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!

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.

3 Fatal (but totally fixable) mistakes you might be making

  1. Shoes you can’t walk in. I know Tippy Tops are all the rage right now but let’s be serious, only about 10% of pageant girls can actually walk well in them. Even professional models struggle with these. My best suggestion is to try something a little closer to the ground. I find the stability of the platform is questionable at best. Having a thin sole under the ball of your foot allows you to feel the ground helping you to be more sturdy. Also, if your ankle does happen to give, in tippy tops, it’s a guaranteed flail and possibly a sprain. However, in a thin-soled shoe, if practiced, you can recover quickly and seamlessly from a minor slip.
  1. A dress that doesn’t fit. Let’s get one thing straight, “off the rack” is like unicorns and newborns who sleep thru the night, pure myth. It is downright painful to watch a young lady “toy soldier” across the stage because her strapless dress is about to become a skirt. It is just as bad for the audience to be collectively holding their breath praying the seams in that dress hold because “Miss Freshmen Fifteen” will not accept the fact that she is actually a size 6 now and not a size 2 anymore. (look sister, it happens to all of us. Ain’t no shame in that game. Embrace your new-found curves and dress the body you have!) In my humble opinion, one of the best decisions you can make as an adult to is find a quality seamstress who can fit clothing specifically to you. This is quit clearly a pageant to real life crossover. Your future employers are free to email me with thank you notes.
  1. Social Media Monitoring. Please allow me to dispel another commonly held myth. There is no such thing as “private” in social media. I would bet all my jewelry that no matter how careful you are, someone somewhere  is seeing your posts and can/will share them. It will inevitably make it back to your competition, your coach and eventually your director. This may not seem like a big deal to the “social media generation” but let me tell you, the people reading college admissions essays, hiring for jobs out of college and yes, your judges are not amused. They are professionals who come from the generation who created social media. We are not amused by shenanigans.