Congratulations! Your resume has risen to the top, and your skills and credentials ticked all the boxes. Now, it’s time for the job interview.
You print extra copies of your CV, dress smart and show up 10 minutes early. But if you’re like many people, the pressure to impress during a job interview can cause your brain to flutter and gasp like a dying fish. And then you get hit with the knockout question: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
In this case, the best defence is a good offence, says Gabrielle Dolan, author of Storytelling for Job Interviews. Besides the occasional ‘gotcha’ questions that some companies have become famous for, chances are you will have a general idea of what you will be asked in a job interview.
“You need to come prepared with examples to answer those ‘Tell me about a time when you …’ types of questions,” Dolan says. The perfect length for a response is one to two minutes, she adds. “Don’t just ramble on. If the interviewer wants more information, they will ask for it.”
Dolan says there are four types of stories you should have ready to go to nail every job interview.
- The Literal Story: This is the one you will use most frequently, says Dolan. It is a factual, work-related example of something you have done before.
- The Learn Story: As much as we hate to admit our mistakes, doing so can be powerful, she says. “Showing vulnerability can be a very valuable thing,” Dolan says. “The interviewer is trying to see how you fit into the workplace culture as well, so you want to create an emotional connection.” Now is the time to share a story about when things didn’t go right, but you learned something from the experience.
- The Like Story: “People underuse this one because they think some experiences are irrelevant in a work context,” Dolan says. “But this type of story is great for candidates who are entering the workforce, coming back from a break or changing careers.” If you fit any of these categories, you might not have direct experience in the field for which you are interviewing. If that’s the case, use an experience that shows your capabilities instead. For example, if you need examples of leadership positions, talk about how you are on the board of a philanthropy or how you manage your kid’s soccer team. Even sharing a story about your years in a band can demonstrate teamwork and creativity.
- The Lateral Story: This type of story is always personal because it demonstrates a value you have. For example, you might tell a story that shows you respect honesty or integrity.
What types of stories shouldn’t you tell? “Never share stories that paint a previous employer in a bad light,” Dolan says. She also stresses that although you want to connect with the interviewer, there is such a thing as too much information. The person assessing your competence doesn’t need to hear about that time you got drunk on a Tuesday night and fell asleep in the neighbour’s yard.
And last but not least, how do you answer that inevitable – but never-the-less tricky – question about your biggest weakness?
“Don’t be funny about it,” says Dolan. “And don’t say you don’t have one; all that does is show your greatest weakness is a lack of self-awareness.”
Instead, she recommends you think of one that could be turned into a positive. For example, if you are applying for a role that requires attention to detail, then being a perfectionist isn’t such a bad thing. Or if you are looking to work in a fast-paced environment, then making snap judgements could help you in the long run.
However, none of this is helpful without a solid foundation. “I know it’s easier said than done, but most importantly you need to be confident,” she says. “And you need to be yourself. You don’t want to get a job on the premise that you are someone you aren’t – that won’t work out for anyone.”