessee where I was named in the top 10. That’s it. Full Stop.

So no, you will not see a national crown on my head anywhere, from any system.You will not see a lengthy list of credentials. But I would pose a thought to you… with all of my obvious lack, I am still here able to speaking to you about success. Why? 

Because Not all Miss America’s Wear the Crown. 

(insert whichever national title is your dream, when I was growing up, Miss America was IT!)

In 2005, at the Miss Florida after-party, a woman I did not recognize came to me and hugged me. She said, “I have been following your year of service and let me tell you something, not every Miss America wears the crown. You will forever be my Miss America.” In the exhausting aftermath of Miss Florida week, I didn’t fully grasp what she was saying. I have had many, many, *sigh* many years to roll this over in my heart. Now as I watch my clients grow into incredible women, I FINALLY GET IT.

Miss Gulf Coast may never win a national title, but to the people of Chipley FL, she IS Miss America. Teen Miss NWFL, may not come home with the Outstanding Teen title, but to the schools receiving grants from her 501c3, to those students able to pick up an instrument for the first time because she provided the school with the funding, she IS Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. Most people will never meet the “real” Miss America, Miss USA, Miss International, Miss whatever title you are striving for. But in your corner of the world, they will meet YOU! To them, it is the same shiny thing. 

When you wrap your practiced and polished brain around this concept, your year (or years) of service change. It is no longer rhinestone-colored and tiara-focused. You start to see the perfect blue of that six year old’s eyes who believes she just met a real life princess. You see the summer pink on the cheeks of the girls standing in line for an autograph card at the county fair. You see the brilliant white in the smiles of teachers, parents, even legislators who are watching the future in real time as you advocate for your platform. That is when pageantry changes from perfection and poise to platforms and purpose. That is when you discover the Miss EVERYTHING that was and is inside of you. You may be the spark that ignites the next great non-profit, you may pave the way for an up and coming talent, you may be the role model for a future president. You may even help shape the next Miss America. 

You may never wear THAT crown, but you can and will leave a legacy of passion and power for generations.

Talk about a ripple effect…

In 2006, my life changed forever. My father was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks after I competed at Miss Florida. He told me he was moving to Nashville for treatment (I lived with him at the time). My world tilted on its side. Previous priorities were scrambled. He moved, I stayed in Tallahassee to finish my degree at Florida State University. His treatments began and life settled into a new state of blur. It wasn’t going well. In December, I moved to Tennessee to help with his care. Lost doesn’t fully describe how I felt in that season.

The following summer I attended the Miss Florida Pageant, as a spectator, to cheer on the reigning Miss Tallahassee, Kylie Williams. That night she captured the title of Miss Florida. I accompanied our director to the celebration. As we clapped and laughed and cheered for our queen, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A quiet man stood before me, “Hi Amy. My name is Tim. I work with the Miss Tennessee Organization and I heard you recently moved to Cleveland. Are you planning to compete again?” He spoke with a kindness that drew me in. “I wasn’t planning on it. I age out this year and with everything going on with my dad, I just don’t think it’s possible.” His smile softened, “I understand. But I heard you sing last year. I think you should really consider giving it a shot. There is a pageant near you in Chattanooga but I think you should consider this new prelim in Bristol.” (I didn’t even know where Bristol was) I said thank you, took his card and went on about my evening.

Fast forward to November, I stood on the Miss Chattanooga stage and sang my heart out with my dad in the audience. He sat so small and frail in his wheelchair but his pride filled the room. That night, Tim went and shook his hand. He bragged about how proud he was to have me in Tennessee. I don’t know that I ever thanked him for that kindness. I didn’t win, I was announced as first runner up. To be fair, I was in no way prepared for that responsibility. But the real heartbreak came with the words from a less than kind soul who advised me, “You are talented but sweetie you will never be tall enough, thin enough or blonde enough to be Miss TN.” (Ahhh pageant land, you never cease to amaze.) I brought this advise to Tim who laughed and said, “well thats just mean. Go prove them wrong.”

Two months later my dad passed away. Chattanooga was the last time he would see me on a stage. As a life-long musician, and of course my hero, that still tightens around my heart. But there was Tim, ever so kind. He encouraged me to try the Bristol prelim. I was 24. This was the last open prelim in the state. This was it. I introduced myself to the director and submitted the paperwork. We were instant friends. In February, less than a month after my dad’s passing, I stood in the panel interview fielding questions about why I hadn’t completed more community service. I broke, maybe not outwardly, but inside I was screaming. For the first time in my life I was able to filter my mouth, “For the last year I have been caring for my father who lost his battle with cancer just last month. No I haven’t been able to focus on my platform because I was focusing on my family. But I can tell you what I plan to do on day 1 if you crown me tonight…”

I walked out of that interview and crumbled. I was devastated. I had been holding my breath since my dad took his last. I busied myself with the must-dos and want-tos but this interview scratched the scab. I called the director and tearfully stated I would be withdrawing from the pageant. I wasn’t strong enough to get through it. She talked me down and reassured me I would be ok. That night I won the title of Miss First Frontier.

Four months later, Father’s Day weekend, I stepped into the wings of the Miss Tennessee stage. Tim was staffing that side of the stage. His eyes met mine and his smile stretched across his face. “My oh my. Never be thin enough huh? How does it feel to prove them wrong? I am so proud of you. Now go sing your heart out.”

I don’t remember much after that. But I remember Tim. I should probably tell you that my prelim director went on to become a life-long friend, my wedding photographer and is now a business mentor. That director and I would’ve had no reason to cross paths were it not for Tim.

Today I heard that Tim went to be with Jesus. How much I wish I could thank him one more time for changing the direction of my life. For teaching me to turn my pain into motivation. For being the conduit for so many blessings, so many friendships, so many gifts. The scholarship I won at Miss TN after being named in the top 10, made the final payment on the debt I had incurred while paying my dads rent and in-home care.

Tim, I hope tonight you are singing in the heavenly choir with my dad. I know you for a fact you enjoy his music. Hug him for me. I look forward to the day I can sit with you and laugh about how funny this life can be. This is one of a frillion reasons I am so deeply passionate about this job as a coach. I know how one conversation, one smile, one act, can drastically change a life.

What the winners know…

  1. The responsibility of the title

Gone are the days of the parade-riding, “elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist” queens. Todays titleholders are forces of nature. They have a commanding presence when entering a room, any room. They understand their role and responsibilities. Each title has its own so it is best to do your research. Reach out to past titleholders in that system and ask for guidance on preparing for this job.

2. How to do their own hair and makeup

I love getting “glam” as much as the next queen. But those fabulous glam fairies can’t follow you to each appearance should you win the crown. So learning to do your own styling (clothes, hair, makeup) will mean you are free to schedule appearances around your clock and you won’t have to align with the glam fairies. Most importantly, to me, it saves A TON of money!! **glam fairies please don’t get mad at me! I love you dearly and recommend you regularly for competition. But I think you will all agree, a girl should know how to paint her own eyes and lips to speak in a classroom or at a rotary club. 

3. How to practice

Practice does not mean trying on dresses. Practice does mean learning to get into and out of your dress quickly and on your own. Practice does not mean shoe shopping. It does mean practicing walking, posing, turning, basically living in your shoes. Practice does not mean making appearances. Practice means reading current events, listening to various opinions on current events, practicing describing and explaining your platform to groups of various ages and educational backgrounds. 

4. Where they are going in pageants (and in life)

This one is a bit harder to explain and even harder to accomplish. You might think, “of course I know where I’m going. I’m GOING to win that title.” *sigh*  if only it were that simple. Remember in the first one I said “gone are the days…” yea. Put “win the crown” in that box too. My karate instructor told me, while teaching me to break boards, if you hit the board and stop there, you are going to break your hand instead of the board. You have to punch threw the board.” Thats how I look at pageants. You cannot just stop at Miss Local Lovely. You have to see passed that moment. What will you do the day after? The month after? Are you state-level ready? Are you national-level ready? You better be, it comes at you faster than you think.

5. Who to ask for help

Your mama is probably beautiful and sweet and your personal lighthouse of wisdom and truth. But unless she was once a Miss Local Laura, Miss State Susie or Miss National Nancy, she probably won’t be your best source of information in pageant land. If you don’t know or can’t find a quality coach, reach out to the director for guidance. You can also use social media to contact former titleholders who are probably more than happy to impart their “former” wisdom. But truly a coach is your best bet. They have chosen to dedicate their time and energy to helping you improve. 

5 Reasons you aren’t winning

1. Paperwork problems. This is the single most predictable factor in the fate of a pageant. Judges will see your paperwork before anything else. If you have grammatical mistakes, horrible sentence structure or poorly formulated platform plans, that will color the rest of your competition. 

2. Homogenous News Research. After your paperwork, the very next time a judge is exposed to you and your abilities is in the interview. If you only watch Shannon Bream (because she’s a super cute pageant sister) for your daily dose of current events, you are falling short of being well informed. To develop a full view of current events, you must read/listen to information from both sides of the argument.

3. The wonky walk. This is a serious pet peeve of mine. My first thought is that it’s the shoes you are wearing. Either they do not fit or your ankles are not strong enough to balance on those “tippy tops.” (please stop wearing those). With smart phones and youtube there is ZERO reason to have a choppy, bouncy, flailing walk. 

4. Interview Depth. What is it that you find you talk about most in interview? What do the judges ask about. If you spend 3 of the 5 minutes talking about previous titles and how much you love pageants, I’m sorry to tell you, that’s a huge problem. I have yet to find a girl who is singularly faceted. There are multiple parts of your life. Use them. Most everyone goes through school having to complete book reports and presentations. Use them. These are the things that make you interesting. 

5. Talent. So much to say here. Many of the girls I work with are not life-long performers. They are completely unaware of how the body reacts to the adrenaline explosion of live performance. I know many people will say to keep your talent secret until the day of the show but this just isn’t smart practice. Speaking as a vocalist, you really need to log some hours of performing that ONE song in front of people so your muscles (like, for example, the ones you are using to sing) can get used to being all hopped up on adrenaline. There just is no substitute for this. 

2019 – Harvest

2019 – Harvest

I once listened to podcast by Chalene Johnson (you should totally go find it after you read this) where she talked about the seasons you will experience in business. Very few make it through the seasons of tilling and planting to actually reap the harvest. I felt 2019 was a year of harvest for me. Years and years of plowing through jobs that didn’t fit my dreams until I finally broke ground on MY company. Years of sowing and planting, watering and nurturing this sprout of a business. Out of the devastation of 2018 came life. Blooming everywhere. Two national winners, multiple state winners and countless regional winners, and even small business clients … my world was alive with beauty. 

My ultra wise older brother, also a small business owner, advised me to enjoy the harvest but prepare for the next season. Do not forsake the responsibilities and habits that brought you this success. The metaphors abound. 

Queens, even if you just won your title and plan to enjoy your reign, do not forsake the choices and habits that won the crown. This year will come to a close and you will be left standing, crown-less and stepping back into the season of former life but with a new field of decisions before you. Most of my girls are young so aging out is not as much of a concern. Many of you will go on to chase more titles but how will you get there? If you took an entire year off, how will your skills have wilted? 

Please hear the wisdom of my brother, enjoy your season of victory, but do not neglect the practices that brought you here. There is life after the crown. What will you do on the 365th day of your reign? Will you be prepared to step into the next opportunity or will you have to begin all over again?