Leaving “I” out of your interview answers is NOT noble. Use a 4-step process to answer interview questions

interview with woman

When I ask my workshop attendees to answer an interview question, some of them refuse to talk about their role in a past assignment. An article on Recruiting Blogs details this problem job seekers have, the unwillingness, or inability to describe their role in a situation.

For example, I ask my workshop attendees a question like, “Tell me about a time when your diligence paid off in completing a project on time.” An incorrect answer sounds like this: “We were responsible for putting out the quarterly report that described the success of our training program. We worked diligently gathering the information, writing the report, and sending it to the Department of Labor. We met our deadline and were commended for our efforts.”

Here’s the problem: there’s nothing about the job seeker’s role in the situation. I don’t want to hear about what the team accomplished, nor will employers. I want to hear about a candidate’s contribution to the overall effort.

Note: when appropriate, job candidates need to mention the contributions of those who helped in the process. It is not only about the candidate.

This answer, using the STAR formula, is more satisfying, as it describes the candidate’s specific contribution.

The Situation

As part of a five-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue funding for an outside program.

My task

I was given the task of gathering information pertaining to participant placement in jobs and then writing a synopsis of their training and jobs they secured.

My actions

I started with noting how I recruited 20 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 10 participants. This required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers where people desiring training were engaged.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their computer training, which included Lean Six Sigma and Project Management. Then explaining how this training would help them secure employment in their targeted careers. I collaborated with the trainers to get accurate descriptions of the two training programs.

Next, I interviewed each participant to determine their learning level and satisfaction with the program. All but one was extremely satisfied. The person who was not satisfied felt the training was too difficult but wanted to repeat the training. She noted she was very happy with the expertise of our trainer.

As well, I tracked each participant over a period of four months to determine their job placement. Jobs were hard to come by, so at times I approached hiring managers at various manufacturing companies in the area in order to speed up the process. I was responsible for directly finding jobs for four of the twelve people, even though it wasn’t my responsibility.

Finally I took the lead on writing a five-page report on what the members of the team and I had accomplished in the course of  three months. Other members of the team were of great help in making sure all the “is” were dotted and “ts” were crossed and that the report was delivered on time to Boston.

The result

The result was that we delivered the report with time to spare and were able to keep funding for the project for another year. I worked hard and was integral to proving to the DOL that the project was successful, but it took a lot of collaboration to bring project all together.

Certainly there are times when employees don’t work alone and require the assistance of others, but they always have a specific role in the situation.  Prospective employers want to hear about the candidates’ role in the situation, not the teams’ overall role. It is best to answer the question using the STAR formula, which demonstrates the situation, task (your), action, and result.

Allow me to quote directly from the article:  “…after an hour I still don’t quite understand what this person’s involvement was on any of their most recent projects even though they were all delivered successfully, on time and under budget.”   What I did understand involved a whole lot of we, us, and the team, which leaves me to wonder whether they’re a good team player or just a player on a good team.  I don’t have a spot on my team for the latter…”

Photo: Flickr, Renee Bertrand

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3 thoughts on “Leaving “I” out of your interview answers is NOT noble. Use a 4-step process to answer interview questions

  1. Roxan Park

    I work for a WIA funded agency and we teach STAR stories; you are absolutely correct about using this technique targeted to the candidates role in the story!

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Yes, Roxan, even at a traditional interview, answering questions with the STAR formula is the best way to prove what you assert. Thanks for the comment. In what state do you work? Do you also work for a One-Stop?

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      Reply
      1. Bob Loftis

        Agree with the perspective and guidelines! We use SOAR at Lee Hecht Harrison, PSR at NOVA/ProMatch nearby (Silicon Valley), and I have a similar one, IAO. The company LinkedIn urges all employees to consider their daily Output – Outcome – Impact (for the business). This is very practical way to plan and capture your successes for a performance review, too!

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