Orville Pierson’s Blog

Soaring Through Your Job Interview

Luckily for you, most interviewers are not trained in interviewing. Another piece of good luck is this: your central preparation is the same for both trained and untrained interviewers.

One obvious preparation, of course, is studying the company’s website and annual report to see what they have to say about themselves. And right behind that, Googling them to see what others say about them. Or, even better, using research tools right here on CRN to locate professionally compiled information.

But what I want to talk about today is your ability to effectively convey your superb professional qualifications to a stranger in a relatively brief conversation — preferably without sounding like an egotistical braggart.

When interviewers are trained, they are often trained in behavior-based interviewing. This is a method designed to have the candidate describe their actual behavior on the job at key points in their work history. The questions are frequently in the format, “Tell me about a time when…”

An example for a manager with P&L might be, “Tell me about the time when you brought in the weakest quarterly financial results, and what you did about it.” Another example is, “Tell me about the most serious disagreement you had with your boss, and how you both handled it.” Negative questions like these are usually mixed with positive questions.

Notice that the questions ask you to tell a story about yourself and your behavior in certain job-related situations. The interviewer can learn a lot about you from your choice of stories, from how you handled things and why, and from the words you use to describe events and people.

It looks to me like telling stories – relevant, true stories – is an excellent way for you to illustrate your answers with any interviewer, trained or not. Stories can be engaging and memorable. They are a way of demonstrating your strengths, rather than simply claiming to have them. Any accomplishment story can be told in two minutes or less, even if what you describe took years.

Rather than saying, “I’m the best salesperson ever to walk the earth,” you tell a story about a difficult sales situation and how you overcame the obstacles to win the account, resulting in your boss’ citing you for setting a new sales record.” The interviewer draws the right conclusion. You avoid the Egotistical Braggart problem,

My suggestion is to prepare stories that relate to each of your major strengths and to each of your key jobs and accomplishments. How many? My personal rule of thumb is five stories for every $10,000 in income you’re seeking, up to a maximum of 40 stories. You’ll probably never use all of them, and certainly not at a single interview. But always having the right one ready to use sets you up to ace the interview.

I often suggest an S-O-A-R structure for these stories. The acronym stands for Situation, Obstacles (to make sure the results are fully appreciated), Actions, and Results (for the organization, not merely for your department). It aids you in briefly and effectively describing accomplishments of all kinds.

And, yes, I admit it, that’s why I used that dumb “Soaring” title for this posting.

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