Category Archives: Career Search

“Why did you leave your last company?” How to answer this question

And three possible scenarios. 

Why did you leave your last company?” is an interview question that can be a cinch for job candidates to answer or difficult, depending on the reason for leaving your position.

interview with womanAlways expect this question in an interview. It only makes sense that the interviewer would like to know why you left your last company. Were you laid off, let go, or did you quit. Those are the three possible scenarios.

How you answer this question—most likely the first one asked—will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Many people interviewing for the first time are surprised when they get this question. It’s as though they didn’t expect it.

Not only should you expect this question; you should have the answer to this question already formulated. It should not take you by surprise. Expect it. Be prepared. If you get it wrong, shame on you.

Also, be aware of a zinger like, “Steve, tell us why you want to leave (company X) and come to work with us?” To answer this two-part question successfully requires an in depth knowledge of the company and position. Both of which are topics for another article.

What are employers looking for?

Is there a wrong answer? Not really. It’s how you answer it, for the most part. There’s no way to change the past, so your calm response is the best policy. They want transparency, not lies. They also don’t want a drawn-out story; your answer should be brief.

If you become emotional, it will send a negative message to interviewers. If you hesitate, they may distrust you or question your resolve.

Three possible scenarios

Let’s look at the reasons why people lose their job and how to address them.

1. You were laid off

This is easiest way to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last position?” As mentioned above, your answer should be short and sweet. You may say, “The company had to cut cost and restructure after a poor second quarter.”

To beat them to the punch, you might add, “I was among 15 people in my group who were laid off. I was told by my manager that she was sad to see me go.” The reason for doing this is because you might get a follow-up question about how many people were laid off.

Caveat: some people think being laid off is the same as being let go or fired. It is not. Being laid off is do to company failure.

2. You were let go

This is harder to explain, but not impossible to come up with a viable answer. This especially needs a short answer. It’s important that you are transparent and self-aware with your answer. In other words, if you were at fault, be honest about it.

You must also explain what you learned from the experience and state that it will not be repeated. Perhaps it was a conflict of personality between you and your manager, poor performance, or a “mutual departure.”

Conflict of personality. “A new manager took over our department. I was used to the way the previous person managed us. The new manager had a different style, which I didn’t adapt to quick enough. I now understand I need to be more adaptable to other types of management.”

Poor or inadequate performance. “As the project manager of my department, I was responsible for delivering a release of a new data storage software. We failed to meet the deadline by a week. My VP saw this as unexceptionable.  I see where I could have done a better job of managing the team.”

Caveat: the interviewer might want to dig deeper into the situation. Be prepared to answer the questions directly with little emotion. Always keep a cool head. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about your previous boss.

3. You quit or resigned

To quit a position—especially without a job in hand—means there was an existing problem. One common reason I hear for quitting is a conflict of personality with the employee’s supervisor. Another one is a toxic work environment. And a lame reason I hear is because advancement was not possible.

Regardless, a red flag will go up with interviewers if you quit your position. What some people don’t realize is that you give up your right to collect unemployment, if you quit; another reason why this is not a great scenario.

Conflict of personality. “My previous boss and I didn’t see things eye-to-eye on certain decisions he made, and tension was high, so I decided the best move for me was to resign. I realize I could done a better job of accepting his ideas.”

Unsafe environment. “I felt the work environment was not as safe as I was comfortable with. For example, there were many fire hazards in the warehouse. Additionally, the air quality was tested, and it failed. I feel fortunate that my wife brings in a substantial income; otherwise I might have stuck it out longer. My only regret is that I miss the people with whom I worked.”

Caveat: again, it is important to be transparent and honest when answering this question. To simply say you quit or resigned is not good enough. Do not be bitter when you answer this question; just state facts.


Always expect the question, “Why did you leave your last job.” Any interviewer who doesn’t ask this question isn’t doing his job. The reason for departure is essential information. I find this traditional question to be one of the most important ones for job candidates to able to answer.

Not hired? It’s not you; it’s your EQ

If you’re a job seeker, you probably place a lot of importance on your resume, matching it to positions you see advertised online.

Not-Hired_EQ_Website-Post

Relevant experience: check.

Degree: check.

Skills: check. Additional certifications preferred: check check check.

Add a well-written, convincing cover letter, and your hook, line, and bait are cast.

All of these are important in your job search. In fact, they can set you apart from applicants who don’t pay as close attention to the details of the job description, or how they write their resume.

But what ultimately matters has less to do with academic credentials and experience and more to do with likeability.

“Book smarts” don’t always translate into “people smarts.”

Have you been passed over for a job or promotion by someone less qualified? Sometimes, the reasons are beyond our control (budget cuts, restructuring). Sometimes, it’s because we aren’t part of the “in-crowd.” And sometimes, it’s a matter of chemistry or cultural fit. Many times, it boils down to personality trumping talent.

What can you do about it? Sometimes nothing. And sometimes, you need to be honest with yourself.

How likeable are you?

Contrary to popular belief, being likeable isn’t something we’re born with (like charisma), nor is it a medal bestowed upon a lucky few. Being likeable is something we control. It’s a matter of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

It takes a lot of maturity to be realistic about your own weaknesses (and likeability), and it takes even more maturity to invest time and energy to work on resolving them. Many otherwise competent professionals fail to do this, or are simply unaware that it is necessary.

It may not be what or who you know

In school, we’re taught that success is what we know. As we get older, we begin to realize that success is also who we know.

There’s a third factor too: how well we use the first two factors. This is our ability to perceive, understand, and regulate our emotions. It’s also sensing what others are feeling and knowing how to react in order to reduce tension and conflict, and promote “win-win” relationships. To survive and thrive in the workplace, we need to be able to draw on these skills at the right time.

“EQ gets you through life; IQ gets you through school.”
–Susan Dunn

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a measurement of one’s mental “horsepower”, cognitive capacity, or, in other words, one’s ability to think and reason. Studies suggest that though IQ may have a casual influence on academic achievement, it does not have a statistically significant influence on job performance.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), is a measurement of how effectively we recognize our own emotions and those of others, how we interact with and engage with others, and how well we cope with our daily demands.

EQ is a major building block to effective collaboration, communication, and teamwork, and thus has a strong impact on the business world. Navigating the “human factor” is perhaps more important than technical or job-related skills. In fact, organizational research consistently proves that EQ is essential for success in today’s workplace.

While IQ remains stable throughout one’s life, EQ can be learned and improved. And so can likeability.

EQ ≠ Likeable

…but being likeable has a lot to do with EQ. And being likeable is key to getting hired and promoted.

So what is likeability? According to Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, likeability comes down to 4 critical elements of personality:

  • Friendliness: Your ability to communicate liking and openness to others
  • Relevance: Your capacity to connect with others’ interests, wants, and needs
  • Empathy: Your ability to recognize, acknowledge, and experience other people’s feelings
  • Realness: The integrity that stands behind your likeability and guarantees its authenticity

What’s more, TalentSmart research data shows that people who possess these qualities aren’t just highly likeable – they outperform, by a large margin, those who don’t possess these qualities.

Become more Likeable: Enhance your EQ

Yes, intelligence matters. But if you’re not likeable, your chances of landing a good job and getting a good promotion are slim. You’ll have a greater chance of success if you can master your likeability – and that means enhancing your EQ.

Here’s how you can start:

  • Friendliness. Many of us are so focused on ourselves that we don’t take the time to notice others. To be likeable, you have to let your guard down a little bit and show that you’re a nice person.

EQ Connection. Warm up your face, note your body language, pay attention to what others are saying and make them feel at ease. This ultimately helps others feel appreciated, encouraging solid relationships built on confidence and trust.

  • Relevance. We become relevant to others when we’re genuinely interested in and intrigued by them. This gives us a better shot at capturing the attention of others, and others are more likely to remember us and hear what we say.

EQ Connection. Take notice of what makes people tick. Make an effort to talk to people in-depth – without preconceived notions. Emotionally Intelligent people are curious about others and fascinated by human behavior. They ask questions to get to know people, and once they do, they’re generous and non-judgmental.

  • Empathy. People whose primary focus is themselves aren’t very likeable. On the other hand, people who are able to step outside themselves and understand and relate to others rate much higher on the likeability scale.

EQ Connection. Regardless of how you’re feeling inside, there are some things you can do on the outside – such as making nice gestures toward others and offering compliments – to demonstrate empathy and build rapport. Emotionally Intelligent people are able to easily put themselves in the shoes of another, and their words and actions are genuine (they don’t come across as fake!).

  • Realness. Authenticity and genuineness (not expertise) inspires trust and credibility. When you’re open and honest, others won’t have to guess your motivations or intentions; they’ll trust what they see.

EQ Connection. Focusing on your credibility requires boosting your self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent people are willing to talk about themselves in a candid, non-defensive manner. They also recognize how their feelings and behavior affect others, providing them control over potentially alienating behavior.

Your likability has an enormous impact on your perceived value. Not hired? No, it’s probably not “you”, but your EQ.

Edythe Richards is a Certified EQ-i 2.0/EQ-i 360 Practitioner, Myers-Briggs® Master Practitioner, and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW).

So you didn’t get the job; ask yourself 3 questions

So you didn’t get the job you wanted. You nailed the phone interview, had great rapport with the recruiter, he loved you and said you’re in consideration for the face-to-face. But you don’t hear back from him. Crickets.

Rejection2

In my Interview workshops I ask people if they’ve had a telephone interview lately. Some raise their hand, so I ask them how the interviews went. Their typical response, “Not so well. I didn’t get to the next step.”

They were probably right for the job but didn’t have one of the three components employers’ look for—they didn’t meet the technical requirements for the job. Having the other two components, willing to do the job and being a good fit, just didn’t cut it.

Let’s face it, recruiters, are foremost concerned about your ability to handle the task assigned to you. The other two components are important, but the first priority is meeting the job specifics. Their job is to determine if you have the technical skills.

This is wrong according to Mike Michalowicz ‘s article in WSJ.com called The Best Recruits May Not Be Who You Think, but many employers don’t realize the value of the variable. He writes:

“When hiring new employees, most recruiters consider qualifications first – and last. They’re looking for someone with the best education, the most experience and the most impressive skills. This is a mistake because you can teach employees what you want them to know, you can give them the experience you want them to have, but you can’t change who they are on a fundamental level. Their attitude, values, willingness and work ethic are all ingrained in them.”

Let’s take a marketing specialist position that lists the following requirements:

  1. Familiarity with data storage software.
  2. Write copy for direct mail and electronic distribution, including web content.
  3. Manage relations with appropriate departments.
  4. Coordinate projects with outside vendors.
  5. Speaking with media, partners, and customers.
  6. Research competitors’ websites and reporting activity.
  7. Coordinate trade shows.
  8. Photo shoots/animation development, webinars, product launch planning.
  9. Willingness to travel 25%.
  10. Plus a Master’s Degree in Marketing preferred.

Now, if the other candidates have all the technical ingredients for the job, and you’re lacking webinar production experience and coordinating projects with outside vendors, have limited experience speaking with the media; the decision of whether you advance to the next round may be based on your lack of experience.

You may be perceived as someone who is motivated to work at the company, because you express enthusiasm for the duties and challenges presented; and come across as a great personality fit, because you demonstrate adaptability to any environment and management style. But these components usually aren’t weighed as heavily by recruiters.

The fact is that most recruiters must be assured that you can hit the ground running. They want to hire someone who has 80%-100% of the requirements under their belt. You can’t beat yourself up for not getting the job, despite shining in every other way.

CareerCenterToolBox.com published an article called 5 Things You Need to do After the Interview, in which one of the things suggested was to evaluate your performance. It says: “Right after the interview, recall what happened. You need to start by asking yourself these three vital questions:

  1. What went wrong?
  2. What went right?
  3. What can be improved?

As I tell my workshop attendees, “What went wrong?” was probably the fact that another candidate presented herself as more qualified for the position based on her experience. Or there are other reasons that were out of your control.

Read about 10 reasons you’re not a fit for the job.

What went right? You stood up to the pressure of an interview and presented an articulate, thoughtful, and personable candidate. You answered all their questions with confidence and poise, maintained eye contact.

When asked about direct experience, you highlighted transferable skills that would make the transition seamless. You learned more about what is expected at an interview.

What can improve? Ideally you’ll apply for jobs where you have 80%-100% of the job-related requirements; but don’t shy away from jobs where you only meet 75% of the requirements, because occasionally employers see other qualities in you other than the alphabet soup. Please don’t throw in the towel yet. Keep fighting the good fight!

Photo: Flickr, Sheila Janssen

4 qualifications job candidates must demonstrate during the interview

It’s no secret that job seekers must satisfy three requirements to land a job:

  1. They can do the job.
  2. They will do the job.
  3. They will fit in.

motivated-girl

These three requirements are the foundation of a complete candidate.

There’s also a fourth piece to the puzzle. It is often overlooked, but some companies place more importance on it than any of the other requirements. This fourth requirement is the cause of much consternation for many a job seeker. Can you guess what it is?

Let’s take a look at these three requirements every candidate must satisfy – and the mysterious fourth one as well:

1. Can You Do the Job?

Of course interviewers won’t ask the question so directly. Rather, they’ll pose more indirect questions, like:

“What skills and experience do you see being necessary to do the job?”

“Tell me about a time when you handled problem X.”

“What kind of experience do you have in the area of Y?”

And you should always be prepared to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question.

For many employers, this is the most important requirement for any potential employee to meet – but the following three cannot be overlooked.

2. Will You Do the job?

Employers want to know how motivated you are. They’ll want to know if you’ll enjoy the responsibilities and support the mission of the organization. Will you work until the job is finished?

You may have to field a question like, “Why do you want to work for this company?” Think about it: Would you, as an employer, want to hire someone who isn’t totally into working for your company? Probably not.

Or, “Tell us which responsibilities of the job you will enjoy taking on. And why?”

“Tell us about a time when you took on a challenge you thought was insurmountable.”

How can you prove your desire to take on the responsibilities of the position or work for the company? Stories using the situation-task-action-result (STAR) formula are a great way to demonstrate your motivation and passion for the job.

3. Will You Fit?

Showing that you’ll be a good fit is tough to do, but it’s a concern many employers have. It’s all about your personality. They don’t want to hire someone who won’t get along with coworkers.

In this area, you’re likely to face behavioral questions, such as, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate colleague.”

Or, “What’s your definition of a team, and how have you been a team player in the past?”

To some employers, your cultural fit will be even more important than your technical skills. Technical skills can be learned, but it can be difficult – if not impossible – to learn new personality traits.

Can you train someone to become more sensitive? What about teaching a talkative person to become a listener? Can you improve the attitude of someone who has difficulty interacting with other departments? The answer to all these questions is probably “no.”

4. The Final Requirement: Are You Affordable?

dollar-signAs stated above, some employers stress this requirement even more than the others – especially when landing a candidate who costs less is a priority. Sure, a candidate who meets the other three requirements would be ideal, but not always necessary.

During an interview, the first question out of the recruiter’s mouth might be related to salary: “What do you expect for salary?” or “What did you make at your last company?” These salary questions could come during the phone or in-person interview, so make sure you’re prepared to answer in a way that doesn’t cause you to lose out on the salary you deserve.

Don’t be surprised if you’re out of this employer’s price range – it can happen.

Salary negotiation makes some people’s skin crawl because they see it as a confrontation. In fact, it’s a straightforward affair. Companies don’t want to pay you too little because it can lead to resentment. However, this is business, so employers aren’t going to give away the farm, either.


Being able to address the three most obvious concerns employers have is what gets you to the fourth concern – can they afford you? If you do a great job meeting the first three requirements, the last one should go smoothly – as long as you’re reasonable.

This article appeared in Recruiter.com.

 

Being selfish and 3 other tips for your job search

For job seekers who are being held back in their search for employment, understand that nothing should hold you back from doing what’s necessary.

Selfish job search

After sitting with a client to talk about her job search and realizing she wasn’t allowed to conduct it the way she had to, I lectured her on how nothing should impede her progress. She was surprised by my stern voice, but I think she got the message.

We often think of the job search as consisting of writing our marketing documents, preparing for interviews, networking, and using LinkedIn. But there are intangible factors that need to be considered by the job seeker; the first of which is being selfish. Maybe this isn’t the optimal word, but it comes down to demanding the time you need to conduct a successful job search.

Being selfish (demand the time you need)

This is one of the messages I impart to my Introduction to the Job Search workshop attendees. I tell them, “OK, I need to tell you something; and I want you to listen.”  And for effect I pause to make sure all eyes are on me. They must think I’m going to say something brilliant, but what I tell them is:

In your job search, you can’t let anyone get in your way of looking for a job. You can’t let anyone tell you to watch the kids or grandchildren. You can’t let anyone tell you to do some errands that will take up your whole day. No home projects, unless the pipes have burst. Do you get what I mean?

Almost everyone of my attendees nod in agreement; some lower their head and look at the desk. After another moment of pause, I tell them that there are other things to consider when they’re conducting their job search. Things other than their résumé and interviewing skills.  

Show a positive attitude

Throughout your job search, it’s important to display a positive attitude. The operative word is “display.” I’m not going to preach the importance of feeling positive and all happy inside. I’ve been unemployed and know how it sucks, so how you feel is really a personal matter.

I am, however, advising you to appear positive. This begins with the way you dress for the day. Because it is entirely possible that you may run into someone who may have the authority to hire you or know someone who has the authority to hire you, it’s important that you are dressed well. Not to the 9’s mind you, but certainly not in sweat pants and a Tee-shirt.

Other ways to show a positive attitude have more to do with your behavior, such as suppressing anger, wearing a friendlier countenance, making an attempt to be more outgoing, and (this is tough) not showing your desperation.

One of my customers comes across as angry. He always mentions how long he’s been out of work when asked to talk about himself, a no-no when asked to explain the value you present to employers. (This also applies to your presence on LinkedIn.)

Be dedicated to your job search, but don’t burn out

If you’re going to demand the time it takes to conduct your job search, you have to show your loved ones that you are serious about your job search; not rising late, lounging in you pajamas, watching Ellen, going out with the buds at night, etc.

How can you rightfully deny those around you who need your assistance when they don’t see any effort from you? You can’t. They don’t see any dedication in the job search from you, so naturally they’ll want you to pull your weight in other ways.

I ask my customers how many hours they worked a week when employed. Most of them report more than 40 hours. I then ask them if they need to dedicate this much time to their job search–to which they say yes.

To their surprise, I disagree with them. Twenty-five to 30 hours a week is plenty, I tell them. Any more than this may lead to burn out. I say look smarter, not harder. But looking smarter requires a well thought-out plan.

Have a plan 

The best way to strive toward a goal is by creating a Career Action Plan (CAP) and following it as closely as you can. Sure there will be times when you slip and miss a date or change your plan around. This should not discourage you and cause you to abandon your plan. Your plan may look similar to this:

  1. Early-morning: take a walk or go to the gym, then eat breakfast.
  2. Mid-morning: attend a networking group, or go to workshops at your local career center.
  3. Noon: gather with some networking buddies for lunch (you can write these lunches off).
  4. Mid-afternoon: Volunteer at an organization where you’re utilizing your skills and learning new ones.
  5. Evening: eat dinner with family or friends.
  6. Early-evening: use LinkedIn to connect with more people.

Note: Your activities will vary from day to day, and you may include other activities, such as meeting with recruiters or using job boards or going door-to-door and dropping off a résumé (yes, this works); but the outline is similar.

When you show those around you your CAP they’ll realize you’re serious about your job search and will most likely encourage you to follow through with your objectives. Keep them updated during your week to show them your progress, or post it on the refrigerator. Most importantly you’ll feel better about your job search, especially if you’re meeting the majority of your objectives.

Back to my client

Being selfish…I mean demanding time for their job search…is difficult for some folks, who feel the need to be of help to others before helping themselves. But it’s a necessary component of a successful job search . Of course I stress to my workshop attendees the importance of supporting those around them when they have spare time…but only when they have spare time.

Photo: Flickr, bm_adverts

5 ways for job seekers to discover their greatness

“Greatness” I call it, because you have demonstrated it in your career in the form of accomplishments. It has set you apart from your colleagues and competitors. You’ve achieved accomplishments, whether you realize or not.

business lunch

Unfortunately you might be someone who thinks of what you did at work as something…you simply did?

I was talking with a colleague and dwelling on the fact that I felt I haven’t accomplished as much as I would have liked. “What do you mean,” she said. “You’ve developed tons of workshops and get great reviews. You started a LinkedIn group and developed three workshops on LinkedIn. That shows innovation, initiative, and knowledge….”

Enough already I thought; I get the point. I’m simply too close to…me…I guess. I need to step back and hear from others what I’ve accomplished.

One of my valued connections and an executive résumé writer, Laura-Smith Proulx, explained this quandary of not recognizing one’s accomplishments.

“Most executive leaders and skilled professionals are subject matter experts in all types of leadership competencies, from strategic planning to team delegation. However, when asked to describe their strengths, most of them will resort to tactical or skills-based descriptions, rather than illustrating the ways in which they add strategic value.”

Plainly speaking, even high-performing job seekers have a hard time seeing what they’ve accomplished, who they are. While important in writing a powerful résumé, there are other aspects of your job search that require self-awareness.

Here’s what you do to gain the self-awareness to see what you’ve accomplished at work.

1. First  and most importantly, ask others you work with (or worked with) about what you’ve accomplished. Invite them to have coffee with you or simply talk with them on the phone.

Others (we’ll call them allies) can see the greatness in you because they have different perspectives. At this point you only have one…yours. But they’re not as close to what you’ve done as you are. I bet, like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

2. After you’ve listen to what your allies say, write a list of 10-15 accomplishments, maybe double this amount if you’re an executive level job seeker. Writing your list will etch your accomplishments in your mind. Review this list over and over until you can remember the details.

Don’t confine yourself to work-related accomplishments, although they are of more interest to employers. Next to each duty statement, write the word “Result” or “And.” Sometimes there isn’t a positive result. Leave them off your list.

3. Devise or revise a résumé that clearly reflects your accomplishments. Don’t be concerned about length; you’ll modify your résumé for each job, removing the accomplishments that aren’t pertinent as you send your résumé to A-list companies.

Show your new résumé to your allies and ask for their opinions, focusing on the positives. Keep in mind that some of your allies may be busy and won’t be able to get back to you immediately. Don’t push.

Read this popular post on receiving opinions on your résumé.

4. Write seven or so unique stories that tell about your major accomplishments. If you want more guidance on this, read Katharine Hansen’s book, Tell Me About Yourself, Chapter 2: How to Develop Career-Propelling Stories.

Katharine talks about loads of important skills employers are looking for that are ideal for your stories. You’ll want to modify your stories for different situations, and this will further help you in gaining self-knowledge. Again, show your stories to your allies.

5. Rehearse your stories. Recite them to friends, family, networking partners, to anyone who will listen. Relating your stories to others will give you a sense of pride and increase your self-esteem. This is a key component in understanding who you are.

As well, your allies will get a better sense of who you are, what  you’ve done, and, most importantly, what you’ve accomplished. By writing and rehearsing your stories, you will better prepare for answering behavioral-based questions.


You know what you’ve done, but how can you tell effective stories that illustrate your worth to your current/past employers? How can you show your worth to prospective employers if you’re having a hard time seeing them?

It’s as if your accomplishments might be hidden in a bush, always there but unseen by you. To uncover your greatness, rely on your allies and ask them for help.

Photo: Flickr, Baden-Wuerttemberg

4 steps necessary to prepare for behavioral-based questions

During our career center orientation, I ask the participants if they’ve been asked behavioral-based questions. Then I say, “If you find this type of question difficult to answer, keep your hands up.” Almost all hands are still raised.

Future2

I’m not surprised when job seekers in my orientation admit that behavioral-based questions are difficult to answer, given the fact that this type of question is meant to get to the core of the applicant.

Surprisingly, not enough interviewers ask behavioral-based questions. Instead they fall back on traditional questions that lack creativity and can be answered with rehearsed replies. “What are your two greatest weaknesses?” or “Why should I hire you?” are two examples of predictable traditional questions that are easy to prepare for.

In addition, traditional questions  can be answered theoretically—in other words, the candidate hasn’t performed, or failed to perform, the desired competencies successfully. The candidate can essentially tell the interviewer whatever he/she wants to hear.

What is difficult about answering behavioral-based questions is that they demand the candidates to address specific times when they’ve performed certain skills and then tell stories about those times. To be successful, candidates need to do the following:

1. Understand the requirements of the job

In order to prepare for a behavioral interview, it requires acute knowledge of the position’s requirements. If you are able to identify eight or more competencies required for the position, you can predict, within reason, the types of questions that will be asked.

For example, if the job ad calls for someone who is organized, demonstrates excellent verbal and written communications, is a leader, etc., you can expect questions such as:

“Tell us about a time when your organization skills resulted in a smooth delivery of services.”

“Give me an example of when your verbal communications skills made it possible for you to solve a conflict between colleagues.”

“Tell me about a time when your leadership faltered and resulted in a conflict between a subordinate and you. What did you learn from your error?”

2. Write the stories for each question

Questions like these will require you to tell a compelling story for each of these skills. How you tell your stories is important. They will consist of a beginning, middle, and end. You should write your stories because you will remember what we’ve written better than by simply trying to remember them.

When you write the stories, use the S.T.A.R. formula. The beginning is the Situation and (your) Task, the middle consist the Actions taken to meet the situation, and the end is the positive, or negative, Result.

Following is an example of an answer for a behavioral-based question. The question is, “Tell me about a time when you collaborated on a successful project.”


Situation: As part of a three-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue operating an outside program funded by the Department of Labor.

Task: I was given the task writing a detailed report of our participants’ training experience and the jobs they secured with the assistance of a dedicated job placement specialist.

Actions: I started with noting how I recruited 80 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 50 participants. This required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their training, which included Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and Agile. Then explaining how this training would help the participants secure employment in their targeted careers.

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.

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 took it upon myself to approach various manufacturing companies in the area in order to place 40 of our participants.

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 editing the report and making sure it 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 three more years. In addition, the DoL told our director that our report was the best one they’ve received.


3. Rehearse your stories

The story above, as written, takes approximately two minutes to read. This is stretching it in terms of time, so you’ll want to rehearse your stories to the point where they’re more concise, yet maintain their value.

You can talk about them in front of a mirror or deliver them to a live audience, like your friend, neighbor, or family member. The latter is probably the best method to use, as you will not only speak them aloud; you’ll speak them aloud to someone who may make you a tad bit nervous.

Do not try to memorize every little detail of each story. You may fumble with your stories during an interview. Also, you will forget some of the smaller details, but don’t get down on yourself when this happens. Just make sure you hit the major points.

4. Be prepared for zingers

In the interview, you may face questions that take you off guard. Perhaps the stories for which you prepared and rehearsed only end with positive results.

Keep in mind that not all questions will call for a positive results; some interviewers will ask about a time when you failed. Obviously you don’t want to elaborate on these situations.

And don’t answer negative questions with stories that describe the downfall of your company. Therefore, it’s important to write brief stories that end with negative results. A popular question is: “Tell us about a mistake you made and how you rebounded from the mistake.

Interviewers who ask negative questions are smart. Would it make sense to you to learn only about the positive side of the candidates? No. Smart interviewers need to know the good, bad, and  ugly.


How many stories are necessary?

One wonderful thing about stories is that they often reveal more skills than the interviewer originally asked for. For example, the story I provided above reveals the following skills: coordination, outreach, interviewing, interpersonal, initiative, writing, and more.

Photo: Flickr, cthoma27