Three Formulas for Acing Your Next Job Interview

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This post originally appeared on Enterprising Investor on 10 August 2017.

The “CV Queen” Victoria McLean, founder and CEO of City CV, offered some useful tips for acing job interviews in a recent CFA Institute webinar.

She recommends that you approach every job interview with a hidden agenda. Actually, that agenda doesn’t have to be particularly secret or really even all that hidden. You just need to deliver a series of key messages that describe how you are a good fit for both the role and the organization and that demonstrate your unique value — the qualities that set you apart from other potential candidates. What’s important to realize is that you need to be more than just a complacent conversationalist answering questions in an interview. You can and should influence the direction of the conversation by inserting your agenda points.

Among other valuable insights, McLean discussed three powerful formulas to help you succeed in the interview, with specific and helpful weightings for each element of the equations.

The STAR Model for Answering Competency or Behavioral Questions = 10% Situation + 10% Task + 70% Action + 10% Result

What is the STAR model?

It is a story structure that emphasizes four distinct elements: SituationTaskAction, and Result.

In an interview, you will probably get questions like “Tell me a time when you [fill in the blank].” These behavioral questions are based on the premise that how you’ve handled situations in the past can tell the interviewer how you might handle similar situations in the future. They can then gauge whether your go-to tactics align with company culture.

You should develop STAR stories about your accomplishments or development milestones before the interview. Prepare a brief overview of the general situation — the context — in which your story is set. Next, explain the task that was required of you. Then, as the formula suggests, describe the actions you took and why you took them. Finally, conclude with a synopsis of the (hopefully positive) result. Be sure wherever you are in your STAR story to connect it to the question you were asked.

Answers to Strength Questions = 2 or 3 (Strengths + 2 or 3 Evidence) + UVP

You can expect questions to focus on certain themes during your interview, according to McLean. You will likely be queried about your track record, your motivations, and your strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to your talents and aptitudes, you need to do more than just list what you’re good at. You want to identify those strengths that relate to what it will take to succeed in the role you’re interviewing for, and for each, you need to give two or three concise examples of when you used that quality to succeed. Plan to share two or three strengths, time permitting, but don’t forget to conclude with an explicit statement about how your combination of talents and experience qualify you for the job. This is your unique value proposition (UVP).

Answers to Weakness Questions = 20% Admission + 60% What You’ve Done to Change + 20% Positive Outcomes and Evidence of Development

People love to joke about the weakness question. But no, being so perfect that it makes your colleagues uncomfortable is NOT an appropriate answer. You can try an overplayed strengths approach, acknowledging your tendency to rely on a particular quality even in situations and environments where it works against you. But even here, you must be genuine in owning the weakness. Interviewers are looking for transparency and will note how well you balance humility with confidence.

The critical component is to admit a weakness that you have learned to overcome or mitigate. Then, when you respond to this kind of question, you can spend the bulk of your answer illustrating the actions you’ve taken to address the potential shortcoming. Conclude by giving an example of how your development has helped you achieve some specific positive result.

Take the time in advance of your next interview, or even in advance of your next job search, and loosely script your responses to strengths and weaknesses questions. Think about how you might craft 10 to 15 STAR stories from your career achievements to date. Answering these questions may be easier without the pressure of an impending interview and could shed light on how you can grow in your career.

If you are interested in reviewing the webinar, an archived recording is available.

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