If your interviewer asks you this one, you should be happy. This is your opportunity to talk about your accomplishments, but like every other interview question it could hurt you. If your story is not relevant or does not seem valuable to your interviewer and the company that is considering you, you lose. If the story is too low in scope or complexity, you lose. If your answer doesn’t strike the right chord concerning teamwork, tenacity or other attribute valued by this potential employer…yes, you lose. Here is how to handle it so you win.
You have to know that researching an organization is an essential part of your job search. The more you learn about a company and its culture – its work style, rewards system, and other quirks – the better you will be able to make a decision about its fit for your style. By doing this research, you can understand more about the tone you should use in delivering your answers.
Here is an example from my own experience. I worked as a financial advisor for a large firm for a period of time. Their model is one built on the single broker office, and to be successful you must follow their system to the letter. Freestyle is not encouraged. One quote that I remember from training is telling: “If you have a recipe to follow with Betty Crocker, why would you want to try to make a cake from scratch?” Translation: We need hard working people who will follow our system. Answers for this company should focus on following a system and digging deep on the tough days to make a difference.
Other companies will have a strong team focus. Some live and die by the customer. What is important to your next employer? If you don’t know, you had better find out. Once you know, work on your answers so that you can tell stories from your past employment that are of sufficient scope and that generated significant results using tactics that will be valued at your next employer.
By the way, don’t forget to tell CAR stories – condition, action, result. This is what was happening, this is what I did, and this was the outcome. Stories structured like this and that incorporate the proper scope and cultural elements as discussed above will come across as professional and well-considered.
This blog post is one in an ongoing series discussing employment interview questions. Do you have a question that has stumped you? Comment and ask about it and we can discuss it in a future post.
Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself
Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?
Question 4: When Have You Failed?