Job interviews are incredibly stressful. You know that preparation helps, but where do you begin?
You can find enormous lists of potential interview questions and examples of answers online. But, trying to prepare for a seemingly unlimited list of items is overwhelming.
Memorizing answers to dozens and dozens of questions isn’t easy, especially when there isn’t a coherent theme pulling them all together. When you add the stress of being put on the spot during an interview, your memorized answers float away, and you find yourself saying, “Ummmmm… that’s a great question. Let me think…”
However, human beings are much better at remembering and telling stories than reciting isolated answers. We’ve been doing this for centuries, and you’ve probably been doing it your entire life.
One of the best ways to make job interviews easier is to prepare your “Hero Stories” ahead of time. What do I mean by a hero story? These are stories you create from your work experiences that highlight your talent, knowledge, skills, and expertise.
"You are the Hero of your own Story." — Joseph Campbell
Stories from your life experiences are easier to remember and share because they are real and have a beginning, middle, and end. They include examples of your personal struggles and achievements. Your stories have other actors who played a role, too (e.g., your coworkers, boss, and customers).
Mapping stories to the interview process
Interviewers ask a mix of questions, but they tend to fall into different categories. For example:
Common interview questions (e.g., Tell me about yourself)
Factual interview questions (e.g., Who are our top competitors?)
Competency questions (e.g., Tell me what you know about machine learning)
Scenario questions (e.g., A customer wants to return a defective product. How do you handle that?)
Behavioral interview questions (e.g., Tell me about a time that you had to work with a challenging colleague)
Hero stories are useful for behavioral interview questions (e.g., Tell me about a time…). But, they can also be used to answer other types of questions. An answer is always more compelling within the context of a real-world example from your experience.
Your first hero story is the story of you. This is what people want to hear when they say, “So, tell me about yourself.”
Telling this story isn’t as easy as it sounds. Too many people ramble on and on. Too many people forget to tailor their personal hero story to the interviewing employer and the available role.
Your story shouldn’t take longer than two minutes. It isn’t meant to be a comprehensive recitation of your entire work and life experience.
Your story is the highlight reel of your professional life. Your personality, ambition, and talent should come through in how you navigated your education and career path. It should map to the current opportunity so that it is obvious why you are a great fit. It should also answer the implicit question, “Why are you here today?”
Choose 3-5 additional hero stories rich enough to dive into when you need to answer the usual questions about your challenges, successes, failures, lessons learned, collaboration, dealing with difficult people, influencing others, handling stress, etc.
It’s almost impossible to predict every single question that an interviewer will ask you. It’s just as impossible to prepare and memorize isolated answers to every conceivable question.
A rich hero story will have numerous examples and elements of almost every answer you’d like to share. When I think back to one of my own hero stories that I used during job interviews, it was based on a big project that was complex enough to leverage for interesting examples for many types of behavioral questions.
It was a long, complicated project with several internal colleagues and external consultants.
We had to prioritize the rollout and plan multiple phases for all of the changes to the website.
We faced numerous challenges that we had to overcome.
We had to influence several senior executives and stakeholders.
Reviewing our progress with so many senior executives was very stressful.
We were under time pressure, as always.
We experienced failures and had to recover from them.
Some people were difficult to work with, but we successfully managed those relationships.
Hero stories make preparation easier
You get the picture. Your hero stories become a deep well for your answers on the day of the job interview.
However, you should still review a list of potential interview questions and think about how the elements of your stories map to them. Some stories will be better for some questions (e.g., What work are you most proud of?) than others (e.g., How do you handle difficult colleagues?).
Basically, when you’re asked a behavioral interview question (e.g., Tell me about a time that you had to manage multiple stakeholders), you can dive into this hero story and retrieve an example. Then, when another question comes up (e.g., Tell me about a time that you had to recover from failure), you retrieve another example from the same hero story.
Obviously, you don’t want to be a one-trick pony and answer every single question with the same example. That’s why I recommend having 3-5 hero stories ready.
However, it is so much easier to remember real stories and give a compelling answer when using this strategy vs. trying to memorize dozens of one-off responses.
Best of luck with your next job interview! Come back to this newsletter post online and let me know how it goes.
This week’s professional development challenge
⭐ Identify the Bottom of Your Funnel
- What do you need most in your career right now?