Updating Results

The 5 stories you need to know back-to-front before an interview

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator
You arrive at the office block with 20 minutes to spare, having practised the route with military precision a couple of times over the weekend.

You’re wearing your best suit (the one you got for Aunt Lindsay’s wedding), freshly dry cleaned and you DEFINITELY remembered to take the ticket off.

You’ve been ushered in, remembered the names of your interviewers perfectly, and you’ve made some A-grade small-talk about finding the place okay and yes, there was more parking than you expected.

You’ve relaxed into your chair, thinking you’ve got this job locked up, when the interviewer asks: “So, tell me about a time when you… “ and immediately your mind goes blank, unable to recall what you did yesterday let alone two years ago.

The best way to get unstuck in this situation (which we’ve all found ourselves in) is to have the five most common stories you’ll be asked to tell pre-loaded and ready to go. You’ll give your mind the chance to switch on to autopilot while you thaw your brain out from its frozen state.

The most common, and therefore critical, stories to be able to tell are:

1. A time when you worked as part of a team

What the interviewer wants to know here is that you can get along with people while achieving a common goal, so pick a time you worked well on a project or overcame differences to get the work done.

2. A time when you worked on your own

Being able to leave an employee alone and come back to find work progressing nicely is one of the best outcomes a busy hiring manager could hope for. Think about a time you were left to your own devices and either progressed a project without any help — or, better yet, you found something to do that you weren’t asked to.

3. A time you failed

Being human means we will all fail at some time or another, whether it’s messing up a piece of work or failing to live up to someone’s expectations. How you go about salvaging the situation speaks volumes of your character, work ethic and determination to succeed. Think of a time when you failed but made every effort to recover, focusing not only on the eventual outcome but the steps you took and the responsibility you shouldered to make it happen.

4. A time you were proud of yourself

This is a question where you can squeeze twice the value if you’re savvy! Not only is it an opportunity to show off your successes, but an opportunity to give the recruiter an idea of what makes you tick. If you’re interviewing for a role in a consulting firm that has a charitable ethos, then that time you raised money above and beyond your target amount for your favourite charity would be a great way to highlight your compatibility with the firm while proving you can get great stuff done.

5. A time when you were in charge

Companies hiring you for a role generally want to invest in your career and see that investment bear fruit. Knowing that you’ve successfully stepped up when needed in previous roles shows some of the potentials you might bring the organisation you’re interviewing with, so don’t be modest — talk up your achievements when you were front and centre.

If you take the time to prepare and rehearse these five stories, you’ll always have a good answer for any kind of “Tell me about a time…”  question that comes your way.