For many people, the past year has been among the most difficult of their lives. But for others, including branding and marketing expert Vince Thompson, it’s been the exact opposite.
“This has been the greatest year of my life,” says Thompson, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based sports marketing and branding agency Melt. “I’ve had the chance to hit the great professional ‘reset,’ expand my personal and professional horizons, start new businesses, and get back the greatest asset ever—time.”
During his long career, Thompson has worked on brand strategies for Coca-Cola, Aflac, and other leading companies. He’s been named one of Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Most Admired CEOs” and Atlanta Magazine’s “500 Most Influential Atlantans.” He’s also the author of Building Brand You: How to Use Your College Experience to Find and Win Your First Job, which was published this past December.
According to Thompson, now, post-quarantine, no matter if you’re a student or seasoned professional, the key to winning your next job is nailing the answer to this interview question: What did you do to personally or professionally improve yourself or others during Covid?
Thompson calls it “the new litmus test post-Covid,” and what follows is his advice for how to begin constructing an answer to the question (which you’re almost sure to receive in your next interview):
“Everyone’s thinking differently in the marketplace right now. So, take advantage of that shift. We’ve all had to think, reflect, and develop empathy for each other. There was no handbook for a once-in-a-100-years pandemic. Take something that you’re passionate about and translate that into your story. Tell about how you expanded your horizons during Covid, spoke about it on social media, and how that translates into tangible job skills. Did you grow tomatoes? Build a YouTube channel about it? Did you deliver the tomatoes to a senior citizens home? Empathy will matter.”
Thompson says the subject of your answer isn’t what’s important; it’s how you tell the story that matters. Did you take an online course? Improve your time management skills? Begin to check in with your friends and colleagues on a regular basis to make sure they were okay (as opposed to just worrying about yourself)? Did you read any interesting books or long-form articles that changed the way you thought about an issue or your goals? Did you gain inspiration from others’ work? Did you donate money to any organizations that impressed you with their work? Did you learn how to lessen some of your stress and anxiety, and, if so, how did you do that and did you show or tell others?
Any of these (and many other) subjects are fair game upon which to base your answer. Just keep in mind these two things Thompson says are essential when beginning to frame it: “Know everything there is about the job opportunity and the interviewer, and show how you can bring value to that opportunity.” That is, you’ll want to connect whatever you did during Covid to the role you’re applying for.
Going back to Thompson’s tomatoes example, maybe when you began growing tomatoes, you started to connect with other gardeners in your neighborhood, or across your state, or perhaps across the country. Maybe you shared tips, advice, best practices, and other information. And, in doing so, you learned the power of community creation, the power of idea sharing to solve problems, the power of group-think to come up with creative solutions—and this has informed how you now work in teams, problem solve, and in general work with others to brainstorm and solve complex issues.
As with any interview question, once you have an idea of how you want to answer it, it’s important to practice. So, see if a friend or family member will listen to your proposed answer, then ask them for feedback. Or record yourself, listen to your answer, then modify it accordingly.
As a final note, don’t forget the following key interview-prep step that Thompson says still might be the most important part of the job-search process and building your personal brand: “Clean up your social media!”
Andres Lares is a negotiation and influence expert. He’s the managing partner of Shapiro Negotiations Institute, which provides negotiation, influence, and sales training to top companies like Bank of America, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ESPN, and Verizon.
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