Note from the Associate Events Director: Practicing the art of listening

CDI Journal - Volume 14, Issue 1

by Melissa Varnavas
I was reading this article online about responding to the question “tell me about yourself” in a job interview. The best answer to this question, wrote Gary Burnison, came from a woman who’d managed to hike the seven highest summits in the world. You can read the article and its recommendations for yourself on

Having just hired a lovely 20-something-year-old woman to join us at ACDIS, and having gone through a few interviews prior to her hire, made me wonder: If we’d asked her just that question, in just that way, how would her response have resonated with each of us in the room?

Before joining the ACDIS team, Carolyn Riel worked as a content creator and recipe developer at Aroma Housewares, a small kitchen appliance company in San Diego. She moved out to California following friends after college but eventually found the high cost of living, difficult commute, and work-life balance taxing and came back east to her Massachusetts home.

Carolyn told us that when she was little, she wanted to be either a veterinarian or a baker. Eventually, she ruled those out and picked up writing as a talent.

In turn, we told her about the position. The ACDIS associate editor helps the administrative team craft interesting content, drawing on the expertise of the association’s membership in order to share stories of success and struggle that resonate with the community and help individuals grow professionally from that shared experience.

In thinking about Gary Burnison’s piece, I wondered what I would say now, after more than 14 years at ACDIS’ parent company and 12 with the association itself, in answer to that question.

“Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer would ask.

Burnison says to set aside the work-life response and share something personal, something interesting. Perhaps I’d talk about my poetry then; describe how I’m interested in the intersection of religion with modern daily life and the appreciation of varied human cultures that, despite their vast differences, all pay deference to two things—home (i.e., earth, family, location) and mortality.

Perhaps this interviewer and I would speak philosophically about how subtle discrimination engrained in societal systemics undermines not only individuals but all of society. Perhaps they’d be interested in chatting about the meaning behind a perfect line break in a stanza of verse.

More likely, I’d stick to the work-life script. I’d talk about starting with ACDIS and not knowing what CDI was. I would talk about increasing the size of its online journal from eight to 12 pages, then to 24, and now to 40-plus.

I would talk about helping fledgling groups network on the local level. I’d talk about how our initial state-focused efforts expanded across the country and the globe, and how attendance at the meetings now numbers in the hundreds. I’d talk about attending my first ACDIS Conference and its exhibit hall of four vendors and how the event now welcomes such a range of exhibitors that the conference features therapy dogs and food trucks.

But I’d like to think that I’d flip Burnison’s script entirely and talk about you, about what it has meant to be entrusted with your stories and experiences, about how privileged I am to have stood beside you as we’ve grown together professionally. I would talk about what these past 14 years have meant to me and how appreciative I am to have a position that allows me to invest my talents in a way that has hopefully, in some small measure, helped you.

Ideally I’d talk about the amazing ways you have extended your hand to me and tell my imagined interviewer about all the ways you have worked hard for us, for yourselves, for your colleagues, for this profession. I’d talk about the funny way you handled that noncompliant physician, the gift you surprised me with at the ACDIS Conference even though we’d never met, the farewell hugs you’ve given at the close of the conference every year for the past 10+ years.

When ACDIS Editor Linnea Archibald introduced our newest team member to our internal colleagues, she’d listened well to Carolyn’s story not only during the job interviews but throughout the onboarding process. She recounted Carolyn’s childhood career aspirations—which included not only veterinarian and baker but also unicorn, art teacher, and bus driver. Carolyn’s talents include loon calls and making just about anything in a rice cooker. If you get the chance, email her and ask for details.

With this edition of the CDI Journal, I turn over its content and management to Linnea, Carolyn, and your well-abled hands. I’m not going anywhere—just standing back a bit, refocusing on our ACDIS chapters and events, and letting these lovely ladies enjoy being a bigger part of your story for a while.

Found in Categories: 
ACDIS Guidance, CDI Management