Often overlooked, the subtle art of communication and expression is an absolute essential for more modes of life than we care to admit. Siew Ling Hwang has spent years cultivating a unique understanding of the inherent value that stems from effective communicative skills. Her company ‘Discovering Potential’ operates on the notion that these skills are incessantly important for any number of situations from interviews to standard inter-personnel communications.
We had a chance to sit down with Siew Ling and delve into the details that can make or break an interview and the unexpected common tropes and errors we’ve all made at one time or another. We also explore the various motivations behind Discovering Potential, as well as what one can expect in her revolutionary program.
Hello Siew Ling, thank you for having a chat with us today, let’s start off with the easy one, who is Siew Ling?
Hi, thank you for having me.
I am the founder of Discovering Potential, a company that was founded to enable our clients to achieve their career and life goals by providing soft skills coaching, in particular interview and communication skills.
I think to fully describe who I am, I have to give you a quick snapshot of my career history. I started my career as an Investment Banker with JPMorgan. I was part of the Mergers and Acquisitions team covering transactions in South East Asia. I continued with the Investments industry and then into Training and Development with Temasek Holdings. I then moved on to becoming an entrepreneur, running businesses in the retail industry. Parallel to all this, I sought to deepen my interest in personalities and communication and as such I am also a Certified Behavioral and Career Consultant as well as a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming. Discovering Potential is effectively the result of all the years of the last 2 decades of experience.
On the home front, I am also a mother of two daughters, the eldest is 14 years old, and the little one is turning 8 years old.
‘Discovering Potential’ covers a lot of ground in terms of workplace communicative challenges and shortfalls, why are these so commonly found across the industries?
Communication is an area that sounds deceptively simple and yet it is so crucial and necessary in our daily life – not just at work, but also at home. In the current world where we are inundated with quick changing and voluminous information – being able to communicate clearly, garner trust, and build influence is even more important.
While there is definitely increasing awareness of the importance of communication, it still tends to take a back seat to other technical skills, especially in the earlier stages of our careers. Many of us would have spent our early years honing technical skills as that was what was required. My own career started out with many hours on the excel spreadsheet building financial models! The thing to note though is that our career path is an ever changing one, which means that we need to constantly adjust and adapt our skill sets to match our requirements. As we climb up the career ladder, many senior positions, including management and executive roles will call upon our expertise in communication.
You have several programs through ‘Discovering Potential’ tackling the Interview process and skillsets – what would be the single most common issue you’ve found in candidates?
The most common issue would be the belief that an interview needs to be perfect for it to be a good interview. Perfection to many candidates means that they can answer every question without any filler words and with no hesitation. Perfection is nowadays also mistakenly defined as being the answer that was found on Google.
Providing an answer that has been rote-learned and memorized is very obvious to any experienced interviewer. Worse still if it was a generic answer that came from Google. There are many tell-tale signs we look out for and unfortunately the only thing that the perfect line tells us is how well you are able to regurgitate facts. What interviewers look out for instead is someone who can connect well, build rapport, communicate with sincerity and authenticity, be able to think on their feet and deliver their stories, their passion, motivations and be memorable.
What does a typical one-on-one coaching session involve?
One-on-one coaching is where we really focus on the individual and coach each client based on their own uniqueness. This means we seek to understand the client as thoroughly as we can. We find out about your background, skills and experience through your resume and past history. Most importantly though, we utilize our expertise as behavioral consultants to understand you at a much deeper level – your strengths, weaknesses, stressors, dislikes, passions, values and more.
We then design the mock interview questions for the client, matching the industry and job level and incorporate questions that may pose to be a challenge for your personality type. This is for us to surface as many challenges as possible during our coaching so that we can tackle these together with the client. For example, some people unknowingly get defensive when they feel threatened. Through the personality assessment, I am able to ascertain if the client has a high chance of reacting that way and I would incorporate some questions that tests this situation. What I am doing here is to replicate the trigger and to surface potential negative responses that the client may not even be aware of.
All this happens before we even meet the client for the first time. Each coaching session is different for every client, as it depends on their requirements and progress. But generally, we use personalized mock interview questions as the key scaffolding to the coaching session in order to achieve three things.
One is to seek out any weaknesses that may exist and to increase the client’s self-awareness of these. Two is to provide techniques and methodologies to conquer these weaknesses in a way that suits the client’s natural personality best. Three is to augment their strengths and to empower the client to maximize the interview opportunity regardless of what questions are being asked.
For our younger clients, the session may cover more foundational aspects such as non-verbal behaviors, responses, use of language and structure and more. For more senior clients, the sessions are more likely to focus on communication strategies across different types of people from Human Resources to C-Suite Levels and Board Members.
Has there been any particular experience that has stood out for you more than others as a coach in Discovering Potential?
I get a sense of satisfaction each time a client improves and does well in their interviews or achieves a step up in their school or career track but I must say that helping students who are struggling to discover their potential provides a different level of satisfaction altogether.
Let me share a story. I had a teenage client who came to me after being deemed “not coachable”. This is a term that should not exist but it did. This was a child who was academically competent but had one key challenge. She did not communicate well. On our first session, every question was greeted with silence. When prompted, monosyllabic answers were provided. This went on for a while. As I patiently talked to her, all of a sudden, she said “There is nothing interesting about me, so there is nothing I want to say”.
The change achieved in this teenage girl once she achieved this breakthrough has been amazing. And it cements my motivation to help others and it is a constant reminder why at Discovering Potential, it is not just about interview skills and communication skills. We empower people from the inside out, using our expertise as a Behavioral Consultant and knowledge in Neuro Linguistic Programming. Communication is not just about language skills or fluency in speech. It comes from within and it is highly impacted by our self-confidence and inner beliefs.
You must see a massive range of clients at ‘Discovering Potential’, from accomplished businesspeople to students just out of school, is there any major difference you’ve found or any commonalities?
Every client has their own uniqueness, and to me that represents the challenge of being a good coach. While there may be some similarities in the interview or communication weakness that is presented, I find that the reason behind the weakness is usually different. And that is because of our different personalities. As such, the solution to the same weakness will also be different.
I enjoy discovering each person’s behaviors and trying to find the best way that we can empower each person to communicate well in a way that feels most natural to him/her. Everyone is different and therefore there is no “one size fits all” in our coaching either.
How would you best describe what drives Discovering Potential?
Let me share a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that I think will help to shed light on what drives Discovering Potential. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being”. We aim high, for the clients and ourselves. We see the potential in each client regardless of their starting point and we aim to encourage people to succeed and be as capable as they can be.
Thank you Siew Ling for your time!