Pop quiz! You're in an interview with your (hopefully) future employer. The hiring manager just asked you to describe how you respond to challenging situations at work. You:
a. Say that you’re a problem solver who meets every challenge head on, considers all the various risks for each possible course of action, makes data-driven decisions, and gets the job done no matter how late you have to work.
b. Share an anecdote from your previous job, in which you found out at the last minute that one of the main locations for an upcoming shoot was no longer viable, so you made a list of other similar locations, secured an appropriate alternative option, and quickly contacted the crew department heads to make sure they knew the change of plans and had the necessary equipment to fit in the new location.
When comparing the two, hopefully it became obvious to you that the correct answer is B. Why? Because as nice as A sounds, it’s kind of meaningless. Anyone can claim to have the skills an employer covets. Sure, you’ll get points for having researched the type of candidate the company is looking for, but that’s about it. But with an answer like B, you’re sharing a real-life example that shows your work ethic and helps an interviewer picture you in a similar situation.
Sharing specific examples is also a good way to convey that you understand the job at hand -- the more relevant your example is to the job you want, the more you’re proving your ability to walk right into the role. However, if you're trying to make a career transition -- for example, from production into marketing -- your best example of responding to a challenge might not be 100% relevant. In this case, tack on an additional explanation as to how your skills translate to the role at hand. Using the example above, you could add, “I know that clients can make last minute changes, and marketing messages may need to pivot for any number of reasons, and I'll be able to call on my problem-solving experience from working in TV production by responding to those sorts of challenges calmly and quickly and ensuring there aren’t any lapses in communication.”
Getting specific will also allow you to build a stronger conversational connection with your interviewer. Remember: The interviewer already knows you’re qualified enough to be considered for the role. Now they’re trying to assess whether you’ll fit in with the team, so your aim should be to create a friendly, comfortable rapport. How many good conversations have you had where you simply listed off general character traits about yourself? Likely not too many. But it’s pretty typical to swap anecdotes when you’re connecting with someone.
The next time you prepare for an interview, think of a few specific experiences you can share for some of the most popular interview questions -- strengths, weaknesses, a big challenge, how you work with a team, a time you showed leadership, and how well you operate under pressure (hint: these experiences might overlap with some of your greatest accomplishments). Practice telling those stories, ideally to another person, but to yourself in the mirror/shower/car is fine, too. It might make all the difference!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan