Wow…there’s lots of stuff pissing me off lately. But none more than this:
A few days ago, my daughter got called to a job interview. Fantastic. She was very excited and spent a lot of time prepping both on her own, and with me.
A little about me. I held a position for quite a while where I would go out to universities and interview candidates for co-op roles, summer roles and permanent positions. I also helped students get ready for interviews through mock interview sessions. As well, I also did a lot of interviewing for new hires into a call centre, etc., etc., etc.
If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve done more than 3000 interviews in my time. I’ve coached many others on how to do interviews, from both sides of the table. So, I know the interview process fairly well. On top of that, the Wife has done a ton of interviewing as well. Between us, we have decades of experience.
I’ve found the biggest mistake people make is trying to anticipate the questions that could be asked. There’s millions, so don’t even try. You’ll always get zinged. You need a better process.
So, I took the Girl through the process I suggest for anyone preparing for a behavioural interview. It’s the one I’ve used for several years and it’s rarely let me down.
Step One: The Skills
The first step is to write down what you think (or, preferably what you can pull from the job description) are the top skills you’ll need in the role you’re applying for. So, as an example, communication skills, conflict negotiation, and time management. Obviously there are tons, but we’ll use these to illustrate.
Step Two: The Examples
When you’ve got a list of seven to ten, then you want to find examples for them. So, at first, just think about a time when you performed that skill amazingly well. Jot it down so you remember it. Then think of a time when you completely boned it up badly. Did you learn anything from that? Good, jot it down too. And keep doing this for each skill. By the end, you should have 14 to 20 examples for each of those seven to ten skills. One good and one bad.
Here’s a great side benefit to this. Let’s say you have 14 examples. In reality, most behavioural-based interviews probe for maybe five to seven (and that’s a long interview) skills. Those 14 examples you have? Those weren’t a single skill done in a vacuum. If you had a conflict with a coworker, for example, you likely used communication skills, negotiation skills, decision making skills, possibly leadership skills…
My point is, you have 14 very flexible answers that can be used for probably 40 or 50 questions now.
Step Three: The Format
So, now you want to work them up into good, solid answers. You’ve likely heard of the S.T.A.R. format, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Personally, I use B.A.R. which is Background, Action, Result. Toe-may-toes, toe-mah-toes…same difference.
Either way, you want to come up with a very short (note the emphasis) background to the example. Next, you want a nicely detailed stack of the actions you did, and cap it off with a short result. Notice where you’re spending most of your time…in the actions you took. Most people make the mistake of thinking the result is the thing. It’s not. You’re actions are what sell you and tell the interviewer you do possess the skill they require.
Think about it. Let’s say your example is about having to fundraise $10 000, and it was a struggle to meet that goal, but you did it. Is the fact that you raised it as important to a prospective employer as the actions and strategies that you performed to raise it? Right. It’s the actions.
Step Four: Observable Behaviours
Ever had problems in an interview walking that line between sounding conceited or sounding so humble that it seems others did the tasks for you?
When you’re putting those examples together, take all emotion out of the answers (and, as a side note, any employer that asks you how you felt about something isn’t playing fair). If you stick to observable behaviours, that is, if someone was following you around during the time of that example, what would they have seen? Granted, you need a little leeway on that one as they wouldn’t be able to hear your thoughts through a decision making process, but that’s it. Talk about the observable behaviours.
Keep the emotion out of it. Keep your opinions out of it. They have no place in an interview.
The side benefit to this? You won’t come off sounding too cocky or too humble, because you’re relating what anyone would have seen. Did you get a commendation? Great, talk about it…it’s observable.
Step Five: Research
Let me ask a question here…how much time did you take researching and preparing for your last vacation? Probably a fair amount of time, between checking out sites, reading reviews, talking to friends, etc.
How much time did you take researching the company for your last interview?
Yeah, thought so. Here’s the deal: It’s very easy for employers to gauge how motivated you are to work for their company based on a single, simple question. “What do you know about my company?”
I think the most pathetic answer (besides, “I don’t know anything.”) is the guy that told me he knew we had two main competitors, both of which he’d worked for, so we were “next on the list.”
The internet is a wonderful thing. Use it to research the company. Hell, at the very least, set up a Google Alert to deliver the information straight to your inbox. Research at its laziest.
Step Six: Tell Me You Love Me
This is the second hardest thing to put together. The hardest is still to come.
After you’ve done your deep dive into your skills, then a deep dive into the company, you need to be able to articulate very clearly why you want to work for the company. The interviewer knows you’re interested, because you applied. But now you need to be able to explain the why.
Here’s the really bad analogy I always use:
The Wife: “Do you love me?”
Me: “Yes.” (easy answer, right? Consider this the application you sent in)
The Wife: “Why do you love me?”
And here’s the uh-oh spot for the interviewee that hasn’t thought this through. Because many interviewers will say something like, “Tell me why my company is the right fit for you,” or, even simpler, “Why do you want to work for my company?” See why Step Five is so important now?
Here’s why…because if I came back to the Wife and said, “I love you because you’re female, you have brown hair and nice teeth,” she is so not going to feel very secure.
And yet, the answer I mostly get is something like, “You’re a large, successful company with lots of room for growth.” Big deal. So is Google. So is Facebook. So are a lot of other companies.
Get this one right, people, it’s a dealbreaker for me.
Step Seven: Unique
This one always seems to be the toughest one to answer, and it can also be tossed out in an interview so subtly that you don’t even realize it. Think about this…what makes you unique? In other words, what can you say about you that very few other people can say?
It tends to be a stumper, and usually, after a few minutes of thinking, I’ll get something like, “Well, I’m a quick learner. I know others can say that, but I really am.”
Here’s what you should be thinking about: think about all the experiences you’ve had at previous jobs, or through extracurriculars, or hobbies, or traveling, or volunteering, or on boards…anything.
There’s never going to be just one thing that makes you unique. Right now, Paul McCartney can’t say, “I was a Beatle,” and be unique. There was three other guys, and one of them is still around.
But you can build a stack of experiences up that makes you unique. Of course you can. Everyone can.
So this was everything I took the Girl through–no small task on her part, let me tell you–and she then went off and worked it all up into some fantastic answers.
Then she went to the interview. Anne Rice could have written the book on it: The Interview With a Dickwad.
The guy essentially ignored her resume (though he had a copy to review when calling her, and requested another be brought to the interview), except where he wanted to refute things.
An example? “This place is fast-paced. I don’t think your previous job was fast-paced.” If he would have asked a question about it, instead of passing judgement, he would have found out it was, in fact, quite fast-paced. So he did this a few times.
He also told her he figured she’d get “tired” of driving from her home to work and back. Yeah, ten minutes is a hell of a commute, let me tell you.
He actually berated her for her choice of schools for post-secondary education.
And then he did the unforgivable (in my book). He took a personal call on his cell phone, cutting her off in the middle of one of her answers.
Okay, when I’m interviewing someone, no matter how well or how poorly they are doing, they are the only person that matters for the duration of the interview. I expect that courtesy from them, I extend the same courtesy to them.
So, basically, this asshole made the Girl do this “long” commute that he thought she would soon tire of, to essentially bring her in, pass incorrect judgement on her resume, not discuss the role whatsoever, not probe or check on any of her skills, pass judgement on her education decisions, then show her that any old phone call was more important that a possible new staff member. Seriously, he really puts the “mental” in judgmental.
Honestly, I’d love for this guy to call her and offer her the job.
Because now I’ve coached my daughter on her response and now she can be quite emphatically clear when she tells him exactly what he can do with his job, his company and his offer.