With the turn of a new calendar year, many of you are probably thinking this could be the year for a career change. In this competitive job climate, it’s more important than ever to try and stand out in a job interview to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Here is a great tip from James Citrin, CEO at Spencer Stuart:
“I was giving interview advice to a C-Suite executive the other day and had a revelation - that my counsel to her was almost identical to what I had advised a college senior preparing for his upcoming job interview just a couple of days earlier.
The tip: don't just answer questions. Tell a narrative . That is, establish a coherent thread, a story, throughout your interview and have your answers connect in a way that make sense to the interviewer and that he or she will remember. Let me give you two examples:
College Senior - a photography major interested in digital media advertising sales prepping for the basic question, "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?" His plan was to say "I'm a creative person, a good people person, and I'm passionate about media. However, I'm not expert in coding or the technical aspects of your product." This is a pretty solid answer. But after some discussion, here was the answer that he came up with. "I believe that my greatest strengths are that I'm a highly creative person with the ability to build powerful relationships and team well with others. As an example, in my photography honors thesis I had to go into the low-income public housing projects near campus and establish trust with the residents so I could take intimate portraits of their families. From playing soccer through high school and into college I learned the value of teamwork and collaboration which I apply consistently in our group project work. As to weaknesses, I haven't yet had training in coding but if I were to join your company I would find a way to learn."
C-Suite Executive - a global general manager preparing to meet the CEO of a major consumer company to interview for the president position. She had done an enormous amount of homework on the company, the strategy, the competition, and the culture. But she was wondering what the best answer would be when the CEO would inevitably ask her to "Walk me through your career." We came up with the following approach to re-frame and sharpen the question: "Absolutely, however, before I do that can I share what I believe is most important to you and your company?" No CEO in this context would think this an inappropriate ask. In fact in doing this she could demonstrate her insights about the company and that she had indeed done her homework. She would also project strength and confidence to take charge without being aggressive, and most importantly, it would give her the clues about exactly what parts of her career she should pull out as part of her narrative. "In doing my research, talking to current and former employees, reading the press and analyst reports, it seems to me that the three most important values and priorities for your company are a passion for the brand, innovation in product development, and a culture of direct communication based on intellectual honesty." Pause -- the CEO would either concur with this list or edit it to add one or two elements. In this scenario the conversation has already advanced positively and the executive hasn't even answered the specific question yet. With the three or four pillars now known about what is most important in the company and to the CEO, she will now be able tell her story weaving in specific anecdotes that connect to each.
The key to effective interviewing is to be savvy about what it is that the interviewer is looking for - through doing your homework before the interview and effective listening during - and then weaving your answers to questions in a narrative with brief anecdotes that illustrate how what you've done matches what's most important to the company.”