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3 Keys to Answering Questions “Right” In Your Next Job Interview

Do you think of preparing for a job interview as a one time thing? If so, you’re doing it wrong. If you are active in the world of work - and even in the world of education and volunteerism - you are constantly in data gathering mode for a future job interview.

In a previous article, I briefly introduced you to four popular frameworks for preparing real life examples for use as stories in a job interview. Those were:

  • PAR: Problem, Action(s), Result(s)

  • SOAR: Situation, Obstacles, Actions, Results

  • CAR: Challenge, Action(s), Result(s)

  • STAR: Situation, Task(s), Actions(s), Results(s)

Here is a little more detail on the specific components of each of those frameworks:

Situation/Problem/Challenge (S/P/C): Start by describing the context or problem you encountered in your previous role. Clearly define the situation to provide the interviewer with a clear understanding of the challenge you faced.

Task/Obstacle (T/O): Explain the specific task or obstacle you needed to overcome within the given situation. This helps the interviewer understand the objectives you were trying to achieve or the barriers you encountered.

Action (A): Describe the actions you took to address the problem or overcome the obstacle. Highlight the steps you took and the strategies you employed. Focus on your individual contributions and emphasize any skills or qualities that were crucial in resolving the situation.

Result (R): Share the outcome of your actions. Quantify the results wherever possible, such as increased sales by a certain percentage or reduced customer complaints by a specific number. Make sure to highlight the positive impact your actions had on the situation or problem.

Using one of the frameworks allows you to present your experiences in a structured manner. You can showcase your experience and the results you achieved. Results are the part that most people forget to highlight in job interviews. Don’t leave off the results!

Brag a little

Many people hate interviewing because they say that they feel like they are being immodest or braggarts. However, when done right, you are telling the story of the opportunities you were given as well as the challenges you faced and how you came through them. That’s not bragging - it’s good storytelling.

Additionally, nothing will turn an interviewer or interviewers off more quickly than someone who comes off as cocky. Use your stories as opportunities to also showcase teamwork, leadership, collaboration, and communication. In most work situations, you didn’t get there alone.

An example from my life

Here is an example I’ve used countless times in interviews. Just after the story, I’ll also provide a few questions that you could make it fit with.


Problem: When I served as Vice President for Academic Innovation, I had responsibility for the relationship with our learning management system provider. The vendor was unable to meet uptime requirements with our hosted software solution. Additionally, our regular faculty listening sessions provided ample support for issuing an RFP and going through the difficulty of procuring a new tool if that was the outcome selected.

Action: I developed a cross functional leadership team that engaged several hundred faculty in a needs analysis process - through surveys and focus groups. Armed with that needs analysis, over 200 faculty and staff participated in the RFP process to determine if we would remain with this vendor or move to another vendor. The overwhelming decision of the selection team was that a new vendor was the right solution.

Result: At the urging of the faculty and staff who had participated in the process, we set an aggressive schedule and 80 faculty and staff champions from across the institution joined my team to lead training and support efforts. Champions received release time and stipends for their work to support the effort. Through their work we were able to guide the institution through a successful LMS migration in just one semester - 136 days in total from the day we received access to the system to the day classes began in the next term.

How do I use this in an interview?

Each of the following behavioral interview questions might provide a basis for me to use that specific story as the basis for my response:

  1. Tell us about one of your proudest professional accomplishments.

  2. Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a difficult or challenging situation. How did you learn from the experience?

  3. Give an example of how you’ve led a significant change process. Was it successful. What results did you use to determine if it was successful?

  4. Describe a time where you’ve led collaborative or cross functional efforts. What was the outcome?

With a well prepared list of stories like the one above, I can prepare for an interview with less stress. When I have a big interview to prepare for, I always engage with a professional coach to help me do mock interviews and provide feedback on my interview process.

How do I develop my own list?

First, the best time to start a list like this is yesterday. So, create a file where you can record significant events and stories. Be sure to capture the results!

Here is a template for you to use for gathering your PAR list. Make a copy of it in your own Google Drive or save it as an excel file to your computer. In my Facts of Life Book course, I share more resources like this for preparing for job searches with calm and ease.

Once you’ve created a place to store the information - or downloaded my template, it’s time to fill it up with your great stories. Here are some tips on getting started:

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: Don’t remember the specific numbers for that big project you led last year? Write down what you know now! I usually put in XXXX to remind myself I need to come back and fill in data.

  • Review your job description: Set 30 minutes on a timer and grab a copy of your job description. As you read through it, list examples of the various projects you’ve done related to each line of the job description.

  • Review your performance appraisals and feedback: Look back through your past few performance appraisals and note any specific goals or activities you want to capture. Keep in mind that you need to be able to talk about things that didn’t go as well in the past too so don’t shy away from capturing those things.

  • Have a smile file? Use it: I kept letters and copies of big reports and projects we worked on in what I called a smile file. When I was feeling particularly down or having a bad day, I’d look through it. The things I was most proud of were always in that file!

  • Do a Reflected Best Self Exercise:Never heard of it? Stay tuned. I’ll be back next week with an article about it. In the meantime, ask your coworkers and colleagues what they think are your best qualities or the achievements they think of when they think of you. Write them down.

Once you’ve started recording this data, set appointments with yourself to review and update it. I like to do this on a monthly basis. It’s a good time to take 10 minutes to pause and reflect on the last month, look back through your calendar and notes, and decide what you should add to your file.

And, PRO TIP! If you start doing this regularly, listing your goals and accomplishments on your performance review will become a piece of cake!


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