Interview Prep: Telling Your Unique Story

Chloe-Estelle McCall • Jul 13, 2017 10:19:18 AM

Job interviews are often stressful, but a lot of the anxiety and fear candidates feel can be avoided through proper research and preparation techniques. 

Beyond relevant industry experience and familiarity with the tools of your trade, an employer is looking for the following:

  • Indicators that you have the right mindset to make decisions, navigate change, stay motivated, prioritize projects, and take your responsibilities to the next level
  • Unique perspectives and ideas that can complement the strengths of existing team members
  • Qualities that set you apart from other candidates with similar education, time spent in the workforce, or relevant industry experience

Even if you don't have a lot of work experience, or you're going through a career transition, the qualities that make an employee an A-player are universal, and can be played up to your advantage.

This week, Startup Institute Boston conducted a mock interview night to familiarize current marketing, sales, and UX/UI design students with behavioral questions that often pop up in the interview process, and to acclimate them to a fairly high-pressure environment.

Members of the ReferralMob team were there to play the role of interviewer, and to provide instant feedback (something we know a lot of job seekers would love to have access to!). Here are a few takeaways and pieces of advice that we shared around the art of storytelling during an interview:

1. Anticipate the Questions Ahead of Time

There are many resources online which list commonly asked interview questions that employers will use to determine whether candidates are qualified for a role. 

Step one in the interview preparation process is to look at the responsibilities listed in the job description for the role you applied to and identify questions that you will most likely be asked about how your experience and skill set fit the bill. 

2. Build a 3-Point Response to Each Question

Now comes the hard part. Once you have a master list of questions assembled, start at the top of the list and craft a thoughtful response to each one. Your potential employer wants a full picture of how you operate as a professional in different business situations, so each question is a chance to make a great impression.

In the same way that a story has a beginning, middle, and end, your responses should follow this formula whenever possible:

  • Identify the challenge or opportunity you faced
  • Describe a strategy or solution you came up with in response
  • Share the positive result of your actions

As an example of this exercise, let's say you are (or have been) a Marketing Manager, and the question is "Describe a time you went above and beyond on a work project."

Your response might be:

"My boss suggested that we start producing video content, but our team didn't have a big enough budget to hire an in-house or freelance video producer. So I researched what basic equipment we would need, got the order approved, and turned one of our spare conference rooms into a mini-studio. I worked with our Content Marketing Associate to start scripting and filming in late November, and we had a series of 4 episodes ready to launch by February."

Rather than telling the interviewer that you take inititiative, have great project management skills and collaborate well with others, you are allowing them to draw that conclusion on their own through the narrative of your story. 

3. Rehearse Getting Stuck and Unstuck

If your interviewer throws out a curveball question, or asks you something you don't know the answer to, your first instinct may be to clam up, stammer, or stare blankly -- but this is an opportunity for you to show them firsthand how you overcome adversity!

Have a friend ask you questions that aren't on your master list (either over the phone or in-person), and practice these techniques:

  • Take a deep breath  
  • Repeat the question for confirmation, or ask them to repeat the question
  • Ask your friend to provide an example of what they mean

If you can't come up with an answer that exactly aligns with the question after stalling a little, try to offer a story that at least relates to it in some capacity.

When all else fails, being candid goes a long way; you could simply say you haven't faced that situation in a job before, but here are the steps you would hypothetically take. Remember: Your interviewer wants to learn about the way you analyze and respond to challenges, so this approach still provides them with valuable insights about the way you think.  

Ready to get out there and dazzle your next employer? Sign up for ReferralMob and start applying to jobs! You'll get a $500 hiring bonus when you land a great new gig. 

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