Do you get nervous before job interviews and worry about everything you might possibly forget? Is it hard to juggle in your memory your promotion history, your strengths, your weaknesses, and every aptitude and area of expertise that differentiates you from the competition? It is for most job candidates. There are just so many facts to remember!
Facts Are Not Memorable
Facts have little emotional resonance, so it’s hard to retain so many for short-term use. As you can imagine, it’s several times more difficult for your interviewer to remember when there are multiple candidates involved! So a litany of facts isn’t likely to advance your candidacy, no matter how well you remember and recite them.
Fortunately, there is a way to prepare for job interviews that can make you stand out from the competition. It’s also an approach that can alleviate your apprehensions about forgetting key bits of information. Developing and sharing personal success stories is a powerful way to remember what makes you a compelling candidate and to help your interviewer do the same.
People Are Hard-Wired to Remember Stories
By focusing your efforts on developing these success stories, you can integrate your strengths and weaknesses, leadership and collaborative skills, and specific competencies for each of the functions in your potential new role. With well-rehearsed stories, you can answer almost any question with such powerful conviction and confidence that you will reveal even more reasons to hire you than just what the question was designed to prompt. Even better, you will demonstrate your passion for your work and your field.
The science of neurobiology has advanced our understanding of how hard-wired people are to remember and respond to storytelling for psychological and physiological reasons. Science doesn’t say the same of memorizing answers to standard interview questions.
Components of an Effective Story
There are many structures you can use to tell your story, and they are known by acronyms such as PAR (problem, actions, results); CAR) (challenge, actions, results); and OAR (opportunity, action, results). We prefer STAR, which breaks down as follows:
Situation: Your organization or team has a problem or opportunity. Present the details of the situation in a dramatic way, bringing to life the complex considerations involved in addressing this situation successfully. What were the unique challenges that made developing and calibrating the perfect strategy so difficult? What was at stake if the undertaking or project resulted in a failure or a success?
Task: Describe your particular role in the situation. Talk about the leadership you provided in defining the situation and in coming up with a course of action, and then the tasks you were responsible for once the plan was underway.
Actions: Introduce this part of the story by talking about your thought process and strategies. How did you first approach the situation? What specific actions did you take that proved critical to the success of the project? What pitfalls did you avoid? What were your considerations as the process unfolded?
Results: Think in terms of high-impact to your team and your business. Rather than saying “We won the account,” describe the implications to the department and the company. Finally, describe how you were recognized for your contribution to the group’s achievement. Some job candidates are hesitant to talk about personal achievements in a group project. Modesty can be admirable, but in this scenario, it is critical that your interviewer understand how your particular contributions made the project a success, and that your superiors recognized your work and leadership as highly consequential.
It’s Time to Get Started!
The success story approach will help simplify the preparation process for each job interview. Start by identifying 3-5 core competencies required for the position, and then develop success stories using the STAR framework. Write, edit, and refine your stories. Then rehearse telling them with a friend or family member.
Once you are well-practiced, you will feel a greater sense of confidence heading into your interview. You may even look forward to it. As your interviewer responds well, your confidence will only grow, giving you momentum into subsequent interviews. Candidates that follow this approach often have excellent results and many find themselves in bidding wars between employers!