Make Your Life A Story Worth Telling
First, let me make it clear I am not a Human Resource Manager or even an expert on the job interview process. My thoughts on the subject come from my years as a P&G executive. In that role, I conducted hundreds of both first interviews on campus and second interviews in our company offices. This post shares my practical observations from the interviewer seat. Hopefully you will find the perspective helpful.
Let’s start with your resume. There are any number of articles available about resume writing. Most offer good advice and I encourage you to read as many as possible. My observation is a resume serves as an interview discussion guide. As such, it should be written in a storyboard format. When I was on campus doing 8-12 45 minute interviews a day, I did not have time to study a candidate’s resume in depth. Instead, I would skim it looking for interesting elements I could relate to or was interested in learning more about. I looked for a pattern or theme to what I read and would use questions to validate or refute my impression of the candidate’s background. My goal was to understand the logic behind the individual’s life choices and noteworthy experiences. Typically, I’d start with the first experience on the resume and ask questions that walked me through the document. My objective was to get the candidate to provide context so I could be in a better position to assess fit with P&G’s success criteria. Tell why you did something, not just what you did. If you write your resume with a storyboard approach, you give the interviewer a roadmap for the interview. Like a good book, the interviewer will want to follow your outline and have you volt in the spaces by answering questions.
One exercise I would suggest for you (not to share in the interview) is to add a column to your resume and for each accomplishment you have listed write a story for it in that column. Then read the “script” of your interview. Is it interesting? Memorable? Compelling? If not, work on telling your story better. If that doesn’t work, figure out how to strengthen your story (it may mean you need to proactively get more relevant experience).
Know the facts on your resume. Nothing is more annoying than an interviewee who says something different than written on his/her resume. It sheds doubt on the authenticity of everything said. You wrote the resume, know it cold. And practice your stories to the point they sound conversational. The more comfortable you are in telling your story the easier it will be for the interviewer to be engaged.
In the actual interview, tell stories. People remember and retell great stories. Remember, once the face-to-face interview process is over, there is typically a debrief meeting where all candidates are reviewed and discussed. You don’t want your resume to represent you in that meeting. You want the interviewer to share a memorable story or two about you. Stories have impact. If you wrote your resume in a storyboard format, it will be easier for you to create a story for each accomplishment. A good way to format your story is to use the CAR model (context-action-result). And remember, you want the interviewer to remember and repeat your stories so make certain they are short stories.
The best stories (at least for P&G) are ones that demonstrate your leadership skills. Talk about examples where you formed a vision, enrolled and energized people to help you make the vision a reality, and then identified and overcame barriers. Share the results (good or bad). But, don’t stop there. Share what you learned and how that learning will impact your approach to similar situations in the future. Interviewers want to know you are capable of learning from experience and adjusting your behavior.
I would also suggest you not overplay titles and awards. Every person will have them listed on their resume. And, it is very difficult for an interviewer to do an apple-to-apples comparison without really understanding the title or award. Of course, if you have accomplished something everybody recognizes (e.g. Hiesman trophy) leverage it. But, being President of this or that organization is a snore. Tell the interviewer what you accomplished and why it was important.
Don’t be afraid to tell stories of your failures as long as you can explain what you learned and how the failure sharpened your skills. Everybody loves a successful come back story!
Work on transition statements to lead the interviewer through your resume in the sequence you want your story to be told. For example when finishing discussion on one accomplishment you could say … “I was able to reapply what I learned when I took on [different experience]”. You can guide the interview. If the interviewer has specific questions they will get asked. But, if you have powerful stories to tell it is your job to get them told. If they don’t get told you lose.