Speed-dating! What comes to mind when you hear the phrase? Stress. Anxiety. Uncertainty. Awkwardness. A job interview comes with pretty much the same level (or more) of pressure, minus the element of fun. All eyes are on potential candidates to see if they are indeed the right fit, in a rather short time span.
So, now that you’ve landed an interview, what next? (And oh, congratulations, by the way!)
However clichéd it may sound, the key to nailing any interview is to make sure you stand out from the crowd. And that certainly won’t happen with mediocre answers. Through effective and memorable answers, a candidate can demonstrate self-awareness and certainly make a lasting impression. This is where stories and anecdotes come in use instead of merely stating facts. Adding a personal touch during an interview allows the interviewer to relate to you in a meaningful way and is far more impactful than simply reciting the ‘best practice’ answer that the interviewer has heard a zillion times.
Let’s take a look at a handy and helpful framework that can help us streamline our ‘stories’. Not only will the SOAR model help you prepare concrete answers to interview questions, especially behavioural ones, it will also provide a structure to keep you focused (Read: stops you from rambling off point!).
The SOAR model
The SOAR framework divides your ‘story’ into four sections – situation, obstacles, action, and results.
(Note: A variation of this model is STAR – situation, tasks, replace, and obstacles)
To begin with, provide some context and a brief overview to set the scene. Give them a real flavour of the conditions you faced, vividly but concisely (Think: environment, role, department, timeframe, etc.).
For example – In my second year of college, I was selected to be a part of the organizing committee for the inaugural Thinkfest, an event bringing together high-profile thought-leaders, trendsetters, and artists to present diverse ideas around a central theme.
If you launch straight into a dialogue on obstacles you faced or how you dealt with them without providing any context, an interviewer will not get a true sense of the challenge, your role, or your capabilities. Furthermore, it will reflect poorly on your communication skills (Think: speed-dating without introducing yourself).
Obstacles / Tasks
Now, outline the challenges and issues that you had to overcome. If you’re using the STAR framework, describe your responsibilities and what was expected of you.
For example – Although all committee members had different roles, our work overlapped and our individual responsibilities were not clear. Being the junior-most on the committee, it wasn’t easy to get my voice heard!
You will now be in the spotlight to explain just how you dealt with that pain-in-the-neck boss, sticky situation, lazy teammate, or whatever obstacle you faced! You should go on to explain how you came up with a plan of action and the concrete steps you took to resolve the situation.
For example – I had a lot of ideas about what we could do, but team meetings were often heated and no one listened to anyone! I decided to send an email to the team detailing my ideas, hoping it would give me a chance to be heard. To decide the theme, I suggested that we take an online poll and let the student body vote on three themes. I also proposed forming sub-committees for things like sales & marketing, event organisation, venue, logistics, etc. If we had a meeting to establish clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations within the sub-committees, we would work in a much more efficient manner and things would be transparent. Luckily my email was very well received and led to an effective exchange of ideas in writing, where people were actually reading and reflecting before responding!
This is your chance to shine! Describe the outcome of your action. If appropriate, quantify the results to show how effectively the problem was solved. However tempting it may be, try not to inflate figures. It may not seem a big deal to say you’re a gymnast when you can just about manage a somersault (same thing, right?), but it’s easy to get caught out. The important thing is that you are able to demonstrate value addition by showing the impact you had, however big or small.
For example – The sub-committee idea proved extremely useful, as did the poll. We saved a lot of time working in independent teams with clear scopes of work. The polling showed us that the ideas the committee was leaning towards were the least popular! This was an extremely important learning right at the start because it showed the power of market research and danger of making assumptions. We went with the student body and extended polling on speaker choice, viewpoints, activities, etc. during the organisation phase as a marketing technique. We built considerable energy through this and ticket sales far exceeded expectations. We sold out within a week of launching sales, and extended the festival by one day due to high demand. The inaugural event was so successful that it is now the highest profile event on campus.
Remember to keep your stories crisp and concise so as not to lose the interviewer’s attention or veer off track. Humour is a useful tool to break the ice, but keep your stories short and relevant – no longer than two minutes.
Once you master the art of effective ‘storytelling’, you’ll be well on your way to being shortlisted.
So how can I get started?
Brainstorm! Make a note of all your personal and professional milestones, no matter how trivial they may seem. Often, these denote life lessons that help shape our character and decision-making process over time. Then, have a look at the practice behavioural interview questions below and see how your experiences fit in. Expand on your experiences using the SOAR/STAR framework and practice delivering your answers. Remember that the goal is to use anecdotes and tell stories that illustrate your strengths, capabilities, and self-awareness in a meaningful and memorable way.
1. Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person (classmate, colleague, teammate)?
2. What has been your most significant achievement at university/in your last job?
3. Would you call yourself a team player?
4. Have you made any significant mistakes? How did you handle them? What did you learn from them?
5. If you are working on a team project, and your teammates are not sharing the burden/living up to expectations, what would you do?
You may find it challenging to communicate your story effectively. Effective communication techniques, however, are not very difficult to hone and master. You can enroll for Internshala’s Business Communication Skills training and learn the principles of verbal communication and improve your fluency, enunciation, and vocabulary. You will also learn how to use body language to convey your story effectively.
We hope you find this article useful and are confident that you will notice a difference in your interview answers by applying the SOAR framework!
About the Author: Tripta Singh is an educator and entrepreneur based out of Singapore. She is passionate about empowering people and is an avid chef and globetrotter.