In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
Last week, we talked about the importance of vivid details in answering interview questions. Perhaps the example of last week’s Korean barbecue taco was an easy detail to conjure. But what about the subtler aspects of a team experience from six months ago? Or that project you finished three years ago? Those details might not be top of mind. What to do?
One of the best things you can do to help yourself prepare for interviews is reminisce. We have said it before, but let’s look a little closer at what we mean. Take for example this bullet on your resume:
- Met unrealistic demands and deadlines, kept team morale high, and mastered client software quickly on tax compliance project; received a Firm Award for my work
Hopefully you are beginning with similarly powerful and impactful bullets. Check out this post if you want to read more about awesome resume bullets. But let’s look at how you might examine this experience more closely. Just sticking to the text of the bullet…
- What specifically was unrealistic about the demands?
- What would have been a more appropriate deadline, and why was this one such a challenge?
- In what specific ways was team morale challenged?
- Specifically how did you keep morale high, considering that your approach may have been different for each person?
- How did you manage to master the software faster than normal?
- When you realized you were confronting each challenge (expectations, deadlines, morale, software), how did you feel?
- Then how did you strategize and think about each challenge before taking action?
- What else was challenging about this particular project?
- What is the basis of selection for the firm award? What did people say in your review or as part of the award about your above-and-beyond contribution?
- What skills or strategies on your part enabled you to succeed in the face of so many challenges where others might have failed?
- Did you leverage any resources in a creative way to help you succeed in the process?
- Did any other people play a role in your success, either as helpers or mentors or even as obstacles?
We could go on. But if you apply this same probing line of questioning to one of your own bullets, what you will find is that you actually need to think about them. The answers to all of them will likely not be top of mind, and the more you think and dig deeper, the more rich details will emerge.
You will remember that one lunch with Sarah when she finally opened up to you about her struggles with the project and allowed you to coach her on some new skills. You will remember that night you stayed late in the office to learn the software instead of going out to dinner with friends. You will remember the incredible recommendation from your officemate to try mapping out all project resources on a white board and how that exercise gave you new insight into effective management.
These are the details that will make your story come to life. Thinking through them now will give you the confidence to share your experiences powerfully and respond to any question the interviewer can throw at you, not to mention make a real connection with the person on the other side of the table.