Interviews: Stand out from the clowns

Society thinks everyone should be a performer.[QQ] You know, the sort of person who can entertain a group at the drop of a hat and is always very sure of themselves. It is perhaps not surprising that these people tend to be the best at job interviews too.

Making a good impression in an interview is very important, but some people are not comfortable about selling themselves, or feel contrived. They just want to be themselves and hope they will get the job on the basis of their merits. But it’s difficult to be natural in a pressured situation, where you are constantly worried about whether you are saying or doing the right thing.

Securing a job interview is difficult enough, so when you do get the opportunity, you really cannot afford to leave the outcome to chance.

The majority of people conducting the interviews don’t particularly relish the prospect either. It’s often a daunting task trying to narrow down the shortlist of applicants to find a successful candidate. It’s a good idea to put yourself in the interviewer’s position and think about what their expectations are.

First the good news – it is possible to prepare in a genuine way, yet give the interviewer what they are looking for, without having to compromise who you are. You can be interesting and vibrant without being phoney or over the top.

Most people are not natural performers, but the steps outlined below are designed to help you feel prepared, confident and relaxed. Using these techniques, you will be able to create a good rapport with the interviewer, which will help to foster the impression that you are part of the team.

The intention is to set yourself apart from other candidates and improve your chances of progressing to the next stage of interviews and eventually to secure the job. Either way, you’ll feel genuinely comfortable, and you’ll lay the groundwork that will make any future interviews less daunting.

The concept is simple – create a short story about each job you have had. Each story will have the same basic components, but will be unique and will relate to your CV. Each story will communicate that you are a person who identifies problems, takes action and gets results.

Each ‘accomplishment story’ follows the same formula – problem, action, results; the problem or challenge you noticed, the actions you took to solve the problem and the quantifiable results that you achieved.

Step One
Start with several sheets of paper. On the first, make a short list of things you have accomplished during your career. Just use free association and think back, without organising the list. Just let things flow and write them down. One thing leads to another. Spend at least five to 10 minutes on this process. Write the basics, not details. We will get to those later.

Step Two
Using the first page for reference, title each page with a job you had. Put them in order if you can, but only to help organise them, it’s not necessary.

Step Three
One at a time, copy one of the problems you listed from the first page to the appropriate job page. If you have more than one for a job, choose the very best one. If you feel you need two accomplishment stories for a job, that’s fine. Usually, one is all you need, but use your own judgment.

It would be difficult to over-prepare this part of your job search. Don’t worry about generating too many. You’ll find that your stories come in handy after your job search is over, too. For example, if you are asked to introduce yourself at a meeting, you could use a modified version of one of your stories.

Step Four
Look at the job pages and eliminate the ones that are not on your CV – you may use them later, if you wish. For now, you should focus on the main ones that relate to the jobs on your CV.

Step Five
Flag each problem on your job page with the letter P. This will become the first paragraph of your accomplishment story.

Step Six
Starting with one job page, look at the problem and start to formulate the actions you took to solve this problem. What were the steps you took? Put your personality into it. Instead of saying you have empathy, use an example that demonstrates your empathy. Such as, ‘I nearly cried’, or ‘it was so funny, I laughed out loud’. Flag these with the letter A. These will become the second paragraph of your accomplishment story.

Step Seven
Now think about summing it up with the facts. Write some random facts related to the story below the A paragraph and flag these with the letter R. If you need to embellish, it’s OK, but keep it real.

For example: The new form saved the staff of 12 more than eight minutes per day, which saved the company £2,100 every month. This will be the final paragraph of your accomplishment story. It will provide a dynamic point to end on. Think of it like the punch line of a joke, which needs to be fast and upbeat. It leaves them wanting more. Leave it that way – to get more, they’ll have to hire you.

Step Eight
Go back over each story and tighten it up. This is the hard part. Take the time to write and re-write each statement until it rolls off your tongue easily and in a spontaneously convincing way. But make sure you don’t take out your personality. And make sure it’s not just a collection of dry facts.

Step Nine
Rehearse your story, and then try it on your friends or family. Do not memorise it, though, the idea is to have the story on the tip of your tongue, as an answer that will sound as if you are just telling it fresh, during the interview.

It is good to start with ‘let me tell you a little story’. Just make sure it is not a long or big story. If the interviewer is interested in knowing more, they will ask. If they do, don’t talk too much – knowing when to stop talking is also very important. It’s also better to be interested rather than interesting.

Randy Schroeder is a media consultant based in California. For more information, see

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