I have a lot of friends in the process of interviewing right now, and they share many of the same concerns. They’re nervous about what to say in response to behavioral questions, which I’ve addressed on CGN before. As I’ve attended more networking events and panels, and have had a chance to hear what recruiters are looking for, I’ve picked up on an interesting pattern. The pattern is something I know particularly well: the need for stories.
Questions like “When did you face a difficult challenge, and how did you overcome it?” and “Tell me about a time you failed” are common in interviews. It’s also common to feel flustered when these questions come up. But, as I learned first from Craig Wortmann and again from panelists at a recent Medill Alumni career panel, what interviewers are looking for here is a story. Explain what the problem is, how you solved it, and what the results were. Don’t simply list your activities or talk about the team — tell the interviewer what you did.
Looking back on all of this great advice I’ve heard in the past few weeks, I’ve come up with a few questions to help you prepare a story:
- First, come up with a time you faced a challenge. Nail down the who, what, when, where, and why.
- What setbacks did you experience, and how were they going to derail the project? How bad were the consequences?
- Next, examine how you reacted — not the team, not your boss. What did you do?
- How did your actions 1.) impact the team and 2.) impact the project?
- What was the outcome of the project? Did you succeed or fail?
Don’t be afraid of that last question, and don’t be afraid to say if it failed. I told you about Craig Wortmann’s book in a previous post. In his presentation, he said stories of failure can be more successful in winning over an audience. So, even if the project failed, that story will show the interviewer that you can admit to your mistakes; it makes you human and relatable. It’s just like reading about a character in a book — would you really care about a lead character if all she did was succeed? Probably not.
If you’re telling a story about failure, add this on to the above list:
- What did you learn from your failure or your mistakes? And if you did manage to overcome the challenge, what did you learn about yourself in the process?
If you’re nervous about telling a story, just make sure you prepare a few stories in advance. Think of a time you succeeded in overcoming a challenge and think of a time you failed. Test out your stories with friends or mentors.