Ah, the stories we tell…
I have interviewed thousands of candidates during my career. Recruiting for years taught me a thing or two about what it takes to make an employer sit up and take notice.
These days, I teach interviewing skills in workshops. I coach clients one on one. I video them in mock interviews and together my clients and I look at how to improve their ability to connect with potential employers. I have seen highly successful people fall to pieces just trying to figure out how to respond to, “Tell me a bit about yourself and your interest in this position.” This simple little prompt can bring a person to tears.
Once you get past that “tell me about yourself” prompt, the best thing you can do is tell stories. Your past experience are the best indicators of what you can do in the future. They show who you really are and what you really do under pressure, in a crisis as well as during times when things are flowing at work.
I encourage clients to take a highlighter and go through the job description or posting. Underline the key qualifications for the position. Next, tap into your memory for examples from your past experiences that match what the employer is seeking.
Putting your stories into a quick outline is often enough to help ensure you will be able to recall the story during an interview. Use the C.A.R. formula to ensure you get to the point and make an impact. C stands for the challenges you faced. A is for the action you to took to overcome the challenge. R is all about the results that were obtained.
It is also important to be able to focus your story on the question being asked. Stressing the parts of the story that most closely match what you are being asked is a powerful skill. Another important skill is being able to come full circle back to the original question at the end of your story. This shows you are listening and relating to the interviewer not just repeating a memorized story.
For example, you may be asked to talk about a recent accomplishment. Once you tell your story, come back to the question you were asked and say, “So, this is an example of what I will do here in this position. I really pride myself on setting goals and working hard to achieve excellent results.” Come full circle back to what the interviewer has asked and relate your response to your future actions if you were hired in this new position.
It is really important to collect your stories and practice them before the interview. However, you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed. You want to remain conversational in your tone and natural in the delivery of your stories. And, you want to forge a connection with the interviewer.
Beyond the facts of your story and the end results, it is important to consider the emotions behind the stories you tell. When gathering stories, consider telling about experiences that showcase not just your skills but also your PASSION. Share stories that reveal your core values and the qualities that will differentiate you from other people who do the same work you do. What sets you apart? What makes you stand out?
In the end, it is not the facts that will be memorable. It will be the way you made the interviewer FEEL that matters. Bring in some emotion and avoid just relaying dry facts.
Most of my clients say, “I don’t have any amazing stories to share. I just show up and do my job. There is nothing remarkable about me.” Everyone has a story. We all have unique ways of doing what we do. I often ask my clients some key questions to help them recall good story material. Here are some prompts:
- When were things in total crisis and chaos at work?
- When were you totally in the flow and when did time fly by?
- When did you help a company make money, save money, or minimize risk?
- When did you improve a process or streamline a procedure?
- When were you completely frustrated?
- When were you joyful and satisfied?
- When did you know you were doing great work even if no one else was noticing?
I generally advise clients to have at least 5 or 6 good stories prepared before an interview. You can tailor them to the specific needs of the employer who is interviewing you. So, your stories are about you but you are telling them in a way that makes them about “you and the potential employer.” A great interview story should express what WE could do together if you were brought on board.
A good story is what will make you memorable. A few good stories will be what compels you to receive an offer over another candidate with a similar skill set. For every hour of interviewing that you do, expect to put in at least 5 or 10 hours of research and practice. Don’t get robotic or repeat everything on your resume. Tell a good story. Put your heart into the stories you tell and be your authentic self.
This is interviewing magic!