Interviewing advice: Tell a better story!

Our office prepares hundreds of students (and a number of alumni) each year for interviews with legal employers. During this interview prep, which often includes the review of a videotaped mock interview, we talk about strategies to enhance responses to common interview questions.

Often our advice boils down to this: Tell a better story!

Employers ask questions to evaluate an applicant’s potential for success. Sometimes an employer’s questions, while direct, don’t seem to lend themselves to effective storytelling. For example, “Who’s your favorite law school professor?” or “Why did you pursue a legal education?” are relatively easy to answer; but a short, obvious answer won’t help the interviewee’s cause.

In other instances, an employer may rely on a more probing “behavioral interviewing” type question. These tend to follow a “Tell me about a time when…” or “Please describe a situation in which…” format. Questions of this type beg for an interesting story in response, but they often tie interviewees in knots.

When responding to either type of interview inquiry, it’s important for the interviewee to capture and hold the interviewer’s attention by weaving a coherent story of accomplishment. Anecdotes that relate past accomplishments to the potential for future success with that employer are the secret to effective interviewing.

For several years now we’ve been suggesting the STAR method of responding to interviewing questions. The method is recommended by this article and is a powerful way to connect with an interviewer through an “accomplishment story.”

The STAR method is simple. In response to a question, walk an interviewer through these steps:

  • Situation or Task: Describe the situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish. Don’t rely on a general description of a past event; be specific. Pepper your description with memorable details.
  • Action(s) you took: What steps did you take to address the situation? What tasks were necessary?
  • Results you achieved: How was the issue resolved? What happened and what did you learn?

An effective “accomplishment story” holds the interviewer’s attention and keeps the focus on you, the interviewee. It also provides an interviewee a memorable way to organize and deliver his or her thoughts.

The STAR method resonates particularly well with attorney interviewers. Our theory is that attorneys, who after all are in a customer service driven industry, like to hear about situations in which issues were resolved through concrete actions.

Resolved issues = happy clients.

An interviewee with the potential to make clients happy = a new employee.

Todd Rogers, Assistant Dean for Career Services