Whenever I ask a candidate if they can come in to the office the next day, they usually pause for a while as they work through their calendar and try to get past the shock and concern over not being ready. Interviews are stressful, and most people prefer to have a few days to mentally prepare. So if you’re not planning on an interview that suddenly presents itself, what should you do? First, relax. Though I do know what ridiculous advice this is, because as anyone who’s stressed can tell you, trying to relax is like trying not to think of something. But no interview goes well if the candidate isn’t relaxed. I’m not saying that only relaxed candidates win jobs, but it sure helps to be comfortable. So whatever you do to relax yourself, do it.
But most importantly, this is where knowing your stories becomes so valuable. Everyone should have three stories they use in every interview. Three stories that interest the recruiter, can take 3 – 10 minutes depending on the back-and-forth, highlight strengths, and demonstrate learning and analysis. Most people will recommend the STAR method, which is a good template but limits the story teller’s creativity.
(I thought I had a post about the STAR method, but I just spent 15 minutes looking for it to no avail. It’s on my to-do list to explain why I think STAR is only a starting point (ha ha), but leaves lots of room for improvement. For now I just included a link to a good user guide.)
Back to stories. Having three rock-solid, well-rehearsed stories helps for two reasons. One–you don’t have to prepare as much for any given interview, and you’ll be comfortable while you recount the story you’ve told a dozen times. Two–you can answer almost any question. And I guess three–every time you tell it, you get better.
To illustrate my point, here are some common interview questions:
- Tell me about a time you faced a challenge with a coworker who did not support your idea
- Would you consider yourself an organized person?
- What was the best thing about your previous position?
- How would you characterize your leadership style?
The same story could answer all of those questions. Like the time when your team wasn’t getting far enough fast enough, so you decided to take control. You knew one of the people on the team wouldn’t support you, so you had to work behind the scenes to get him to come along. Because the plan was in such disarray, you revamped everything into an organized, easy-to-follow guide and held an all-team meeting to launch the new approach. The best thing about that job was you had the latitude to act on your own (within reason) to delivery results, and could use your collaborative leadership style to its fullest.
That’s just the bare bones version, with lots of room for supporting detail, but you get my point. Three good stories like that and you’re set. And if you have three good stories, you’ll always be ready for a sudden interview request.