Preparing multiple narratives that illustrate your strengths, your knowledge base and your accomplishments is mandatory interview preparation.
But what if the interviewer doesn’t ask the questions you are prepared to answer? Instead of asking about your impressive sales statistics, she asks you to describe an experience in which you faced an ethical dilemma – or struggled to meet a tight deadline – or resolved an interpersonal office conflict?
If you visit this site often, you know that I consistently advise candidates to listen carefully to the questions asked during a job interview as a means of discerning exactly what the situation is and what information your interviewer is seeking. This will help you direct your presentation toward what is most important to the interviewer. This does NOT, however, prevent you from telling the story you want to tell.
I have said many times that some interviewers are not qualified to conduct a meeting for a number of reasons. With such individuals, you have to strike a balance between answering the question asked and imparting information supportive of your capabilities and experience. Balance is critical.
I suggest that you prepare several (at least 8-10) narratives ready to deliver at a moment’s notice. Select events from each of your former employers and each portion of your career that demonstrate a personal strength, a learning experience, or a notable accomplishment. You should not be looking for day to day matters but significant successes within the day to day. Prior to the interview, practice telling your stories so that you are comfortable with them. Write them down if it helps. Commit the concept to memory and the details will usually follow.
Then, when the interviewer asks a rather sterile question, you can answer that question using a story that demonstrates aspects of your capabilities.
For instance, using the previous example of a sales career, the agile candidate might respond to the deadline question: “Because of the unprecedented size of this particular sale, I had to talk to my production engineers and make sure they could accommodate my client’s deadline. I didn’t want to make a commitment I couldn’t keep.” To the conflict question: “Two of the decision-makers at my client disagreed about the purchase. I was able to do some research and provide the information that made both of them comfortable to proceed.” Both circumstances support one’s ability as a problem solver versus an order taker.
Your interview presentation should not be etched in granite. Rather, it is like soft clay that can be molded and shaped to the questions asked during your interview. With some resourceful thinking, you can answer your interviewer’s questions while also delivering the story that you want to tell.