Back-To-Business Basics With Tulane’s Cynthia Washington

At Tulane University I took a golf class to satisfy one of my three PE requirements, and one thing I learned in that class always stuck with me. According to my Tulane golf pro the “greatest golfer of all time,” Jack Nicklaus, would always go back to the basics when he was trying to perfect his alignment, grip, putt and swing.

Golf isn’t rocket science. It’s about commitment, confidence, discipline and talent which are the same traits you would arguably need when starting a successful business or acing a big interview like a hole in one.

Cynthia Washington, a senior student and employer advisor at the Tulane School of Professional Advancement, said this level of focus will keep you on par with the competition.

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“Everything you do either strengthens or dilutes the brand you want to create,” she said. “I work with students at Tulane’s School of Professional Advancement who are trying to change careers and a question I always ask is, ‘What do you want to be known for?’ Shape your professional reputation by engaging in projects, roles or initiatives that strengthen your desired identity. What do you want others to think when your name is mentioned?”

Washington said you need to be curious, ask questions and find ways to verbally engage in staff meetings, events or conferences with questions that follow through on the topics being discussed. 

“This shows you’re intuitive and engaged with your work and allows you to raise your profile among fellow colleagues in attendance,” she said.

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Washington said even if you’re green, you need to prove your value will be a grand slam for the company and that your impact will translate into results that are measurable. Aim to find ways to introduce those results at an appropriate time.

Washington said you have to find your sweet spot – what you’re really good at. “Exhibit that skill in your work and on teams, then position yourself as the go-to-person for that specific skill,” she said. “Anytime someone needs that skill, they should think of you.”

Whether you’re at the front nine or the back nine creating your professional brand, Washington said figure out where you want to be in a few years, and which specific opportunities will help you build the brand you need to reach that goal.

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“Networking and relationship-building within your company is critical to building your brand,” she said. “Interacting with colleagues, other teams and leadership gives you a household name and creates opportunities for you to become a more well-rounded contributor. Network socially and professionally, online and offline. You never know who could lead you to your next opportunity. Networking also can help you bring more leads into your organization, build stronger customer relationships and develop strategic partnerships with other organizations.”

Another angle of approach is to actively seek out and volunteer for high profile roles and assignments where you can demonstrate your brand in action, she said. Celebrate other people and give them a reason to celebrate you. You can build a solid reputation for yourself as a team player and someone everyone wants to work with by being a supportive colleague.

Washington said building a strong professional brand is a choice. “It takes time, effort and energy,” she said. “However, investing your energy to selectively engage with specific projects, conferences, meetings, relationships and influencers can help you build a focused reputation.”

When it comes to honing interview skills to land your dream job, Washington said you should first do some homework by researching the company you want to work for, the industry it’s in, and any trends, professional associations, competitors and corporate news you can find. She also said if you know who’s going to interview you, research the interviewer. It will give you an advantage because you’ll have a better chance of connecting with them and engaging in a perfect round of conversation.

“Prepare a list of thoughtful questions from your research that you want to ask during the interview to show that you’re prepared and enthusiastic about the company,” she said.

Washington suggests performing a self-assessment to figure out what makes you the best person for the job including your motivations, values, strengths, knowledge, skills and abilities. Then, apply that information during the questions you will field during an interview.

“Oftentimes the first question is, ‘Tell me about yourself?,” she said. “Prepare an engaging, clear and complete response conveying your qualifications, experiences and why you are a great fit for the position. You want to tell them your professional career story in a way that persuades the interviewer that you might be the best candidate. Spend time creating impactful responses to questions such as, ‘Why should we hire you?’ and ‘What distinguishes you from other candidates?’ This is not an invitation to recite your biography. It is an opportunity to draw out the parts of your story that best sell you for the position.”

Washington said to create a variety of scenarios from your experience in response to behavioral questions using the STAR format: State the Situation and/or Task, the Action you took, and the Result. She said interviewers believe your behavior in the past reflects and predicts how you will behave in the future.

“One of the keys to a successful interview is great storytelling,” she said. “A story puts the storyteller and the listener in the same place and thus has the potential to answer key questions on an emotional level. Oftentimes, emotions tend to stick in one’s memory even when facts are long forgotten.”

Washington said storytelling in an interview is effective because if you tell the right story at the right time, interviewers will “feel good” about you, regardless of how many other candidates they interview. 

“Just like in selling, the great challenge is making an emotional connection with the interviewer,” she said.

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