Succeeding at an interview is often more of an art than a science. While your experience, education, and other qualifications play a significant role in the hiring decision, the hire is still very much based on the personal opinion of the interviewer. He or she will make a decision about whether to hire you based not only on your qualifications, but also on whether your personality will fit in at their company. Often the interviewer’s instinct decides who will get the job offer.
I don’t suggest you try to obtain a personality transplant to succeed in an interview. If you really won’t fit in at a particular company, you don’t want to work there. But what you can do is be personable and professional. Smile, look the interviewer in the eye, and engage in a two-way conversation. Listen carefully, respond thoughtfully, and don’t digress into personal details.
Interviewers need to be convinced that you will be able to fix their problems and help their company achieve its goals. One of the best ways to answer interview questions is to use your career success stories. Career success stories are tales of the defining moments in your career when you overcame significant challenges to succeed. These stories create a memorable impression and give the listener anecdotes about you that identify your ability to handle the tasks at hand, solve complex problems and provide a solution.
Personal anecdotes demonstrate your unique ability to solve problems. When you tell success stories, you illustrate how you went about handling a difficult situation at work. Here’s the idea — at some point in your career, you were faced with what seemed to be an insurmountable problem. If the problem continued, there would have been severe consequences. Rather than sit back and watch things fall apart, you took initiative and implemented a plan to solve the problem and bring about a positive result.
For each appropriate interview question, relate it to a similar situation earlier in your career, talk briefly about how you handled it, and highlight the results. These stories demonstrate to the interviewer that you have specific experience in dealing with similar situations.
For example, let’s say you were asked in an interview, “How do you deal with high-pressure situations?”
You could simply answer: “I’m very good when faced with high-pressure situations. I dealt with them all the time at my last job.”
However, this response doesn’t do much to convince the interviewer of your abilities. Use a career success story instead: “I’ll give you an example. I was leading a team of national account sales reps in the fourth quarter of the year. We were in the running to be the top sales team in the country in our organization. Prior to the fourth quarter, we hadn’t even made the top 10. Our sales were good, but we wanted to finish the year as No. 1. I organized and led a sales-planning retreat to motivate my team to accomplish three things: First, we identified each of our prospects and determined exactly what we could close before the end of the quarter. Second, I had each rep — with the assistance of his or her support team — lay out a tactical plan for winning that business prior to the year’s end. Third, I asked each rep to make a specific sales commitment with support from their team. The bottom line was that we not only surpassed our overall sales plan, we blew away the competition. Every sales rep hit his or her goal, some topping it by 75 to 100 percent. As a result, our sales-team production exceeded 250 percent of the target and we were recognized as the top team in the nation. As our award, my team joined the company’s top executives on a five-day trip to Paris.”
The key to any interview, particularly if it’s for a new field or new job, is to make the connection between your unique abilities and related situations in the new field through your success stories. Although it may be a new industry or job you are pursuing, there are many similarities to the day-to-day challenges and opportunities. Your career success stories bridge the gap.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Frank Traditi is the co-author of Get Hired NOW!: A 28-Day Program for Landing the Job You Want. He is an author, speaker, career strategist, and executive coach with more than 20 years of experience in management, sales, and marketing for Fortune 500 companies. Frank works with talented professionals to design a game plan for an extraordinary career. For a copy of his free guide “How to Find a Job in 28 Days or Less,” visit Get Hired NOW!
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