A storytelling technique to help you develop your job interview skills

It’s a job interview skill you really should have mastered at primary school!

We all love a good story and when a story is well told it has the power to capture the attention of any listener, so here is one storytelling technique that will help you develop your job interview skills: show, don’t tell.

When we say “show, don’t tell” we mean you need to show the interviewer what you did and who you are through the story. Rather than just saying, “I’m a great digital marketer” you need to demonstrate why you are through the stories you tell. It will help you capture the imagination of the interviewer, which is what you want.

First, let’s get one thing straight: there is no scientific formula for succeeding at an interview. You may have the precise skills and experience listed in the job description, but that does not mean you will even get a second interview. A major factor over which you have no control is the attitude of the interviewer or interview panel. We all make judgements within moments of meeting someone, and interviewers are no different. The best you can do is smile, make eye contact, and ensure that your advance preparation is faultless. This is where presenting your skills and experience through the show and tell storytelling technique can really help.

Do your research well before your interview

During your interview, it is highly likely that you will be asked some version of the question “Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge?” so anticipate it. This is your opportunity to show the interviewer how your skills and experience are perfect for the position advertised.

Go through the job description and match every requirement with a story from your background. Just starting on your career path? Think of clubs you belong to and tasks you have completed for family members. Now, come up with an example of how you faced a difficult situation and came up with the optimal solution. These stories ensure that you remain in the interviewer’s memory and identify you as a candidate with the competence to approach tasks efficiently and provide solutions for complex problems.

Devise examples to improve your job interview skills

So how do you come up with career success stories? At some point in your professional life, you faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge, which would have had serious consequences if you had not dealt with it. Instead of allowing this situation to continue, you took the initiative and devised and implemented a plan to overcome the problem and produce a positive outcome.

Here’s an example for somebody going for a digital marketing role, perhaps: When you joined the last organisation you worked with, their website was out of date and not providing any useful marketing function. You undertook a content audit of the website, removing any duplicate or poor content and making sure that all existing pages were optimised to include appropriate keywords for the organisation’s sector. As a result of your actions, the website moved to the first page of search results for your chosen keywords, attracting more customers.

Practice telling your stories

Once you’ve come up with examples of how you used your skills and experience in previous situations, practice presenting these stories to a potential interviewer so that you are confident discussing your abilities. Don’t be afraid to use examples that, at first glance, do not seem to have precise parallels with your previous position and the job you are applying for. As long as you have done your research, and made a relevant connection between your skills and experience and the new job or industry, your story will sound convincing.

What Is Potential & How Is It Measured?

You’ve been told you have potential but what does that really mean?

What Is Potential?

We’re often told we have potential, which is basically another way of saying that there is evidence that it is possible you can perform a task, do a job or go far in a chosen career. As a graduate looking for that first job you may not be there yet but you show promise. Before you can achieve career success, and certainly before trying to sell yourself to an employer, you must determine what you are capable of. Defining your potential involves listing your strengths and skills and deciding how far you can go in your career by leveraging those advantages. Perhaps you need to engage in extra training or develop a new skill to complement your existing strengths and reach your career goals.

Reaching your potential is not the same as getting to the top. Sometimes we can be so intent on getting onto the career ladder and investing every effort in climbing to the top, that we forget why we chose that path in the first place. You may have risen to a responsible position in your organisation, with the accompanying financial rewards, but you still feel frustrated and unhappy in your job. So, when considering your potential, focus not just on your capacity for succeeding in a specific career path but also on your own personal view of success.

Defining Success for You

If you are experiencing second thoughts about your career path or are even wondering why you chose it in the first place, stop asking how to get to the top and examine whether you are reaching your potential instead. This involves taking a long hard look at your own personal situation and deciding what classifies as success for you, before planning how you are going to get there.

Recognise that managing your career is your responsibility and don’t blame family, teachers, or anybody else for your career choices. Now step back and assess your career so far. Consider when you were at your happiest at work and what aspects of your job give you most (and least) satisfaction. This assessment gives you the material to determine what factors are important for your career satisfaction. Now plan the course of action that will give you optimal career success.

Measuring Potential

Intelligence, personality, belief and attitude are key characteristics in measuring the potential of job candidates, team members, and anybody trying to figure out their career path. The usual way to measure and assess these kinds of traits is with psychometric tests, such as personality profiles, ability tests, and motivation surveys. The point of psychometric tests is that they attempt to deliver impartial judgments for attributes that are generally judged using subjective methods, including personal observation and direct questioning.

Psychometric Tests

For a psychometric test to be effective it must give you fair and accurate results every time it is administered. This means that the test must be standardised, which means that it must be based on results from a representative sample of the group who will be taking the test. You must also ensure that this standardised test is given in the same way every time. The test should deliver consistent results and should not be unduly affected by factors such as a candidate’s stress while taking the test. Possibly the most important factor, however, is that the test must be a valid one that measures what it was designed to measure.

Different Tests for Different Jobs

Recruiters can use psychometric tests to assess the personality, knowledge, and aptitude of job candidates. Those involved in career development and training can use such tests to enhance the skillsets and performance of existing staff and to encourage team building and development, as individuals who understand themselves better are better placed to establish positive workplace relationships.

The key to knowing your potential and thereby deciding on the right career path and job is to understand the skills, interests and drivers you have and where any gaps may lie.

Graduates: overqualified and your skills don’t match

Since school you’ve been sold the idea that uni is the route to a good job, so where are the jobs?

Do you feel that you are overqualified in a job that doesn’t allow you to use your skills? If so then you share the feeling with about 50% of your fellow graduate peers.

That’s the picture painted by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. Graduates are over qualified and their skills don’t match what employers need. And when we say your skills don’t match we mean it in the sense that you probably have skills that the jobs you’re being offered doesn’t need. It means 50% of graduates have greater potential than they are currently being able to demonstrate in the job roles they have.

What’s sad about this is that the last figures I had for the number of graduates that never walk into graduate level employment was 33%.

What does it mean for you if you’re about to graduate?

Battle. This really is a market where it is about survival of the fittest because it means getting a graduate level job is a matter of competition. It’s about battle. You have to decide if it is one worth fighting and by the looks of what it’s cost you, I’d say it is. It’s not just the three or four years of your life you’ve invested. Your education has cost you an arm and a leg – at least £60k – and you’re in debt up to your eyeballs.

What’s caused the over-qualification in the graduate market?

The CIPD’s latest report tells us that the UK higher education (HE) system has expanded rapidly from the end of the 1980s so that by the middle of the last decade – by 2004–5, participation rates reached 43% and have stayed at that level ever since, despite two major funding reforms (BIS, 2013).

The result is that while the HE system has expanded the jobs market hasn’t been able to absorb the extra numbers of graduates coming out of university so we find that graduates are having to settle for jobs that previously would not have required degree level education. This share has increased to 21% for administrative occupations, 13% for both sales and personal service occupations, and to 8% even for the lowest-skilled elementary occupations. These are areas of industry where once upon a time graduate presence was zilch.

In the fields where a higher proportion of graduates have been traditionally employed, such as in the professional occupations, we have seen a rise from 43% in 1991 to 78% in 2014.

So we see, as the report points out, that the increase in the numbers of graduates in the UK has not been matched with an increase the creation of jobs to match that skill level.

What’s the point of getting a degree?

This makes it difficult for a graduate to progress. It makes it difficult for graduates to find a job that matches their level of skill and education and therefore of course to find one that pays well.

What’s the point then of getting a degree? Well a degree has become necessary for a larger number of jobs. In fact the CIPD argues that the “HE is acting as a filtering device to identify the most able individuals” to do jobs even through “these individuals are no more or less productive in such jobs than their mothers or fathers”.

One of the arguments put forward to explain why all of this may not be such a bad thing is that perhaps we are only just catching up with a demand for higher level skills that had already existed. So, in effect, UK employers are for the first time being able to find people with the skills needed to fill positions. Ok, that’s great, but we’re still faced with the problem that we’ve met that demand and reached overflow. We still have the problem of finding graduate level employment for those who cannot find one.

The only way through is to battle. Arm yourself with the determination to succeed and you will.

How to highlight and sell your strengths at an interview

Highlight Your Strengths and Ace Any Interview!

Congratulations! You’ve cleared the first hurdle in the selection process and secured an interview for your dream job. Now you need to make sure that you stand out from all the other job candidates when it comes to meeting your interviewer face to face—and for the right reasons.

One of the key questions every interview panel asks is some version of “What do you consider to be your main strengths?”, so don’t be surprised when it comes up. Sit down and review your background experience, your own personal qualities, and the skills you have developed before deciding which ones you should focus on. It should be the one that makes you the best candidate for whatever position you are seeking. Practice talking about your strengths beforehand, so that you will be ready for the question when you walk into that interview.

Tips on how to sell your strengths at an interview

Here are some tips to help you present your strengths in the best light:

  1. Prepare: Make a list of at least 10 of your key strengths and don’t go for the predictable ones. Ignore your inner critic and write everything down. For example, consider specific experience you have with a software package, skills you have developed that will be useful for this job, training you have in relevant areas, qualifications, internships, seminars you have attended etc.
  2. Edit:Whittle down your list to a minimum of five relevant strengths that you are confident talking about (or will be confident discussing after some practice). Make sure you have enough on your list to give yourself options.
  3. Develop: Once you have decided on your list of strengths, think of an example or story to back up each of them. Make it interesting but remember it has to be relevant too.
  4. Be Truthful: Never choose a strength just because it is in the job description. Ensure you actually possess that strength. You will be far more convincing and likeable if you talk about your actual strengths.
  5. Get Specific: Don’t be vague about the strengths you choose to discuss. Something like “people skills,” for example, is too broad; a better alternative is “persuasive communication” or “relationship building.” Not sure? If the majority of your friends could also list the same strength, drop it and choose another one.
  6. Avoid False Modesty: You won’t get the job by describing how pleasant you are. You want this job, so you have to point out the strengths you have that make you the best candidate for the position and present them confidently.
  7. Practice: Once you have created a list of strengths that you are happy with, practice talking about them with someone else. Be specific and concise—your interviewer will be seeing many different candidates that day, so practicing beforehand will help ensure you hold his or her attention. Your answer should not be more than two minutes long. If you decide to discuss three strengths, for example, practice presenting each with an appropriate example in a concise and interesting way.

Having followed the tips here on how to sell your strengths at an interview you will be in for a better chance of getting that top job you are after. Identifying and talking about your strengths will help you to come across more relaxed and therefore naturally at the interview.

650 CVs accepted. None hired.

650 accepted CVs.

120 shortlisted.

46 first interview.

16 final interview.

None hired.

The numbers above are real. They describe the actual recruitment experience of a large retail chain whose business model depends on the annual recruitment of the best graduate talent to run its stores.

With the pick of the UK out there you would think a top employer could easily attract the graduates they are looking for, but apparently it’s not that easy.

Not only do graduates compete against one another for jobs, but top employers around the world also compete with one another to find the best talent. They invest thousands on their graduate recruitment programmes to find really bright and ambitious people for purposely reserved graduate entry level roles.

Research by Highfliers suggests that a quarter of the country’s leading employers increased their graduate recruitment budgets for 2015. The average cost of recruiting one new employee is between £4,333 and £7,750, so you can do the maths on graduate employers such as Teach First (who advertised 2,060 graduate vacancies in 2015), PwC (who advertised 1,570 vacancies) and Deloitte (who advertised 1,100 vacancies).

650 Accepted CVs

According to Highfliers many graduate employers actively market their graduate vacancies at an average of 19 UK universities. This includes a mix of “local recruitment presentations, campus careers fairs, skills training events, promotions through university careers services, online advertising and social media”. Our case in question used many of these methods and as a result accepted 650 CVs from the graduates who applied.

120 Shortlisted

The work of shortlisting those 650 CVs will have typically involved taking a look at what sort of experience a graduate already has, the skills listed, the goals stated in the personal statement and of course details of formal education and grades but recruiters will also look at how well the applicant presents his or herself in writing. Is the CV clear, easy to ready, well structured? Is it pages and pages long and full of spelling mistakes? Are there gaps in dates where your activity is unaccounted for? Many will look at your interests, hobbies and travel experience too. Overall, your CV must match the criteria of experience, skills and aptitude that describes the kind of person the company is looking for. In this case those 650 people were reduced to 120.

46 First Interview

Most companies make the decision on who interview by first conducting a telephone interview. Over the phone a company can get a real sense of your personality type and interest in the job just by listening to your voice, how well you present yourself and how you answer certain questions. The graduates in this recruitment process needed to sound confident, enthusiastic and clear over the telephone and by the looks of things 46 passed and were invited to a first interview.

16 Final Interview

Surely there is a gem or two among the 16? The header recruiter at this department chain told me that during the final interview one of the candidates was asked what she thought of the store, to which she replied, “I haven’t had the chance to have a look around yet… do you think that would be a good idea?” Another looked as though she’d had a really rough night on the town and could barely resist the temptation to sprawl over the desk. Were these the best on offer?

None Hired

Apparently so as none of them were hired. Now I found this story very difficult to believe, that out of an initial influx of 650 applicants this department store could not find a single person worth hiring. But the story is not unusual. In a survey carried out in May 2015 by global management consultancy Hay Group 90% of respondents said they believe that fewer than half of graduate applicants in the UK have sufficient people skills for the roles they are applying for. Hay reported that 77 percent of graduate employers have admitted that they have had to hire graduate staff who weren’t suitable due to a lack of choice.

The question we must therefore ask is, Given their importance, why aren’t soft skills taught?

Good riddance to tired outdated recruitment processes

As they say, when one door closes another opens, and a closed door on tired outdated recruitment processes spells new opportunities for talented graduates.

With the door on outdated graduate recruitment practices slowly beginning to close, access to a top graduate job should become easier for those who really have what it takes to succeed.

I’m talking about the announcement from EY (previously known as Ernst & Young) of the end to selecting candidates based on academic grades alone. They will instead rely on the strength-based assessment tool the company has been using to help in its selection process since 2008 in order to “give every candidate the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and their potential”.

So rather than demanding a minimum of 3 B’s and a 2:1 grade EY will seek to recruit from the widest and deepest talent pool, regardless of background.

If you’re a graduate who strongly feels you have what it takes to make it as a top accountancy, law or banking professional this should level the playing field. And although it will to some degree increase competition it will open up that competition to those who are smart, sharp and can think on their feet but didn’t quite get the grades or go to the right university or school.

Old ways of recruiting no longer work

It will only be a matter of time before other top recruiters also abandon their tired and outdated recruitment processes for more modern and workable ways to attract the best graduates into jobs. If they truly want to see and attract the talent that exists out there other top graduate recruiters won’t be able to resist following the example of EY.

And here’s why. Recruiting graduates purely based on academic qualifications is no guarantee they will make a successful accountant, banker, lawyer or manager of any sort. It doesn’t work. We’ve heard the lamentations. Two-thirds of employers, particularly in the financial, IT and engineering fields, say they struggle to fill positions. They’ve been saying this for years. They can’t find the graduates they need because most young people graduate unprepared for the workplace. They don’t have the right skills and as a result graduate job positions remain unfilled for months and sometimes years.

Finding graduates with the right skills is tough

Employers say graduates show no real interest in the industry they are seeking to work in. They turn up at interviews without bothering to learn anything about the company they are applying to. And they often lack adequate communication or numeracy skills and have little commercial awareness. These are skills that can be only acquired through non-academic means, such as through extracurricular, work experience or voluntary activities.

By moving toward a way of recruiting that will enable them to capitalise on strengths developed outside of the classroom what EY is saying is that potential doesn’t always show up in university grades or in those graduates who went to the highest performing schools or the Russell Group of universities. There are better ways of finding good people.

EY says the changes to their recruitment process will widen social mobility and in fact have further plans to launch an online resource to teach young people what it takes to compete for top jobs. The Future Ready programme will include guidance on four core personal skills: leadership; commerciality; networking and influence. EY says it is modernising the workplace by getting rid of the outdated ways of selecting candidates.

It would be unfair for me to close without warning that any move away from a grade-based assessment for recruitment doesn’t negate the need for a certain amount of intellectual ability. You still need to be able to meet the high intellectual standards required to succeed in a top graduate role but your academic qualifications or lack of them will not prevent you from making that first step. Good luck!