How To Make Yourself Compelling and Memorable in Your Next HR Job Interview…

by Alan Collins

The Three Bears
Snow White
Hansel & Gretel
The Three Little Pigs

What do these all have in common?

They are all short stories.

Stories that we fondly remember from our childhood. Each of these stories are different and unique.

Even after decades, I’ll bet if you were pressed you could remember the essence of each these stories.

The same is true of conveying a good story in HR interviews. 

It can leave a positive impression about you that the interviewer will remember long after your interview is over. And in doing so, it can differentiate you from the rest of the pack. Because no one else has the same story as you.

Good stories are an important part of your tool kit as an HR interviewee.

They can paint a picture about a certain skill you have.
How you handled a particular situation.
What your personality is like.
And just about anything else.

But the challenge is how do you craft and communicate compelling, memorable and persuasive stories?

It’s simple.

One way is by using the CAR story-telling technique. CAR stands for Challenge, Action and Result.

Here’s how it works:

First, you describe the Challenge.

This is the situation that you’ve handled well. It could be a problem (something went wrong) or an opportunity (you spotted a potential improvement that others hadn’t identified). But either way, it’s your starting point.

Next, talk about the Action you took.

This is where you talk about what you did to solve that problem or capitalize on that opportunity.

Finally, you outline the Result.

This is the outcome of the action you took and, if possible, it should be presented in terms of numbers, so that your impact is clearly understood. (For example, “the employee recognition program I initiated led to a 5% reduction in turnover over the next year.”)

However, sometimes numbers won’t be available.  And if that’s the case, just describe the result in words (for example, “the client was completely satisfied with my solution and wrote a thank you letter to the CHRO.”)

Here’s an example of the CAR story-telling technique in action.

Let’s say your interviewer asks you: Give me an example of a tough HR problem you solved in your last job?

Here’s how you’d answer using CAR:

Describe the challenge:

“We were facing a horrible problem in keeping good customer service reps in our Customer Service Division. The pay wasn’t great and fielding customer complaints all day was no fun. It got to the point where our turnover rate was 10% a month.

This cost the company an estimated $2.5 million in recruitment and training costs in addition to the terrible morale issues that it created not only in the Apparel Division but among our customers as well. Everyone was distressed about this situation”

Convey the action you took:

“I worked with the leaders and employees of the department to do an extensive turnover analysis to determine the real root cause of the problem. It turns out that the big problem was that customer service training was inadequate and work hours were too long. To address these issues, we created a Customer Service Success Series of training sessions held every week.

They covered sessions not only on how to handle difficult customers, but it even went beyond this. We provided sessions on managing your career, handling work life balance, saving for retirement and other issues of interest to the customer service reps.

It was the first time anyone had really paid attention to them.  We also adjusted their work hours by creating brand new customer service teams, flexible work schedules and rotating shifts that we’d never used before.”

Pinpoint the result:

“About two months after these changes were initiated, turnover dropped from 10% a month to 3.7% a month. Even though we invested $200,000 in all the new training and other changes, we wound up saved the company $1.2 million the first year. Morale has drastically improved by 30% based on the last employee survey we did and customer complaints are now at a five-year low.

This has been well-received throughout the organization and by our customers.  And now other divisions have contacted me about addressing morale and talent retention issues with their customer service people. I’m ecstatic about what we’ve been able to achieve.”

See how this works?

Your CAR stories should take no more than 2 minutes to describe. By structuring your response this way, you paint a vivid and compelling picture of what was going on, what steps you took and what the result was. And you come across as a very desirable and compelling HR job candidate in the process.

Having CAR success stories like this one in your back pocket during interviews work big time.  Frankly, even if your success story isn’t related directly to the question, you can find a way to link it in.

For example…

If you wanted to use the above story, but the interviewer asked you about a difficult situation with your boss. You could say something like, “Well, I’ve been quite lucky and I haven’t had any difficult situations with my bosses, but I have had a few difficult situation client situations, and as we all know, the client is the boss…”  Then you can segue into the story above or another one of your prepared stories.

Even if you have to create a somewhat awkward link between a question and the positive story you’d like to tell, it’s always better to share a success story than allow yourself to get trapped into saying something that puts you in a negative light.

Clearly, this can seem daunting as I’m sure you could develop 20-30 stories –so, do you need that many?

No, you don’t.

Ideally, you only need 5-7 killer stories for your interview. Now you won’t use all these. But you should have them ready ahead of time. To ensure you have good coverage you should prepare stories in these areas:
-HR Leadership & Influence
-Challenges
-Mistakes / Failures
-Successes
-Teamwork

When should you use stories?

Some interview questions just merit a direct answer, not a story. Stories are most effective when you hear behavior-based questions or questions asking you to prove yourself or validate your credentials. Typically these questions will begin with:
“Give me an example of…”
“Tell me about a situation where you…”
“How would you best illustrate your skill in handling…
“What evidence can you provide that you can…
“What in your background relates to…”

Let’s sum this all up.

CAR stories are a powerful way to differentiate you from other HR job candidates in interviews. No one else can convincingly convey your unique stories. All it requires is describing a challenge, the action you took and the result.

Having 5-7 compelling stories prepared ahead of the game is critical for making you memorable…just like the stories you remember as a kid.

Onward!

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Want even more compelling strategies to help you crush your next HR interview, then check out:  HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!  For more details go HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including HR INTERVIEW SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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4 Responses to “How To Make Yourself Compelling and Memorable in Your Next HR Job Interview…”

  1. Karen MacRobie Says:

    I use the SOAR (Situation, Objective, Action, Result) acronym when working with clients but same idea. I find it really helps focus your interview-like Goldie Locks – just the ‘right’ amount of information being shared initially. This applies no matter what kind of role-thanks for sharing Alan and some great examples.

  2. Rohith Castelino Says:

    Hi Alan, Thats a brilliant article and very well written, the technique is really useful. I recently had been interviewed by one of the company and if I had read this article, I would have been in a better position to appear for the interview. Can you please share some generally asked Behavioural based questions?

  3. Diana Dema Says:

    Thank you Alan, for your consistent impressive sharing approach. I remember having used STAR method (situations/targets/actions/results), serving the same purpose you have described. An HR’s professional lifetime is filled with useful stories which contain valid learning experiences, and would be precious to share not only as an interviewee, but also with millennials, who need experience and a vivid learning environment. Best, Diana

  4. Robyn Says:

    Thank you Allan for consistently sharing with your audience. I always learn something new to guide me in my work.I have seen myself consistently grow and improve. Thank you.

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