Job applicants are often urged to use action words and to cite measurable achievements.
That’s all well and good. There is, however, an important item to include at the interview, when you are describing what you did on a particular project or job: Give your interviewers the dramatic context.
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This doesn’t mean that you need to go into lengthy or colorful explanations. It simply means that you should give them the larger perspective and let them know what went into your decisions. By describing the potential managerial, political, financial, and legal risks that had to be considered, you provide your listeners with a sense of what could have gone wrong and a greater appreciation of what was achieved.
Conveying a “you are there” perspective introduces a touch of drama at a point where many applicants prefer to let the numbers do the talking. Consider these examples:
Example One: “My team and I worked with supervisors and middle managers to increase supervisory training, share lessons learned, and reduce employee complaints from 115 to ten.” That’s not bad, but it doesn’t reveal what you had to overcome on the road to ten complaints.
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Example Two: “My team and I worked with a group of relatively inexperienced supervisors and middle managers to increase supervisory training, share lessons learned, and reduce employee complaints. There were several things we had to avoid. We didn’t want to discourage legitimate complaints nor did we want to signal that supervisors should do anything to prevent complaints. Sometimes, complaints are a healthy sign because they show that people are willing to give the system a chance to fix problems. There are also occasions when supervisors need to stand their ground. We wanted to be sensitive to both concerns. We wound up reducing complaints from 115 to ten while at the same time boosting morale. We also increased the confidence of our management team. As we reviewed the process, we discovered that one supervisory practice produced far more beneficial consequences than all of the others.”
The second example permits a glimpse into how you think. It tells more than the first about your surroundings and discloses a great deal of your sensitivity to the downside of well-intended practices. The story reminds your interviewers of something they already know--that all achievements carry a potential price--and it shows that you take such costs into account. The last line, of course, is a cliffhanger. You can either wait for them to ask or you can provide the answer on your own but either way you’ve drawn them into your story.
They are with you and they want to hear more. That’s a positive development for any applicant.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.