It is said that improv artists know exactly what they will say before going on stage. It is all pre-planned. Does it surprise you to know they are not fully ad-libbing their routines? All they have to do is adapt pre-rehearsed stories based on the responses from the audience.
How to Prepare Your Act
Before your interview, review the job description's every requirement. And for each task and duty you have experience with, recall a specific example of a time when you did what they are looking for. These are called STAR stories or accomplishment stories. Additionally, research the company and the interviewer(s) thoroughly. Look for interesting experiences and facts you may be able to reference during the interview to build rapport.
What Should Your Answers Look Like?
A good STAR story is concise, with just enough detail and a quantifiable result. The STAR acronym helps you structure your answers. "S" stands for the situation. This is where you provide a very high level overview of the scenario. "T" stands for the task you were being asked to undertake or took initiative to solve. "A" stands for the actions you took. Use bullet points to state what you did, step by step. And finally, "R" stands for results. This would be the quantifiable outcomes of the steps you took to resolve the situation and task.
An example might be:
While working on a time-sensitive client project, I found the printer was jammed. I first reloaded the paper bins and followed the printer's error instructions, and within minutes the printer was back online. Not only was my report in the queue, but so were several other jobs. The final client report was proofed and delivered ahead of schedule, and I was able to deliver the other print jobs to their owners to keep their work flow on track as well.
What Should Your Answers Sound Like?
These compact stories pack a memorable punch. The results in your story can even help the interviewer understand the value you add to an organization. Some coaches say your answer should take between 60 seconds to two minutes, but it is the tone and pace of your delivery that makes a difference. Take more advice from the expert comedians and practice your responses out loud. Running through them in your head just isn't the same. Smile and speak clearly and with conviction— why wouldn't you? You're speaking about something you know a lot about ... your previous work successes.
Be Armed and Ready...for Anything
Whether the question asked by the interviewer is "what is your greatest strength" or "give an example of a time when you took responsibility beyond your scope of work," the previous sample answer works. It could potentially be the answer to a myriad of other questions as well. When you have prepared one story for each of the job requirements, you can feel confident that you have an answer for almost every question that will be asked of you. And most importantly, you'll wow the interviewer by coming across as prepared, confident, and memorable.
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.