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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

Master the art of showcasing your skills in a job interview

When an interview panel connects with a candidate through genuine stories, they feel like they have a deeper relationship with the candidate.

[Photo: Westend61/Getty images]



“Tell us about a time when you . . .”

These types of questions are an inevitable part of a job interview for a manager on the rise and a powerful way to make a memorable and positive impression in your response is through storytelling. Stories turn abstract concepts into tangible, emotional, and memorable ideas. They also show your ability to lead in an interview. When an interview panel connects with a candidate through genuine stories, they feel like they have a deeper relationship with the candidate.

There are some classic questions for which you can prepare:

  • Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor.

  • Tell us about a time you had a difficult employee.

  • Tell us about a time when you (fill in a key task for this position).

To best answer these types of questions, study the job description and examine your background, both in your professional and volunteer capacities, to find stories that illustrate your experience with the skills for the job.

ELEMENTS OF A GOOD STORY A good story has a situation, problem, journey, and resolution. Begin your story by setting the scene. Describe the work and your role. Then something happens. An unexpected problem pops up or you’re assigned a new and challenging task. Add some color commentary to make it interesting, but not so much as to wander off down a different path.

Be sure to be complimentary of your coworkers in your story. This isn’t the time to explain that you had to save the day because your colleague didn’t know what they were doing.

Add some tension to the story by explaining how the success or next steps of your team depended on your ability to overcome this challenge. Describe the actions you took, the pros and cons of the decisions you considered, and the process you used to accomplish the task.

Conclude with the outcome of your work and how it solved the problem, helped your team, or created a new product or solution.

STEPS TO FOLLOW The first step is to identify your goal. What do you want your interviewers to know about your skills or work ethic as a result of your story? Decide your headline and your main idea at the start of your process to help you develop your story.

Next, know your audience. Examine the job description and ask your contacts for the inside scoop. What are the interviewers’ goals for the new person they’re going to hire? What challenges do they want to solve? Tailor your message to your audience.

Begin your story by setting the scene. Let your interviewers know what was happening in your workplace and why your contribution was important. Paint a picture. Give them a reason to care about the outcome.

Then introduce the problem. This is the twist in your story. What unexpected situation popped up that kept you from business as usual? What new challenge needed to be overcome? Why were you the one chosen for this assignment? Describe a situation that relates to the question you anticipate they might ask you.

At this point, chart the path to the solution. How did you analyze the problem? Explain your decision-making process. Walk the interview panel through the actions you took and why you chose them. Things might be clear in hindsight, but at the time, you were likely choosing between difficult or imperfect options.

Finally, share the solution or the ending. How did your work save the day, make a difference, or otherwise accomplish the goal your leadership wanted to see? Restate the main point you want to make about the skill in question or your interpersonal management experience at the end of the story. Repetition helps people remember.

REVIEW YOUR WORK Practice telling your stories out loud. You can do this with friends or family, or on your own with your phone or computer. Remove tangents that don’t support your candidacy or respond to the question at hand. You don’t want to lose your interviewers’ attention by going on about the office lunches when that doesn’t describe your acumen at managing up. Hone your stories so they make your point and get there directly.

Eileen Smith is a diplomat-turned-public-speaking-coach who helps business executives and policy experts prepare for speeches, media interviews, and board meetings.

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