So what are you looking for? A ubiquitous question but one that can trip up even the most polished professional.

When searching for a job or networking for future opportunities, this question will come up over and over again. While expected, it remains one the of the most difficult questions to answer. When I ask clients the question, they squirm a little in their seat then give me a close version of the following:

“I’m looking for a sales/leadership/management position in a growing company where I can contribute my__________ skills and _________knowledge and further develop my career in sales/healthcare/banking.”

When I ask, “Do YOU love the answer?”, the response is “not really” or “I dread that question”. The reason for this is that they are:

    • still feeling vulnerable about their current/previous position
    • not completely clear about what the next move looks like
    • afraid to commit to a narrow path and potentially close doors
    • not sure what the listener wants to hear
  • worried about bragging or sounding desperate

The Result? The listener gets an unimaginative, uninformative, and safe answer that has little impact. You, the candidate miss a chance to potentially break open the conversation and draw your listener into your “story” and situation.

This open ended question offers a great opportunity to allude to your track record, share some personality, and claim what you’re really good at and enjoy doing at work (and in life). Research shows that people respond better to stories vs. statements and detail so this question is an invitation to begin telling your story!  

A Great Answer. You must make your own and draw from your specific experience and circumstances. But here’s a helpful formula and road map to help you craft your great answer that:

    1. helps the listener understand your skill set/trade; what you do and your experience level.
    1. is as specific as possible about the direction you’re trying to take. If you’re not sure then it’s ok to say, “I’m not exactly sure but would love to pick your brain and get any suggestions on where you see someone like me.”
    1. sounds upbeat and confident in your background, skills and the fact that you’re searching
    1. connects your background and experiences to what you do professionally (an authenticity factor). Share some details of what you enjoy and get excited about. Give an example of the contribution you make through your work
  1. asks/recruits the listener to think about and share opportunities, people, and companies they think you should look into and connect with to move your efforts forward

Here’s an example:

“I’m a 15 year healthcare executive actively exploring operation management roles within the pharmaceutical or medical device industries.  I grew in the Chicago-area the child of a nurse and pharmacist so I’ve spent my life in and around the industry. I’m drawn to the challenge of fixing in problems in the system. From developing formularies to optimizing ABC Healthcare’s global supply chain.Tell me a little about your role at XYZ company. I’m a fan of the company and I’d love your insiders perspective and recommendations on anyone you think I’d benefit from talking to or meeting.