‘So, what do you do?’

You meet around 1,000 people every year during your adult life. Each one has the potential to influence your path – so it’s worth perfecting your first impression.

Whether you’re networking, interviewing or making small talk at a social gathering, someone’s bound to pop the question, ‘So, what do you do?’. Few of us, however, have a clear, confident response that triggers a genuine connection.

That’s where Clay Hebert and other behavioural experts come in. Clay is an American keynote speaker and marketing strategist who teaches people to unlock their unique stories. Using a simple formula, he helps us find clarity about who we are and how we introduce ourselves to the world.

For professional support candidates, it’s a critical skill. We’ve adapted Clay’s approach for EAs, PAs and Receptionists to help you expertly explain your work. You’ll also find networking tips to help you capitalise on social interactions – even if you shy away from small talk.

First lesson: it’s about them, not you

A successful introduction is a conversation starter. It’s not your CV in spoken form, but the beginning of a meaningful exchange. Clay’s acclaimed TED Talk busts three myths around that initial hello:  

Your introduction shouldn’t be:

  • About you
  • 100% complete
  • 100% accurate

It should be:

  • About who you help and why
  • Interesting
  • Confident

Notice the focus is on others and what you do for them. It’s an essential mindset shift that will carry you through impactful conversations – and the most common interview questions. Instead of describing your daily to-do list, tell them how you transform your team’s effectiveness.

But what if you’re not comfortable singing your own praises (yet)? Here at Joss Search, we help business support professionals find their voice within some of the world’s leading private equity and alternative investments firms. That means coaching candidates to showcase their capabilities at interview and in social situations.

So if you’re not sure where to start, consider three key questions:

  • What do you do best? Self-awareness is the first step to selling your strengths, so review what your role entails, what you love about it and what you excel at.
  • How do your skills benefit others? Think about what makes you indispensable to your team and execs. How do you solve problems, remove their pain points and save time and money?
  • What would your colleagues say about you? How would your co-workers describe your contribution to the business? If you’re not sure, ask them for feedback.

The formula for a flawless intro

Now that you’ve formed a few ideas, you can begin to speak more confidently about your capabilities. Clay’s formula for the perfect introduction uses four elements to get them across:

I + HELP + PEOPLE + ACHIEVE A RESULT

In a nutshell, you’re sharing how you help your company do or achieve or become something. Less is more, so it’s important to choose your words wisely.

  • Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Your sentences should make sense to a six year old.
  • Keep it concise, using short words and few syllables.
  • Go for intrigue over information. The goal is to grab interest.

For example, Chris Anderson – the founder of TED Talks – might say:

I help people tell stories worth spreading.

Once you’ve cracked your first version, play with the wording to make your introduction even more powerful.

Change the word ‘help’ to a more active option like ‘equip’, ‘connect’ or ‘unlock’. If you’re stuck for inspiration, try WordHippo and Thesaurus.com for loads of smart, punchy possibilities.

You can also tweak your structure to help others understand and relate to your job. Alternative styles might look like this:  

  • I’m like X for Y – In this case, fill in the blanks with two familiar concepts that don’t typically go together.
    ‘I’m like superglue for our senior team.’
  • I turn X into Y – Create a striking combo that invites further questions.
    ‘I turn projects into profit.’

Everyone has different needs, so don’t limit yourself to one introduction. Instead, shape your opener around who you’re speaking to – and how you can support them.

Buy yourself time by asking what your conversation partner does first. That way, you can tune into what matters to them and refine your introduction to highlight those talents.

So ‘I help people stay organised’ becomes ‘I help leaders make every meeting count.’

A note on networking – for non-networkers

Let’s pause here to acknowledge that not everyone is a natural networker. Making a bold, ambitious introduction could feel completely out of character, especially If you’re a business support professional who prefers to excel behind the scenes. Even so, you never know where that first hello might lead, so it’s worth having some well-rehearsed lines at the ready – and knowing how to articulate your value.

According to Marissa King, a professor of organisational behaviour and the author of Social Chemistry, the secret is to start small and avoid overthinking. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Marissa offers advice for new or non-networkers:

  • Look for ‘islands’ – In large groups, people tend to congregate in small ‘islands’ of two or three. Aim for an island with an odd number, where there’s likely to be one person looking for someone to speak to.
  • Keep small talk topics up your sleeve – Before any event, review what you’ve been up to recently – the quirkier and more interesting, the better – so you arrive prepped and ready to engage.
  • Turn introductions into a game – Marissa shares a tip from Jerry Dischler, one of Google’s top execs, who also happens to be an introvert. He gamifies daunting social situations by awarding himself points for each new person he speaks to.
  • Network with people you already know –Some of your most useful contacts are probably already in your circle (or at least used to be), which makes connecting far more manageable. When networking, Marissa advises tapping into ‘dormant ties’ – people you’ve not seen in two or three years – to rekindle old relationships and uncover fresh opportunities.

Putting the perfect introduction to work

When creating your own word-perfect intro, let your CV be your starting point. Review your skills and capabilities, then consider their impact. How do they help your team or execs? What benefits do they bring? What changes or improves as a result of your work?

We’ve shared some typical professional support CVs and the openers that might spring from them.

The results-driven Receptionist

As a Receptionist, you’re the face and voice of your firm. Your company looks to you for exceptional customer service, so make it the headline of your intro. Try options like:

  • I help our firm make an incredible first impression.
  • I guarantee visitors get an amazing experience.
  • I shape people’s perception of our business.
  • I help people find their way in our firm.
  • I give our customers an outstanding first impression.
  • I help clients feel at home with our firm.

In an interview situation, craft your answers with the same results-led approach. Describe how your skills and background can solve issues and boost customer experience.

It’s one thing to say you can identify and resolve operational and technical problems. It’s another to prove your knowledge can cut call waiting times by 15%.

The powerhouse Executive Assistant

At its core, being an EA means clearing the runway so your execs can soar. Let that be your lead, then drill down into the other benefits you deliver each day. Break the ice with positives like:  

  • I make work simpler for senior executives.
  • I help top executives climb even higher.
  • I smooth the way forward for our leadership team.
  • I help senior executives excel at their job.
  • I make it easier for senior execs to succeed.

We all know an EA title doesn’t begin to cover your real remit. Luckily, when you’re job hunting or networking, a brilliant intro opens the door for more details.

Practise selling your range of skills and responsibilities in relation to others, and what they bring to the bigger picture. What are the outcomes of your IR roadshows? Why are your briefing packs better than others? What will your meticulous attention to detail mean for this firm?

Review your CV, pinpoint the benefits of your work, education and extra-curriculars and prepare some convincing ready-made responses. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to run your lines out loud.

The ultra-professional PA

As a PA, you’re the behind-the-scenes hero that makes life simple for senior management. Make sure your invaluable contribution comes across in your intro. Go for strong statements like:

  • I make sure our managers are the smartest people in the room.
  • I help my firm’s future leaders rise to the challenge.
  • I give senior management the support to succeed.
  • I help senior managers power through projects.
  • I make sure senior managers are prepared for anything.

If you’re job searching, carry that confidence to the interview room – even when asked about your weaknesses.

Briefly acknowledge where you’re short on skills and share how you’re building your strengths. For example, if you lack management experience, highlight events and projects where you co-ordinated colleagues or suppliers.

Above all, keep conversations upbeat and professional. Private equity and alternative investments is a close-knit industry. Even if you’re leaving a less-than-perfect environment, never badmouth your boss or co-workers. Make every dialogue about what you do and the people you help – now and in your next role.

We’ll help you find your ideal intro

At Joss, we help business support professionals be their best selves. That means crafting your killer intro, sharpening your personal sales pitch and connecting you with rewarding roles in the world’s top private equity and alternative investments firms.

Check out our live vacancies or chat with our friendly consultants about your upcoming career steps. We’re waiting to help on 020 3096 7050 and hello@josssearch.com.

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