The hardest part of the interview process is preparing for situational or behavioral questions. The reason for this is that you really don’t have a clue what will be asked. How in the world do you prepare for the unknown? Here are some tips that will allow you to trump your competition.
Become a storyteller
The best way to demonstrate a skill or competency is to give a historical example of your mastery. In other words, tell a story. You should be prepared with a story that talks about 4 or 5 of your biggest accomplishments. These become the foundation for your behavioral responses, and can be used for a variety of questions. Take a look at some commonly asked questions:
- Tell me about a project you are proud of
- Tell me about a time that you overcame adversity to achieve positive results
- Tell me a story that demonstrates your leadership ability
And the list goes on. By having stories prepared that illustrate your greatest career accomplishments, you can respond to numerous different behavioral questions.
Now the other side of the coin….. You’ll need to prepare 2 stories about negative outcomes or personal weaknesses. You won’t know in advance how these questions will surface, but they will – so be prepared. For example:
- Tell me about a failed project
- What should I know about your weaknesses?
- Tell me about a time when you disappointed your client
Crafting your stories
For those of you who are struggling storytellers let me give you a framework. First, use no more than 3 sentences. The story contains the following information: 1. The objective or the purpose of the project; 2. Your role in the effort; 3. The outcome or the results. Use quantifiable results whenever possible, even if you have to estimate the numbers. Here is an example:
The marketing automation project at XYZ company was particularly interesting because when I took on the project, we had never done any prospecting thru digital channels, so this was a greenfield effort. When we finished the work we had increased our inbound leads by 65% in only 2 months. The increase in sales was estimated at $2.5m for the first year alone!
I purposely left it a little fuzzy so that the interviewer would ask me to elaborate more on what we did and how we did it – but only if this information is important to them. Keep it brief, keep it simple, leave ‘em wanting more!
Rehearse keeping your responses in check
Almost everyone “over explains” when responding to questions that they are not prepared for during an interview. You are nervous, uncomfortable, and in the hot seat – it just happens.
In order to minimize the occurrence of verbal distress use the rule of 1,2,3. Let me illustrate:
- What do you consider your greatest professional strengths?
There are 3 professional qualities that come to mind – 1. I am detail-oriented, 2. I am organized, and 3. I start every project with the end state in mind so that I stay focused on the objective.
- I used the number 3 to keep my answer focused and brief. Another example:
- Why are you interested in this position?
There are 2 reasons that I’m excited about this role. 1. The experience you are looking for aligns well with the work I’ve done recently. 2. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join a market leader in the industry – you all are kicking butt!
- I chose the number 2 for this response. Notice that I didn’t elaborate too much, kept the response brief – but left an opening for the interviewer to say, “tell me more,” which is your permission to expand – tell a story!
While behavioral questions are the most difficult to prepare for in advance of an interview, you can rehearse your history so that your stories make sense and you don’t over-explain yourself in an effort to hit every detail.
Practice, write yourself notes and commit your stories to memory. Happy Interviewing!
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