Monday, August 25, 2014

Put A Positive “Spin” on It

Everyone has interesting stories to tell.   But HOW you tell your story can make all the difference in the world.  Think about how you want others to view you, and also about how you can make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation.  Here’s an example of two different ways a candidate can put a spin on a prior work experience.

First Perspective

When I took the job with “Company X”, I immediately found myself in the middle of a political battle between two divisions, the one that I joined and a rival.  These two groups were fighting for control over a core business in this company and it was a very unpleasant start with the company.  Our group eventually won the competition and then spent the next two years constantly working with the rival team, trying to integrate and adapt their complex technology into the final product.

In the end, after all of these battles and compromises, the final product was unsuccessful.  The industry itself suffered a downturn after the “dot com bust” and my workplace atmosphere declined as well.  For three years I dealt with management changes, layoffs, and a depressing work environment.  I decided I had to leave and seek a more dynamic and positive opportunity.

Second Perspective

When I joined “Company X” the company was in the middle of choosing whether to go with one group’s technologies and approach to a problem or that of a rival team.  There was an open opportunity for someone to lead the decision-making process and merge the two departments into one cohesive team.

Since I was new to the program, I was able to take a more neutral role between the teams, urging them to take small steps and provide small deliverables so that we could merge the two approaches and see if it could really work.  Within two weeks we were able to see that it was not going to work easily.  This led us into a two-year-long exploration of major technologies and innovation, as well as collaboration with a Canadian team. In the end, the new product and the whole infrastructure were created and used across one of the major divisions of the Company X.

After the “dot com bust” there were many changes in the company, including layoffs and re-organizations.  These changes also opened up new opportunities, and I was able to work with groups in France, HCI groups, and graphic designers as well as actively participate in usability studies.  This exposed me to new ways of thinking and allowed me to seek broader experiences than I would have had in a more prosperous economic climate.


While both of these stories are true, and in fact are really the same story, they send very different messages.  Which message would you prefer?
During an interview you don’t want to send out any negative hooks or appear to be a complainer.  Put a positive and constructive spin on your stories and not only will you seem like a more upbeat person, but you will also show your ability to make the most of any opportunity that presents itself to you and come across as a creative and optimistic person.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tips on Preparing Your “Stories” for Interviews

In past blog entries, we have mentioned that it’s very important to have some interesting but concise stories to use during your interviews.  It’s critical to walk into your interview prepared for the questions you will be asked, and choosing and preparing your stories ahead of time is a vital part of that process.  Here are a few tips to help you prepare.

•Why Tell A Story?

So, why do you want to tell a story?  When someone asks you a question during your interview, it’s more personal and interesting if you can use an example of a particular work project or problem that you have faced and describe how you handled that situation.  Telling a story will be more compelling and genuine that simply listing your accomplishments – make sure that your voice comes through and that it doesn’t sound rehearsed or cliché. 

•Which Stories Should You Choose?

Think of at least 3 great stories that you can use to answer several questions that you would expect to be asked during your interview.  Take a careful look at your resume and find 3 instances where you are proud of your work and that illustrate your unique skills and expertise.  Make sure these stories are relevant to the position for which your are interviewing.  These 3 stories should showcase your motivation, creativity, positive attitude, intelligence, and spirit.

•Preparing Your Stories

Prepare each story ahead of time, keeping in mind that each should be concise and no longer than 3-4 minutes. After you choose 3 stories, ask yourself the following questions about each one:

-- What was this project about? (Be as specific as possible by including the numbers instead of adjectives).
-- What challenges did you face?
-- What were your individual contributions (not the team)?
-- How did you solve the challenges presented?
-- Why did you choose to utilize specific technologies?
-- What was the outcome?
-- What did you learn from this experience?

•Make Sure to Follow Through

Make sure you conclude each story with a lesson that was learned, a successful outcome, or something else that highlights the relevance of this particular work experience.  For example, if speaking about a “failure” or problem you faced, make sure to include what you learned from it and how you have managed to approach things in a different way because of this incidence.  This “follow through” will not only wrap up a story, but also show your ability to learn and grow from your experiences.

•Keep your Goal in Mind

It is essential to continuously keep your goal in your mind when preparing and telling your stories.  A good story is not only compelling but will tell the listener more about you.  Are you the kind of person who would fit well in this company? Would this team enjoy working with you?  Your goal is to meaningfully discuss your own projects and to make certain that your interviewers get a good understanding of your accomplishments even if they are not familiar with the specifics.