By Tom Davidson
This blog series is about strategically preparing for a job interview using the best management practices available. In this final installment, let’s talk about putting all this preparation to work in the interview itself.
This blog series is about strategically preparing for a job interview using the best management practices available for this critical juncture in your leadership career. In the first, we discussed the value of and technique for gathering real and vivid stories from your work history. In the second, we explored exactly how to analyze the job and prepare to match your stories to the most likely interview questions and probes. In this final installment, let’s talk about putting all this preparation to work in the interview itself.
Hit ‘em Where it Works
No matter what the application, as a leader, one of your best communication weapons is the ability to tell a real and vivid story to make your point. In the interview process, stories are used to discern the candidate’s best fit for the role at hand because past performance is the best predictor of future performance. However, the skill of telling an effective story will serve you well in many other leadership challenges as well (i.e., training your staff, orienting new employees, mobilizing a team and leading change). So this information – and your application of it – is valuable to you as a leader as well as an interviewee.
Now that you’re ready for the interview, here’s what you do:
• Review Your Stories in Advance – No matter whether you have collected your significant stories over time or crammed by trying to remember at least 20 from your past, as recommended in the earlier blogs in this series, you must review them thoroughly in advance. The very act of writing them down is hugely beneficial, but don’t rely on that. Study your stories (i.e., situation, action, result, and what you learned) for weeks in advance of the interview. You won’t have your journal or log entries in front of you for the interview itself, but with a thorough review, they will be much more accessible to you than if you wing it.
• Listen Carefully to the Question – In my experience as an interviewer, the first place interviews go wrong is not preparing for the behavioral interview; the second is not listening to the question. Interviewees are so pumped up, nervous or disoriented in the interview that they don’t hear what they’re being asked. For example, you might be asked, “Tell us about a time you led a team.” Rather than coughing up your best story on teams, you might ask, “What kind of team challenge would you like to hear about, because I have several examples about teamwork?” Not only will you be more helpful and accurate to the interviewers, you will impress them with the fact that you “have several stories” on the subject!
• Choose and Use Your Best Story – As mentioned in a previous blog in this series, having done your homework, you are likely to have multiple stories to make your point (or multiple points that you can make with one story). The good news is that you have many choices, but that’s also the bad news because now you’ll have to pick one. In most cases – if you’ve done your homework – the best story to use is the one you remember the most about. This is because you will tell it more thoroughly and convincingly. In the course of events, you might remember one of your other stories that are even more on target. If that’s the case, once you’ve told all three parts of the first example given (situation, action and result) to the satisfaction of the interviewer or interview panel, you might offer the fact that you have another example, if they would like to hear it. Even if they don’t, they’ll be impressed – once again – that you had more than one story on the subject!
As one final caveat on putting your good experience to work for you in the interview process, be prepared for the fact that some interviewers will not be using the behavioral interview technique. The only reason you should be discouraged by this is that your employer or potential future employer is not using the best available technology in their hiring process. So here’s what you do. Use your stories anyway.
For example, if you are asked a non-behavioral (or “unstructured” question) like this, “What’s your management philosophy?” answer the question directly and then give them an example – one of your fabulous stories that highlights something you learned about being a good manager and have since applied. Either way, you will be well prepared to shine in any interview by preparing for it strategically, like any good manager would in any situation.
What have you learned from interviews and what tips do you have for others as they prepare for these critical conversations?