Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interviewing is Nothing More than Telling Stories

Interviewing is nothing more than telling stories. It really is that simple.  You are essentially scored on how well you tell stories about you and your experiences.  So, why is it so hard and stressful for some?  Some say because it is like a test.  You really never know what they are going to ask.  Plus, you are talking to a complete stranger and in a small time, trying to stand out, impress, and convince them that you are “all that and a bag of chips.”  This is nerve-racking for some.  I know it was for me when I was in your spot, but there is a solution.   

The key to all of these methods is to prepare and to have examples in the form of a story.  Any question they ask should be answered detailing: Situation –(S), Behavior –(B), Outcome –(O) and should be completed in about 90 seconds.  That leaves you approximately 30 seconds for Situation, 30 seconds for Behavior, and 30 seconds for Outcome.  I would say allow yourself 10 seconds total either way but no more and no less.  In other words, your entire answer should lie between 80 – 100 seconds with the sweet spot at 90 seconds.   If it is much shorter than this, usually there is not enough detail to warrant a really high score.  If it is much longer than this, there is usually too much detail or it is not organized enough for the interviewer to quickly see what they need to.  Although each section is very important and a must have to score high, if I had to choose which one was most important, I would have to pick Behavior.  This is because all recruiters or interviewers should know what I have told you already and that is past behavior is often a good indicator of future behavior.  

Here is how you get started:  You should have 6 or more stories ready to go.  Focus your stories on areas or topics that companies most likely will ask.  Here are some:

  • Leadership
  • Dealing with a difficult person
  • Adaptability
  • Helping others (without being told to do so)
  • What did you do when something went wrong?
  • Solving a Problem
  • Your Greatest Strength
  • Your Greatest Weakness
  • Your Greatest Accomplishment
  • Your Greatest Disappointment

Now I know what you are saying:  “I thought we weren’t supposed to memorize answers and regurgitate them back.”  This is different.  These are stories about your life -- your experiences.  You already know them because you lived them.  So really all you have to do is to tell your stories back to the interviewer in the S, B, O format.  That’s it!  You don’t have to memorize them because they are your experiences; you already know them.

What I suggest is to take a piece of paper and write down each of the topic areas above.  Then put S, B, O below them and start filling in your story.  Concentrate on the Situation first.  Then move to Behavior, YOUR behavior.  Finally, work on the Outcome.  Once you have that down, all you really need to do is make sure the timing and details are in each section and you got it!  Yes, you will have to practice them so they flow.  Yes, it will take you an hour or two to develop and practice your stories, but that is all.  Plus, you spent at least that much time on your resume, so if you just spend the same amount of time rehearsing your stories, you will do great.  This is a critical step if you want success.  Remember, companies hire the person, not the resume.  

Mark Lyden

Mark Lyden is the author of: College Students: Do This! Get Hired!; Veterans: Do This! Get Hired!; and Professionals: Do This! Get Hired! (Coming Summer 2011).  A substantial portion of the proceeds from book sales are donated back to charity to help veterans and to help the stray and abandoned animals at Logan’s Run Rescue.   

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