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How to Take Charge of Every Interview

If you dislike job interviews, you’re definitely not alone. Many people are uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the interview situation. The good news is that you can eliminate a lot of this uncertainty by using a common interview technique to your advantage.

I’m referring to the technique of behavioral interviewing, which simply means that interviewers ask very specific questions about real situations. The theory is that your past behavior is the best predictor of how you will behave in the future, so employers probe your background for clues.

Let’s imagine that XYZ company is looking for a Marketing VP who can generate a lot of buzz with a small budget.  In order to understand your experience in this area, a behavioral interviewer will ask:

“Tell me about a time when you had to promote a product with very little cash.”

or :

“Describe a time when you created a lot of excitement about a new launch using non-traditional marketing techniques.”

Behavioral interviewing has become quite common over the last 15 years and, you may well have experienced it yourself, either as an interviewer, or an interviewee.  Provided you are prepared (and we’ll talk about this in a moment) a behavioral interview gives you an excellent opportunity to talk in detail about your experiences and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, many interviews still follow the old format – the questions may be arbitrary, sometimes based on the content of your resume, sometimes on the preoccupations of the interviewer.  They may also be very general in nature.  For example, if XYZ company isn’t using behavioral interviewing, they may ask VP candidates a question such as: “How much experience do you have working with a small budget?”  This question doesn’t invite the same detailed response as the request for a specific example – but who needs an invite?

But You Can Turn it Around!

The secret to wowing them at every interview is simply this:  act as though you were asked a behavioral question, even when you were not.

Imagine two different candidates for this fictional marketing position. When asked “How much experience do you have working with a small budget?” Candidate A replies, “I’ve had to do that a lot actually. Most of the companies I worked for were small to mid-size, so there was never a lot of opportunity to spend money. I’m very good in those situations and I always find a way to make things happen.”

Candidate B, however, gives a ‘behavioral’ answer:  “I’ve had to do that a lot actually. Let me give you a recent example… you know the film “Dark Night?” I created the campaign around that movie with a $10,000 budget.  It came to my attention because it was the only film all our staff were excited about, although it was a low-budget, independent production.  I decided to create a really cool web site themed around the film, and then we planted seeds of interest on forums and in chat rooms. The whole thing took off within weeks and the movie eventually grossed millions. We never did run a single TV advertisement. “ 

By answering in such a concrete and specific way, Candidate B brings himself to life – and ensures that he will be much more memorable than his competition.

Some Examples

You can use this technique for any question that is vague or general in nature:

Q: “How much do you know about?....”
A: “I’m very familiar – just recently I ....”

Q: “How often have you had to ....?”
A: “That’s something I’ve done frequently – actually, I remember when ...”

The technique also works when an interviewer asks a hypothetical question:

Q: “What would you do if .....?
A: “Well, I faced a similar situation just last year. What happened was ... ”

Preparation is Key

To prepare effective stories you must first focus on the employer’s needs and then develop examples that demonstrate your ability to meet those needs.

The employer’s needs

Research the company before you go for the interview. Identify their key business issues (Are they growing rapidly?  Are they in a crowded marketplace? Are they planning new product launches?) Get into the minds of the company’s executives and ask yourself: Given their business issues, what will they want to know about me?

Developing Your Examples

Use the C-A-R formula to develop stories that demonstrate your ability to meet the needs of the employer. 

C-A-R stands for challenge, action, result. To look at an example - if you know from your research that ABC Corporation needs a sales executive who can forge new strategic partnerships, develop stories about your experiences in that area.  Describe the initial challenge (e.g. need to enter a new market), the actions you took (researched the market, identified targets, met C-level decision-makers) and the results (built partnerships worth $15 million in revenues within 12 months). 

If your interviewers have been trained in behavioral interviewing, you’ll be exceptionally well-prepared.  But if not, you’ll be able to separate yourself from all the other candidates by telling compelling, interesting and targeted stories that demonstrate your ability to add value.

Author, Louise Fletcher

Louise Fletcher

Louise co-founded Blue Sky in 2002 after a career as an HR executive in industries such as music, video games, fashion and advertising. Louise is a word nerd at heart and loves to write. She developed the Blue Sky resume approach, has written three books, and has been a featured expert for Oprah Winfrey Magazine, The Washington Post and The Ladders among many others. In her spare time she paints and cooks. She also gardens, with results that can best be described as mixed.

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