Most executive candidates rarely differentiate themselves from their competition. They use the same predictable resumes and bland performance in interviews.
Today’s big idea: I will provide examples of a storytelling approach in an interview that will make you stand out from the competition.
Storytelling is a special art form. This is especially true for the job interview. It is a powerful tool but you must understand its limitations. There are some questions that are not storytelling qualified, they beg for a straight forward, fact-based response. There are other important questions that are ideally suited to answer in a story format.
Here are some examples from my career. I hope they help you see the opportunity to enhance your own storytelling skills.
Tell me about a person or an event that changed your career trajectory.
The person was William F. Smith. At the time he was CEO of Houston’s Hermann Hospital. I was the Director of Community Relations, having just left a three-year stint at The Houston Post where I worked as an editor, crime writer and investigative reporter.
Hermann was struggling financially and Bill had been brought in to lead a turnaround.
Bill had been introduced to the idea of having a helicopter ambulance based at Hermann. He felt this would dramatically enhance the hospital’s image as a teaching hospital and trauma center.
I thought the idea was risky and was not convinced that it would work. I had been on the due diligence team that visited St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver where the first and only hospital-based helicopter was located.
One day several months later, as I was talking down the hall near the administrative offices, I saw Bill. He had been cornered by the Chief of Neonatology who was giving him grief for not providing his unit financial support. As I got closer, I heard the physician say, “And why are you undertaking that expensive helicopter program? You don’t have anyone on your staff who can take that program on.” Smith looked up, look at me and said loudly, “John Self is going to run it and he will sink with it or swim with it.”
I got to lead a great implementation team. Life Flight quickly became a very successful program. Within 16 months I was named National Marketing Manager for the aircraft company’s new medical division. I helped set up the next 13 programs nation-wide.
That 15 or 20 second event changed my life in a way that I could never have imagined.
Here is another example:
Tell me about your biggest career mistake.
In 1994, I formed an executive recruiting firm, JohnMarch Partners. Over the years I built up the business and we enjoyed some success. But access to capital was a challenge and I felt that with additional financial resources we could grow the company into a national presence.
In 2002 I took on a partner who said he would bring capital for expansion. My mistake was that I did not follow my own recruiting process. My advisors urged me to form the partnership and I allowed myself to be swayed by their thoughts. I did not really think through issues of style, personality, or even politics. He was a good man but we were very different people and both of us liked to have control. In the end he put the money in infrastructure and not on business development.
Our relationship did not work and, following a very bad year in 2009, I decided to leave the company that I had formed 16 years earlier. I had to walk away to survive financially. It was a tough, emotionally wrenching experience. The good news is that there is a great ending to this story. So what did I learn? I learned that I should always trust my instincts. Deep down I knew that my partner and I were not a good fit but I lacked the courage of my convictions. This experience turned into a positive one, not a personal disaster.
We have all had setbacks in our careers so do not be afraid to disclose a negative event, but always end the story on a positive note with important lessons learned.
What is your biggest weakness?
I can be too verbal. My father once said about me, “This kid could chat up a brick wall.” Thankfully I have learned some techniques that help me moderate that gift before it drives people crazy. Even my wife says that I am so much better than I used to be.
Don’t try to give a lame answer in an effort to avoid being negative. We all have weaknesses. Embrace them in a positive way. I recently ran into a colleague who interviewed me years ago. He said he always remembered my father’s line about chatting up a brick wall.
Now, here are two other career management tips:
Losing a job can be a positive event. Oh sure, there are certainly financial and emotional challenges but once you get past the shock and anger, it is important to take inventory of who you are and what you are doing. Think about the next steps in your life and then put together a plan to find your next better job. Ask yourself if you are doing the work about which you are passionate? Does the work make you happy. If you are not happy, do not make the mistake of looking for the same job in a different city.
Establish a job search routine. Set weekly and daily goals and keep a journal of your activities. You will have some setbacks but get back up and work your plan. You cannot afford to let your disappointments keep you from doing everything you can to land your next position. Every day you do not look for work can add up to a week to the time you spend out of work.
If you plan to attend the ACHE Congress later this month in Chicago, I will be teaching a course on interviewing skills for senior executives on Wednesday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency. Even if you cannot attend this session, stop by and say hello. I would love to meet you.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening.
SelfPerspsective is produced by JohnGSelf Partners in collaboration with Liberation Syndication. You can subscribe on our website, johngself.com or on iTunes.
© 2020 John Gregory Self