Steph Graham: Career and interview coaching for the modern professional
Graham calls her approach “Skills-Based Preparation.” Instead of focusing on a candidate’s chronological work experience, she helps them catalog the skills they have gained in each role. “What I’ve learned from my clients is that so many people have the experience – they have the skills – they just don’t know it, and they don’t know how to express it,” Graham explains. She shows them that, while they may not have previously done the exact job or function, they have transferable skills that match the job’s requirements.
After identifying the skills learned in each previous role, Graham guides the candidate in pulling the items together into a clear and concise story. “The advice I find myself giving clients the most often is really owning their story.” She says that clients obviously know their history and the roles on their resume, but they have difficulty articulating how that history creates value. “People don’t think that what they have done is impactful enough. They are looking for that insight, that confidence of knowing what they should be saying, what is important, what conveys value,” Graham concludes. She helps them pick out the elements from their background that recruiters will value and builds their confidence in telling their story.
Graham encourages candidates to take advantage of the latest technologies to evaluate and improve their presentation. She gives clients access to an online speech tool that enables them to upload their own video and receive automated analysis of behaviors such as eye contact and speech pacing. The tool uses artificial intelligence (“AI”) to accelerate improvement in the client’s professional affect.
Graham knows that some of her clients may be tempted to use AI tools like ChatGPT to actually write the resumes. She cautions that corporate Human Resources (“HR”) departments also have access to technology: “The tone of language created by ChatGPT can be obvious, and tools are rapidly becoming available that detect whether a resume is original.” Some recruiting departments already use AI tools to automate time-consuming processes like screening resumes.
Researchers have posited that AI will be used increasingly by HR departments to improve the quality of the hiring process, eliminate human bias, and improve communications with candidates (Ahmed, 2018). Graham comments, “A computer may be deciding how well a resume fits with a job description, effectively selecting the candidate. I do think it’s important that we stay on top of those trends to help our clients position themselves.” She points out that these technologies, like social media algorithms, are constantly changing, so it’s critical for interview coaches to stay current.
The Winning Strategy: Be Yourself
According to Graham, a common mistake that candidates make is trying to guess what the interviewer is looking for and then pretending to be that. The risk in this strategy, she explains, is that the guess may simply be wrong. For example, the candidate may believe that the company is seeking a specific skill set, when actually the recruiter is looking for someone who will fit the team in a particular way.
Graham advises her clients to be themselves: “Authenticity is very important in an interview. You’re speaking with a person, and therefore it’s not just about your experience, but also how the interviewer is experiencing you in that moment.” If the interviewer is seeking authenticity, then it would certainly be ironic for the candidate to be pretending to be something else. “When you try to make assumptions to fit a characteristic that you think the interviewer wants, you’re not only potentially missing the entire point, but you’re also not being authentic. When you do that, you’re missing out on sharing who you are. And that is something interviewers do pick up on.”
Graham’s clients find the emphasis on authenticity appealing. She explains that one of her most popular videos on Tik Tok and Instagram advocates forgetting about trying to please the interviewer and instead showing your value and your authenticity. “I think a lot of people appreciate the message that your authenticity is really what makes you “you” and makes you stand out.” Graham advises that an authentic approach provides the best way for recruiters to understand candidates, and for candidates to determine whether the company and role will meet their needs.
Entrepreneurship is a Creative Challenge
Graham reports that what she enjoys most about running her own business is the creative freedom. “I get to come up with my own path, my own marketing plan. Thinking about how I want to structure my business is a lot of fun. When you have your own business, it’s 100% up to you, and I love that.” However, with that freedom comes a lot of work: “The biggest challenge is keeping everything together. You wear so many hats. In fact, you wear all of the hats when you’re running your own business, and it is sometimes overwhelming.” Graham describes the difficulty of finding focus when there are infinite things that could be done.
The biggest surprise for Graham when she launched her business was how free other people felt telling her what to do. “I truly appreciate that everyone is interested – I so appreciate that – but it is amazing how many people have recommendations for one direction or another. It is important that you, as a founder, understand your vision and stay true to that.” Graham advises others who are considering starting a business to do their research: “There’s a lot more to starting a business than, ‘I want to do this, I made a social media account, and people will come to me.’ That’s simply not the case.” She recommends that before aspiring entrepreneurs jump in, they learn about marketing, finance, operations, logistics, and how everything comes together in the process of selling something.
Trust is Inspiring
Graham emphasizes that trust is the most important ingredient in a coaching business: “It’s essential that my clients understand that I have their best interests at heart. I never try to work with someone who I don’t think that I could help. I always want to make sure that I am honest, I’m upfront, and I’m having the greatest impact for my clients.” She explains that by engaging in coaching, her clients are investing in themselves. “They care about their career,” she says, “Their trust is inspiring – it makes me want to step up, as well, and give them the best of me.” In the end, she feels that her contribution is to provide results. “What makes me the most proud is when I get feedback from my clients that they got the job or they have a different perspective that they never considered. When I’m able to get that feedback, it just makes me feel like I’m on the right path.”