For successful job interviews, words are nice; stories are better! (Nonfiction, of course!)
My advice is to always prepare stories you are going to tell during the interview that address the job description.
When I prepare my candidates for their job interviews, we always talk about "the checklist."
The checklist varies, of course, based on the person and the job they are seeking.
This checklist is the list of examples from their experience that directly addresses the qualifications they to need to cover during the interview. These might include:
For details creating and using your checklist, read 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist.
Often, the job requirements include the intangibles -- the "soft skills."
Most companies are looking for candidates with strengths in communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and decision-making, amongst many others.
These strengths are the soft skills.
When adding these to your checklist of key qualifications, how should you address the soft skills in the interview?
The answer is the same. Tell stories.
More specifically, tell stories within stories.
First, consider how many candidates approach this. They simply mention they are a “great communicator.” Or a “team player.” Perhaps they’ll say, they are a multi-tasker or work well under pressure.
Just saying you possess these talents is the equivalent of stating you know the latest programming language or close multi-million dollar deals. Without some proof substantiating those claims, they're just words -- until you tell a story around them.
When you talk about your experience, you should tell stories that convey the details of your past accomplishments and projects:
These stories are what builds your credibility that you have the specific qualifications for the job.
But what about the soft skills?
Look at the job description and the qualifications for the soft skills needed -- even add others you know are valuable in the role.
Then, think about some of the everyday activities in which you participated or led. Many of the meetings, conflicts, late nights, trouble-shooting, and brainstorming sessions contain the soft skills the employer needs.
The way to share your ability in these areas is to weave short examples into the bigger story you are telling about the project or challenge.
Matter-of-factly talk about a situation during the project where many of these attributes had to be leveraged.
Consider this example. While talking about a key project, you’ve painted the picture on the overall goal and the situation. You’ve started talking about the steps you took to achieve the results and NOW you take a short detour to talk about the soft skills:
"I was working on the project with my teammates and we hit a snag. The team could not agree on the direction to take. We had three different ideas.
"So I took the lead, and had us go into a conference room and discuss the options. I gathered the thoughts of everyone in the room, including all the pro’s and con’s of each option, and helped the team draw a conclusion using a decision-matrix tool I like to use.
"We then determined the time line associated with the selected option. Since it was two weeks longer than the original plan, I communicated to management the required scheduled slippage, but also the reasoning and justification for the delay."
Then, seamlessly return to the bigger story, and tell how it ends and the stellar outcomes that were achieved. So, without saying, "I’m a great this or that," you’ve allowed the interviewer to draw their own conclusions on many soft skills (and hopefully make note of it).
If you were the hiring manager listening to the example above, how many attributes and talents would you have noted? Does your list include: team player/collaborator, eliciting the quiet voices, conflict resolution, initiative, decision-making, project management, and communicating bad news? I bet it does!
You need to be careful not to go off on these small tangents too much.
You don’t want to be redundant or spend too much time on this.
Spend just enough time to cover the key or unique attributes they seek.
Be sure to spread them out in a few of the bigger stories instead of all compressed into one. This should be a slightly subtle approach -- you don’t need to have an obvious pattern.
Just like the bigger qualifications, the intangibles count, too. It’s harder to convince an interviewer you possess these attributes.
Just saying you’re a “team player” doesn’t satisfy them. But, like the big stories about your past, the smaller stories about leveraging your arsenal of personal skills carry a lot of weight.
In baseball, there is typically a play-by-play announcer and a color-commentary announcer. The balance of the two commentators gives the full picture of what’s happening on the field. Hopefully combining the two in this approach, you will provide an informative, yet colorful, commentary during your next interview (and win).
Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz).