By: Bari D. Wald, Military spouse and Air Force Reservist
Congratulations…you followed the Perfect Resume Equation and got the interview! Now what? Now you pick out a nice outfit to wear and wait for the interview date right?
Now you get serious about your communication strategy, get to work developing your “Message Development Plan,” and get ready to seriously impress your interviewers. Your resume may have gotten you the ticket into the interview, but the interview is what gets you the job.
So what exactly is a Message Development Plan? This, my fellow spouses, is a proven technique used by public affairs professionals to craft concise, effective messages that not only answer the question at hand, but add a little flare – the Command Message. In part two of my three-part “Getting the Job” series, I will teach you the steps to develop a modified Message Development Plan, your own Personal Command Message, and the art of an Effective Response. I’ll also give some preparation tips to help you outshine and outdo your competition.
If you’re jumping into this three-part series in the middle and haven’t gotten the interview yet, go back and first read The resume equation that will get you the interview.
Ok, let’s get started. I want to add a caveat that you can start a Message Development Plan (MDP) prior to getting an interview, and I do recommend it because these can take some time to develop, and sometimes time is limited between being called for the interview and interviewing. Get a skeleton MDP down, and tweak it to the position once you have an interview lined up.
The anatomy of a Message Development Plan:
- Company Background
- Opening Remarks
- Personal Command Messages
- Talking Points
- Murder Board (5 questions I know they will ask,
- 5 questions I know they will ask
- 5 questions I think they will ask
- 5 questions I hope they don’t ask because I don’t like these kind of questions
- Dress Rehearsal!
Part 1) Company Background
This is pretty straightforward. This should be information on the company you are interviewing with. When were they founded? Who is the CEO? What are their values and mission? What is an interesting fact about them? Have they been in the media lately? If so, what was the story about? There’s no set length to this step, but usually a quarter-page of bulleted information will do. The worst thing you could do is walk into the interview with little to no knowledge on the company. You’ll look ill-prepared and you never know when they will ask you, “What do you know about our mission/history/CEO?”
Also, if you know the name of the person you will interview with, look them up on LinkedIn and see what’s in their background that you could strategically bring up in the interview.
True Story: When I interviewed in 2015 with USO Okinawa for the Area Programs Manager position, I looked up the hiring manager on LinkedIn. Turns out, he and I had a very similar professional background and had both taught English abroad in Southeast Asia. Since I had this inside information, when the hiring manager asked about my time teaching abroad during the interview, I knew it wasn’t just because it was on my resume, but that he was probably genuinely curious about my experience since he too had taught abroad. I used that opportunity to build rapport…and it worked. I got the job and we spent the next 3+ years’ telling each other stories of our time teaching! (Shout out to Mr. Henry H.)
Part 2) Theme
A theme is one or two words that describe the essence of your Message Development Plan. This is your golden nugget of what you can bring to the job, and why you’d be an asset to the company. This part is typically a quality you possess or reason for wanting to work in a certain industry. Everything that comes after this step, will relate back to this theme, and weave throughout your answers.
Example: A nurse applying for a fast-paced emergency room position that requires quick thinking and a steady state of temperament may use the theme “Decisive, Leader, or Calm & Collected.”
Part 3) Opening Remarks
This is where you will craft your answer to the “Tell us about yourself,” question. I have yet to be interviewed, or interview someone, where this question is not one of the first ones to be asked, so take the time and craft your 30-second elevator pitch. This isn’t where you go into every detail about your work or life history, but where you summarize yourself in a nutshell. Be creative, write it out, and rehearse. If you don’t know where to begin, the Internet is full of video examples to help you out. Don’t forget to tie in your theme!
Example: I’m a critical care nurse with 15 years of experience in fast-paced emergency room settings with a focus on level 4 trauma patients and rapid response techniques. I have experience with staffing protocol, and most recently lead the first nurse intern group from XYZ School to Cambodia where we taught level 2 trauma skills to the local medical school. I’m a natural leader, thrive in stressful situations, and know how to expertly manage my surroundings during high-stress situations.
Part 4) Personal Command Message
A Personal Command Message (PCM) is one to three messages that you want to get across during the interview. These are not specific to anything, but a top-level “…and this is why I’d be an asset to this company,” message. These can speak to your work ethic, your overall experience, your technical skills, etc. These can be used multiple times throughout the interview, strategically placed as part of your Effective Response, and give your answers more depth.
Expanding on the nurse example from above, these PCM’s are based on a theme of “Calm and Collected.”
- I’m a natural leader in stressful situations with the ability to expertly manage my surroundings.
- I thrive in high-stress environments while maintaining a professional disposition.
- I have a proven track record of effectively managing emergency situations with grace and ease.
Part 5) Talking Points
Talking points are the bullets from your resume that will back-up your PCM’s. If a PCM says “I’m a natural leader in stressful situations with the ability to expertly manage my surroundings;” it needs to be proven by facts.
Sample talking points to back-up the example in Part 4 would read something like the following:
- Flawlessly led team of 10 medical staff during natural disaster crisis ensuring accurate triage and care for 100+ patients
- Managed team of 5 during power outage and created solutions for 30 patients needing care/rooms
Part 6) Murder Board
A Murder Board is a term that was originally coined by the U.S. military and referred to the practice of preparing people for oral exams. This method is used to prepare instructors to face students, candidates for debates, and those preparing for a media interview. Think of a job interview as an oral exam, and prepare accordingly. What you want to do is think of five questions you KNOW the interviewer is going to ask; five you think they POSSIBLY are going to ask; and five you hope they don’t ask. The last five are truly nuanced to the industry you’re in, and you. These may be questions you generally have a hard time answering, or that are very technical.
Putting it all together: A + PCM = ER
Now that you have your Message Development Plan complete, it’s time to work on your Effective Response to each murder board question. An Effective Response follows the following verbal equation: Answer (A) + Personal Command Message (PCM) = Effective Response (ER).
Example: Question: Have you managed a team before?
Effective Response: Yes, I managed a team of 10 people during a natural disaster crisis where we had to quickly and accurately triage more than 100+ patients in 3 hours. While it was a stressful situation, I feel my ability to maintain professional disposition kept patients and my team at ease during an intense time.
Here’s the breakdown why this answer is an Effective Response:
- Yes, I managed a team of 10 people during a natural disaster crisis….
(PCM) My ability to maintain professional disposition kept patients and my team at ease during an intense time.
At this point you will go through all of your Murder Board questions and begin to answer them using the Effective Response format. Some answers may sound similar to others, and that’s OK. The more you practice working your PCM’s into your answers to create Effective Responses, the more you will engrain those responses in your mind and the more natural you will sound during the interview.
The final step to your interview preparation is to rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse!
7) Dress Rehearsal
Once you’ve completed your Message Development Plan, it’s time to rehearse and practice like you play. There are a few reasons this step is important:
- It allows you to practice your answers out loud and make adjustments.
- It allows you to get comfortable “performing” in your interview clothing.
Try a few things while you rehearse your answers: Stand up, sit down; legs crossed at the knee, at the ankle; hands on your lap, hands on the table. Wearing a dress? Sit down and make sure it doesn’t ride too high. Wearing pants? Make sure they are tailored for the shoe you will wear and practice walking in said shoes.
Practice in front of a mirror. This will give you an idea of what your facial expressions look like when you’re answering questions. Maybe you need to tone it down, or inject some energy and emotion to your expressions.
Audio record yourself and listen for filler-words such as “um, uh, etc.” If you hear yourself using them, work on slowing down and thinking about your responses to give yourself time to formulate your thoughts without using filler-words.
True Story: I once listened to a guy brief a room of 50 people, and in a matter of ten minutes, used the words “such as,” 83 times. Don’t be that person.
Video yourself to gauge your body language and movement. Are you using your hands too much? Not enough? Fidgeting? Touching your hair, face, etc.? Adjust as necessary.
This may seem like a lot of work to prepare for an interview, and guess what? It is! But, putting in the effort will give you an edge above your competition. As a bonus, once you have this skillset down, you can use it in other areas of your life such as during presentations, negotiations, media interviews, etc.