Ace Interviews and Tell Better Stories

Interview skills are the single highest-payoff capability anyone can develop. Learning how to sell yourself will change your life

It’s impossible to know what questions you’ll be asked during your next behavioral interview, but there’s an approach to handle anything and land the offer. This article introduces practice questions, a response framework to ace them, and a “storyboard” to organize your experience.

Behavioral interviews are grounded in theory. They flow from a belief that the way you’ve reacted to situations in the past can predict how you’ll react to similar situations in the future. These questions are selected to determine how suitable you are for roles in the hiring organization.

Thorough employers often conduct resume reviews and behavioral interviews by phone before candidates are scheduled for in-person interviews. These interviews usually consist of ten to twenty behavioral questions ranging from “tell me about a time when you worked for a difficult boss” to “give me an example where you had to influence a peer.” When questions are open-ended successful candidates deliver concise, relevant stories that describe their role in similar situations. Rambling answers that miss key points will knock you out of consideration so preparation counts.

Real questions from real interviews:

Experience suggests that even the most structured behavioral interviews include traditional questions and candidates must be prepared to answer both. Over the years I’ve asked workshop participants to  write down three common questions and the ones they fear most. Another exercise gave them a chance to work through responses together to develop strategies that target their weakest areas and present solutions to the rest of the group. It’s an effective way to form automatic responses that keep your answers on track and on time. Here’s the list:

Icebreakers designed to “get to know you:”

  1. Tell me about yourself?
  2. What did you do to prepare for this interview?
  3. Tell me about your education?
  4. You have college experience on your resume, did you earn a degree?
  5. Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
  6. How does this position fit into your career plans?

Traditional questions:

  1. Why should we hire you?
  2. Why do you want the job?
  3. Describe yourself in one word?
  4. Tell me about your career plans?
  5. Tell me something about yourself that no one in this room would know about you?
  6. Give me three words that each person would use to describe you: Supervisor; Peer; Direct Report?
  7. Why are you better than the other candidates in this pool/panel?
  8. Why do you think you are ready for this job?
  9. If you could lead your current department/division/company for one day what would you change?
  10. What is your most significant accomplishment?
  11. What is your greatest weakness?
  12. How would you determine if we should begin service in a particular market?
  13. If you were a tree what kind would you be?
  14. What kind of animal do you identify with?
  15. What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
  16. What’s your greatest weakness?
  17. What’s your greatest strength?
  18. What would your manager say about you that you need to change?
  19. If you could go back in time what period of your life would you relive and why?
  20. What the last book you read?
  21. If you were on the cover of a magazine, which one would it be and what would the story be about?

Opinion questions:

  1. What do you think about our ad campaign?
  2. What did you think about our latest earnings release?
  3. What do you think about our initiatives for next year?
  4. How do you feel about sick time?
  5. How would you change this company?

Behavioral questions:

  1. Describe an experience that helped you get ready for this?
  2. Tell me about a difficult co-worker?  How did you handle him/her?
  3. Tell me about a difficult supervisor?  How did you handle him/her?
  4. Tell me about a time when your supervisor asked you to lead a task you were uncomfortable with?
  5. Tell me about a stressful experience at work?
  6. Tell me about your biggest failure?
  7. Tell me about a time you used your strengths and what happened?
  8. Tell me about a time when you walked away from a sale?
  9. Have you ever fired a customer?  Tell me about it?

Case questions to evaluate problem solving skills:

  1. How many golf balls will fit in a Boeing 777?
  2. If an airplane takes-off at 130 mph on a 72 degree day using 4,500′ of runway, how much runway is required on a 100 degree day?
  3. How many tickets did the Rolling Stones sell on their last world tour?
  4. How much water did the city of Dallas use in the summer of 2015?
  5. How much energy does a satellite launch from Sea Launch save? Sea Launch is a towable marine-based platform that carries rockets to the equator for liftoff.

A Response framework for Behavioral questions – the STAR format

“Tell me about a time when…” is a powerful clue that you’re facing a behavioral question.

Behavioral questions and traditional questions demand preparation – it’s very easy to spend five, six, or ten minutes recapping endless details about a particular situation. When your question begins “tell me about a time when…” your story should be delivered thoughtfully, and contain several predictable elements. This framework will keep your answer on track and organizes your response.

Keep these principles in mind. Your response should provide background, details about your work, a challenge or specific result you were asked about, and a conclusion. All of this should be well-organized, delivered seamlessly, and in three-minutes or less. The interviewer is looking for a relevant, concise story, that fills-in enough detail to verify you’re experience met their criteria. Apply the STAR format to guarantee credit:

  1. Situation.
  2. Task.
  3. Action.
  4. Results.

Combine the first two steps. Spend 30 seconds setting up the “Situation” and “Task” – usually something like this: “When I worked as a budget analyst for Acme Corporation, I was responsible for my department’s sales forecast.”

Next deliver your “Actions.” Provide details about the task and challenge, and how you handled it. This is the meat of your answer, spend two minutes on it. It will sound like this: “Each month I sent worksheets to managers in the department and scheduled a follow-up conference call to review results and capture information about variances to plan, and build an up-to-date pipeline report. I also used the calls to cross-pollinate best practices within the department and ensure leaders were focused on their targets.”

Then conclude with “Results” – take thirty seconds to wrap-up. “Because I developed a pipeline report to identify where each opportunity was in our sales pipeline my forecasts were always within 1% of actual results.”

Plan to succeed – it works.

Pick a good story from your storyboard:

Mastering the STAR format is actually more important than the “Right” story. Each candidate will bring different experience to a role – by definition every response will be different – interviewers spend very little energy or attention to decide if your story was the “Best” from your experience – something that is unknowable to them.

Create instant recall by developing a grid to capture information about your previous roles and experience. Put jobs or assignments in different rows, and qualities, characteristics, and outcomes in the columns. Populate the cells with a story title, to aid your memory, and summarize actions and results. It should look like this:

Storyboard

There’s one more thing your practice should include – how to decline to answer a question. Most interviewers have a list of questions to choose from – if they ask you a question that forces you to select a poor fit, or worse, ended in failure – don’t answer. Pause for four seconds, and then say, “I don’t recall an experience like that – I’d like to pass on this one.” You can pass or decline in infinite ways although practice is always helpful to get you comfortable for the next time when you need a gracious answer.

Conclusion:

You’ll be amazed how quickly you can capture deep insights and catalog life experience to share during your next interviews and meetings. You don’t need 72 stories, but the more you remind yourself the better the fit and you’ll be well-prepared for any interview. This approach offers flexibility and adds diversity to your responses; it gives you a fighting chance to highlight relevant experience from different roles and situations.

Rock your next interview, ace behavioral interviews, and own your story. A thorough storyboard, along with practice responses to the questions listed here using the STAR format will dramatically improve your results.


For more detail about the STAR technique study this excellent post by Nagesh Belludi at his “Right Attitudes” blog. And for information about frameworks not covered here – specifically related to “case questions” review Marc Cosentino’s website Casequestions.com or his book, Case in point.

Coaching

What I’m Watching in 2019

One of my favorite moments in 2018 – when SpaceX’s “Falcon Heavy” put “Starman” in space to drive a Tesla for eternity and the boosters stuck a double-landing.  Now here’s what I’m watching in 2019:

  1. Fully autonomous cars offered for sale.
  2. Permits to allow humans to be carried by autonomous drones.
  3. Permits to allow single pilot operations in a “twin-aisle” cargo aircraft.
  4. Permit to allow autonomous operation of a commercial aircraft.
  5. George Bye’s Sunflyer will receive FAA certification.
  6. Better batteries – Solid state batteries with a substantially higher energy density than current Li-ion batteries.
  7. Solar panels with 2X efficiency of current panels.
  8. Power Over Ethernet lighting – POE Lighting.
  9. The first company to react to air quality complaints based on data from Plume Labs handheld air quality meters.
  10. The normalization of deterministic and probabilistic applications for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning as a patient analysis tool at the onset of a visit to a Doctor’s office (or no visit at all).
  11. The first announcement about a patient cured with CRISPR technology.
  12. Widespread 5G deployment (50% coverage in top 5 markets) then 50% in top 25 markets, then 100% in top 25 markets.
  13. The first company to be charged under the EU’s new Global Data Privacy Regulation – GDPR
  14. De-dollarization.
  15. College tuition costs to decline more than 25% and the Future of Education from Peter Diamandis.
  16. The Best of CES 2019.
  17. MIT’s Technology Breakthrough list for 2019 – due sometime at the start of Q2 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coaching

Deloitte’s CORE Leadership Program teaches Veterans the art of personal reinvention

Change is hard – it requires effort, it takes time, and demands gut-checks that are uncomfortable.

Thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen leave the service every year. Their choice means leaving behind a strong sense of purpose, service, leadership, teammates, co-pilots, neighbors, classmates, responsibility, and a life they understood and knew how to navigate. As a group, Veteran’s have more management, leadership, and decision-making experience than civilians twenty-years senior to them, but they often lack interview skills and job search experience. This is a gap Deloitte’s CORE Leadership Program fills.

Deloitte University

A few weeks ago Deloitte volunteers completed another three-day CORE Leadership Program for 50 Veteran’s in transition. Participants were selected to attend a series of workshops and networking events at Deloitte University (DU) to learn more about themselves, know their fit, know who to ask for help, and learn how to tell their stories effectively. Soon after the immersive program began Dorie Clark gave a powerful talk about personal reinvention.

Dorie’s an accomplished writer, speaker, and teacher who’s observations and ideas are supported by pivots from journalism, to politics, to non-profit leadership, then on to teaching, speaking, and writing for Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and other premier publications. Her talk about personal reinvention resonated with every person in the room.

Over the years I’ve witnessed capable peers, and accomplished employees, struggle. They either lacked confidence or story telling skills; they languished in jobs they were overqualified for because they didn’t know how to reinvent themselves. One of the greatest skills anyone can learn is how to interview well. Simply put – it’s a high payoff activity that gives people command over their careers, and it’s the reason CORE is so potent. The exercises, workshops, round-tables, practice interviews, and evenings at the “Barn” filled the middle.

The Barn

CORE ended on a Saturday afternoon – with a presentation by a Veteran, and two-time, Paralympic gold medal winner.

Here’s a preview at the risk of sharing too much with future CORE participants. During a raid the speaker activated an IED while moving to aid two Afghani Commandos who suffered serious injuries minutes earlier when they set off a 40lb explosive charge. Days after being flown back to the United States he learned devastating news. His situation changed – he had to reinvent himself.

This hero delivered an emotional, inspiring story. He offered more laughs than tears and called out many people who put themselves at risk or made other sacrifices to give him a second chance at life. He’s still adding chapters to his amazing story, and all of us have someone to cheer on in the 2016 Paralympic games.

Before CORE I thought about what I could offer, and how I could help. I left CORE  humbled, and more grateful for the Veterans who stepped-up after I left the Army seventeen years ago; I left filled with a sense of purpose and pride in Deloitte that is every CHRO’s “employee engagement” dream and I’m looking forward to meeting a new group of Veterans in February 2016.

Personal reinvention is hard, but a comprehensive roadmap exists. Please share this with service-members you know are ready to transition. Click here for more information about the CORE Leadership Program, including program eligibility and application requirements.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Coaching

Self-Confident Networking

Successful people are self-confident. Confidence alone doesn’t make you successful, but it’s so important it’s worth studying in detail.

Confidence has several ingredients – how we act, look, feel, what we say, and how we say it. Our body language, speech, and delivery influence people around us.  Amy Cuddy taught the world how “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” in a TED speech watched more than twenty-million times. We convey a lot of information about ourselves, our status, and how we’re feeling through our posture, body language, and how we move to establish personal space.

How do confident people act, walk, and talk? You know it when you see it. Let’s look at an effective teacher – the Military. Drill and ceremony rehearsals, confidence courses, the “gas chamber,” where Soldiers and Marines are inoculated against the fear of being hit with “tear gas” through the experience of being exposed to it. On demolition ranges where they learn how to throw live hand-grenades – safely. Airborne school, where Soldiers are turned into Paratroopers, and on countless missions, deployments and real emergencies that challenge participants to control their emotions to keep fear in check.

Early in my Military Police career I witnessed how attitudes affected preparation, readiness, and performance. I watched a five foot three inch, hundred and ten pound women control her fear to subdue a violent man twice her size. Phrases I half-believed then I embrace completely now – “fake it till you make it”, “when in charge, take charge, and when you’re not, act as if you are.” Confidence is not a substitute for competence, but it trumps alternative ways to approach life.

Training can be designed to teach tasks that together form skills that Soldiers or business-people master before they are qualified. Drown Proofing is a good example. It begins as a series of easy-to-achieve tasks. Soldiers are taught how to stay afloat and to make a flotation device from their clothing. The training culminates with a fully-clothed soldier, complete with kevlar vest, helmet, rifle, and boots thrown into the water. To pass, they need to stay afloat, no style points – as long as they don’t panic, they’ll get through it. And that’s true for anything you do in life – don’t panic.  More dramatic than conventional drown-proofing, this image shows Marines inside a helicopter mock-up as it rotates into water – you can watch the entire video on youtube here. This specialized training increased the survival rate for helicopter passengers caught in a forced-landing on water by several hundred percent.

Marines a modular Amphibious Egress Tank

Lessons learned in the Military can be applied to business. Networking is to business what drown-proofing is to Marines. Research on networking conducted at Harvard University adds evidence on this topic.

“Basically, the more “powerful” the person, the less they view “networking” as a “Dirty” activity. The lower power the person, the more they view it as a shameful chore. One implication for practice is that, to foster the advancement and effectiveness of professionals at low hierarchical levels, organizations need to create opportunities for emergent forms of networking, as those who need instrumental  networking the most are the least likely to engage in it.”

People I work with don’t need to do more good things better, they need to stop doing one thing poorly or step-up in situations where senior leaders wouldn’t hesitate. Usually it’s a single self-defeating inaction, or belief that stops them from moving forward. Self-confidence is the most common element their focus can fix to achieve the results they want. Think about how this could apply to you.

Gavin de Becker points out that young circus elephants are tied to a post with heavy chains they can’t break. Over time, they learn to stop trying, and eventually, as adults, they can be restrained with the flimsiest rope. What ropes are holding you back? Are you afraid, or lack confidence, or self-worth? Learn to be fearless.

Please “Like” and share if you found this useful!

Paul’s talk – “Personal Branding and Digital Footprints” is a discussion about how people connect, learn, and grow. He introduces ideas and techniques you can apply to achieve your goals, enhance your career, and help other people along the way.

Paul Laherty leads Deloitte’s relationship with several major airlines. Over the past fifteen years he’s led teams in Sales, Marketing, and Finance at American Airlines, Advito, Travelocity, Diio, and Cornerstone Information Systems. Paul’s an instrument-rated pilot, writer, speaker, world-traveler, former Army Officer, a husband, and father.  He helps people and organizations achieve significance, travel safely, and think differently. Paul publishes at paullaherty.com, and is open to connecting on LinkedIn at LinkedIn/paullaherty, or twitter @paul_laherty.

Coaching Risk Management Sales & Marketing

Babies and Billionaires are Assertive

The most assertive people I know are babies and billionaires. Babies demand attention when they’re hungry or have a dirty diaper, and great wealth isn’t acquired by those who think about questions but never ask them. I have an example – during the opening-night reception for the King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art the hushed crowd flowed into the signature room containing the King’s greatest treasures. An older man wandered in, and in a loud, familiar voice, asked, “Where’s the Mummy?” I turned around and found Ross Perot standing in the doorway.

In business, speaking, presenting, selling, and networking are common sources of stress. When a leader reacts calmly, and confidently to a stressful encounter, their emotional intelligence and leadership strengths shine.

Self-confidence is about overcoming fear. Fear motivates us, but it can also disable us, through panic, or over longer periods through the corrosive effects from elevated stress. Inoculation is a process to induce immunity from panic. Inoculation increases our ability to manage fear and to operate effectively when we’re exposed to the fear-inducing thing. Stunt pilots are trained to fly an airplane upside down, just a few feet off the ground, without engine power, while Firefighters learn to navigate hazards in the dark during simulations in a “burn tower.” Paramedics and ER physicians don’t panic when they have two minutes left to stabilize a trauma patient.  All of these people were exposed to conditions that simulated their worst-case scenarios to teach them how to respond. They developed reflexsive responses to save themselves and others from serious harm.

Good leaders know that you can reduce fear by pushing rising-stars in front of an audience to speak or being tasked with a presentation for the Board of Directors, or leading a project for a Senior Vice President. Inoculation against our fears expose courage, and assertiveness is the way we demonstrate it every day. Fear is in our minds most of the time.

Here are a few actions you can take that will increase your courage, and innoculate you against fear – be polite, but be assertive:

  1. In situations with lots of people including conferences, conventions, and large internal meetings – reintroduce yourself to people you should know. And if you can’t remember their name lead with this “Hi – my name is…, I know we’ve met, but I’ve forgotten your name!”
  2. Always let someone know if their out-of-office message has expired. When you check in to a hotel ask, “Is there anything I can do to receive a complimentary upgrade?”
  3. Stop eating food that wasn’t prepared the way you asked, and send it back to the kitchen.
  4. Spend time with a few people who seem to be fearless and watch what they do.

And if you’re still looking for something to really push your limits try a ToughMudder race – they offer great confidence challenges.

Over time you’re self-confidence will increase and situations you once viewed as stressful will become normal parts of your day.

 

Coaching

Work-Life Balance

We’ve all tossed around expressions about work life balance, and they have different meanings to different people. But how many of us actually keep track of our balance in a systematic way? What if you could measure your balance on a regular basis to uncover insights about your happiness or career satisfaction? Or learn how problems with your kids, partner, or other factors affect you in other areas of your life?

The “wheel of life” has a long history; it’s originally from the Indo-Tibet region – as the Bhavacakra. It’s a powerful way to identify areas in your life that require attention and help you move up the satisfaction food chain. Kevin Burgess describes four states people are always in: Survival, Sustainment, Success, and Significance. Where are you? As you fill out your wheel of life think about how problems in one area affect the others. You can create a simple radar chart in excel or download this chart here.

Life Wheel

Consider each category and assign a score.

1. Health

Are you generally healthy, other than the normal aches and pains that accumulate over the years? Do you get enough sleep and exercise? Are you comfortable with your weight? or battling habits and addictions like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or obsessive eating?

2. Family

Is your family supportive, available, and healthy? Are they a source of strength and encouragement or a drain? Are you caring for someone who is sick or disabled? or coping with a troubled child?

3. Friends

Do your friends push you forward or demand support? Are they coaches and cheerleaders or emotional vampires?

4. Finances

Are you doing well and saving for retirement, or does your income just cover your bills? Conversely, are you battling with medical bills, late fees, and home and auto repairs that threaten to swamp you? Give yourself a high score if you’ve paid off debts with a windfall.

5. Recreation

Do you have time for yourself and spend it on activities that you enjoy and look forward to, that energize you, and increase your satisfaction?

6. Personal Growth

Do you have written goals and a plan to achieve them? Is formal training part of your day-to-day life or something you avoid?

7. Career

Are you satisfied with the three “R’s” Responsibility, Recognition, and Rewards provided by your job? Is there a clear path to achieve your goals? Do you have the support you need to reach them?

8. Workspace

Your office space or work space should be ready for you to do your best work. Does it help you or get in the way? Is your space clean, and workable or cluttered and disorganized. Do you have to hunt for things when you need them, or are they ready for quick use?

9. Romance

Is your romantic life satisfying? Do you feel loved, and receive attention, affection, and support? Does your partner feel that way?

Once you’ve recorded your responses plot them on the wheel and add a score to describe your happiness, satisfaction, optimism, and choose which of Kevin’s four phases you’re in now – put the date on it and keep it at your desk. Revisit the wheel again in six months to learn how happiness, satisfaction, and optimism ebb and flow as multiple dimensions in your life change.

Coaching

Master Your Future

Several years ago I was trying to master cross-wind landings in an especially under-powered airplane on a gusty springtime day in North Texas. It was ugly. I was all over the runway – at one point even touching down with the nose pointed 30 degrees to the left of an enormous strip of concrete at Alliance Airport. I was frustrated and exhausted when my flight instructor broke in with encouragement I’ve found useful many times since. He said, “It’s your pony to ride.” He meant own it, make the plane do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it. Don’t let the wind knock you around – be the boss. Said another way, when in charge, take charge, and when you’re not, act as if you are. That’s great advice for anything you do – and it applies to leadership and self-improvement.

Have you ever tried to measure how much you’ve learned since your last graduation? Did the internet exist? Smart phones? Twitter, Linkedin, Salesforce.com, 3D printers, LEDs, SAP, Prezi, Dropbox, Office, Word, Excel, and all the other technology tools, gadgets and Software as a Service applications you’ve mastered? What have you learned about managing people, HR rules, federal regulations, tax laws, environmental regulations, and everything else you’ve focused on?  I’ll bet your working knowledge has increased at least 3% every year – if not more, and many skills seem to multiply the benefits of newer skills and information. There’s a cumulative effect. But what does that look like, and how would it impact you to find ways to be more efficient and to adopt new technology or processes before your peers? I’ll show you after a brief discussion about success.

High School reunions provide lots of material about how we predict and measure success. Yours and others. When you graduated it’s likely that you had an idea about how successful or unsuccessful your classmates would be. In most cases you had little information about your peers’ personal growth strategies so it was difficult to predict that the “C” student in your social studies class, the one who spent summers roofing new homes, would go on to own a $100 Million construction company, or the quiet kid in your English class would earn a law degree from Yale and end up as a Federal Judge. In High School, and beyond college, it’s too early to observe the cumulative effects of exponential growth. Over time skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom will dominate. It can take many years to rack up the score that other people use to measure progress. Successful people share a drive to learn new things and take risks. And many learn that failure doesn’t stop you unless you let it. Everyone fails, but some people keep trying.

It doesn’t matter what you measure, income, wealth, efficiency, knowledge, employees – pick your yardstick. Comparisons among three exponential growth rates 1%, 3%, and 6% lead to obvious difference over several years. A 6% improvement starts to bend up and away from the 3% line. Separation is evident over fifteen years, but the “Bend” is clear over twenty-five years.

15 year line

 

25 year line

Again, It doesn’t matter what you measure, what counts is that learning something new provides enormous benefits over many years.  Look at the same graph over thirty years – the 6% line bends upward in an increasingly obvious way. But what if there were opportunities for giant leaps? A promotion, a degree, a company started, a skill mastered? How would leaps impact the line for a life-long learner?

30 year line

In the next chart two 50% leaps have been added to the 6% line in early years. Maybe the leaps were generated by an advanced degree, but what if they flowed from starting a business that failed, or a second business that failed? You would be far smarter and wealthier from the experience. It doesn’t matter how your axis is labeled, the point is to see how gains can have a huge impact over years.

Performance Leaps

Obviously leaps have an enormous impact – especially when they occur early – but leaps create bends any time they happen – and that’s what you need to know to develop a plan that will separate you from the crowd. A final example – what happens to someone who catches a lucky break or a gets an unexpected promotion, while avoiding new skills or knowledge? Take a look.

Performance Crossover 1% and 3%A 1% annual improvement with a 50% leap in year 12, climbs past the steady 3%-er, but the effect isn’t long-lived, and slow and steady outperforms. This begins to look like a study in luck – or the idea that lucky people make themselves lucky. You’ve already seen how much separation occurs when the 6%-er received the lucky break – was that person lucky? or did they create the situation? Undoubtedly these charts demonstrate that meaningful progress to develop new skills can lead to big performance differences. Get a plan and start something to bend your line.

Coaching