Acing your job interview 101: What are your STORIES?
If you had to do a 45-minute standup comedy routine in front of 1,000 people, would you just try to “wing it”?
I am guessing you would probably prepare a few funny stories beforehand so when you are up on stage with bright lights and people watching, you would be able to deliver them perfectly. A couple of knock-knock jokes will not get you smoothly through a 45-minute routine.
A job interview is no different – to make things go smoothly, you have to prepare your stories beforehand.
PICK 4 TO 5 STORIES THAT ILLUSTRATE SIX KEY TRAITS INTERVIEWERS LOOK FOR
Think about your academic, extracurricular, job / internship, and general LIFE experiences, and pick 4 to 5 stories that together exhibit as many of the six key traits below that interviewers look for. That way, when you INEVITABLY get asked a question about your leadership skills, or your ability to work really hard, or about how quickly you can pick up new concepts – you can just recite one of your prepared stories. If you rehearse your stories beforehand (preferably in a “mock interview” situation), your interviewer will be blown away by how articulate you are.
If it’s easier to remember, you can also think of it this way:
- Working well with others (Teamwork + Leadership skills)
- Getting big things done (Impact + Hard worker)
- Intellect, skills, and creativity (Creative thinker / Quick learner + Differentiated skills)
EXAMPLE OF A VERY EFFECTIVE STORY TO USE IN AN INTERVIEW
0. Introduction: My first project as a business consultant was to help the Vice President of Finance at a major computer company determine how much to pay to acquire a small competitor.
1. There were a few difficulties:
- The VP of Finance was 20 years older than me and deeply skeptical of a 20-something consultant
- I had no financial modeling experience to determine what a fair sale price was
2. I realized early on that it would be critical to gain his trust. So, I focused the first week on listening rather than trying to provide recommendations on a topic I knew little about.
- He was impressed by how well prepared I was before meetings, and by my well thought-out questions
- He also appreciated my suggestion to collect the basic data from a junior staff member, to avoid wasting his time
3. Meanwhile, I spent every evening for the first month brushing up on Excel and preparing the financial model
- I found a highly recommended online crash course that I completed in 5 hours.
- I located a colleague that was a finance expert to help me build a financial model from scratch.
- I managed a team of 2 research analysts to collect all of the relevant information on market size, industry growth rate, cost of capital, etc. so I could plug the information into the model
4. Conclusion: I worked extremely hard to complete the first draft of the model in 3 weeks, and the VP was very impressed by how quickly we pulled it together. After that, he and I worked closely together to agree on the assumptions and determine a reasonable purchase price. We developed a great working relationship, and 1 month later we jointly presented the acquisition proposal to the CEO, who approved the deal at the price we recommended.
ANALYSIS OF OUR EXAMPLE STORY – HOW WELL DOES IT ILLUSTRATE SIX KEY TRAITS?
Notice that the story is written in “Pyramid Structure,” which simply means that you start each section by concisely stating your main point. You then follow up your main point with supporting points or examples. Speaking this way (as long as you don’t sound like a robot) will show structured think and articulate communication skills. Also, if you are very pressed for time or your interviewer starts cutting you off, you can quickly rattle off the main points and still communicate your point without losing composure.
This story happens to illustrate all 6 of the qualities listed above, with focus on Teamwork and showing you are Smart / Quick Learner.
Preparing ”stories” that clearly illustrate your skills will be helpful no matter what interview context you are in. We’ll discuss in a future course (“Job interviewing strategy 301 – Getting your interviewer to like you”) how to employ this strategy naturally without sounding like a robot. Stay tuned for future job hunting courses – please leave comments below if this method has worked for you!
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