Dear Shannon: How can I make an impact in job interviews?

Dear Shannon

Dear Shannon: How can I make an impact in job interviews?

Calendar image by FuzzBones via Shutterstock.

Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wanna-be professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to [email protected].

Dear Shannon,

I have been working in international development with a focus on climate change adaptation in Africa for the past five years. I have applied for around 20 international development roles since the New Year and been invited in for five interviews, but I've never made it to the final round. Obviously I'm doing something wrong, but I have no idea what. I've talked about it with friends and fellow students, but they don't know either. I'm well presented and articulate, I always research the company and I have relevant experience. Short of a mock interview, is there any advice you can offer?

-- Sam, Capetown

Hello Sam,

Congratulations! You've been getting the interviews and that is half the battle. The next challenge is to prove your worth under the spotlight and show off your interpersonal skills.

If you're already sure you're turning up to the interview looking the part, knowing something about the company you're interviewing for and articulating yourself well, it's likely that you're giving a good interview. So why aren't you getting the job? Probably because you're not giving a great interview -- and the competition is.

Chart your career journey

A key part of your preparation should be a coherent and descriptive response to that classic interview question: "Walk me through your CV."

This question can make or break a prospective interviewee and in my experience, it's the question that candidates tend to flunk most often. Your ability to side-step around the extraneous detail while highlighting your most relevant skills and achievements will set you apart in an interview context and help you shimmy into the "great" category with confidence.

When I work with my career coaching clients, I encourage them to use a tool I call "My Career Journey." It's a colorful one-page PowerPoint slide that answers that question visually, showing each step you've taken from one area of your life to the next, all the while climbing up the proverbial ladder to the biggest box on the right-hand side that describes the job you're interviewing for.

The basic idea is that you explain the rationale behind each step you've taken in your life, while clearly outlining the skills you've acquired. The steps could be jobs or university or living abroad -- whatever is relevant to the hiring manager and the role. But it serves a dual purpose. In addition to setting out your path clearly and simply, the process of actually creating this slide forces you to build a narrative around it that makes sense to you. As you select the most relevant pieces of your career journey and cram them into punchy bullet points, you'll find that you can easily talk about them. Make sure to leave a hard copy of that slide with the interviewer. This never fails to impress the hiring manager and shows that you made that extra effort to stand out.

Calendar image by FuzzBones via Shutterstock.

Showcase your competencies

The other major interview technique I use with my clients is "Situation/Action/Result" or SARs, which is a framework for giving complete, tangible and real accomplishment answers for competency-based questions. It helps to use this format in preparing for your interview so you can pre-select the best achievements in your career to date that prove that you can meet each individual requirement in the job description.

Start by taking a blank piece of paper and write down each essential criterion for the job, and as many of the desirable criteria that you meet. For each one, anticipate the possible questions that the interviewer may have, such as, "If you were a hiring manager and it was up to you to establish whether a candidate met the requirements, what would you ask?" Don't be too easy on yourself, either.

Then, prepare your answer. It needs to be centered around something that you did in a professional, student or volunteer capacity that demonstrates that you have achieved each specific criterion. Start by briefly describing the situation, then describe the action that you took, and finally explain what the result was for the project, team, boss, company or client.

Interviewing for and with impact

By the time you have landed the interview, the hiring manager already thinks that you can basically "do" the job and assumes that your technical expertise more or less meets their requirements. The live interview is testing you on who you are and links to your values and traits; read more about these here.

In order to convince the interviewers that you are committed to the sector and passionate about creating long-term results for society and the environment, you need to come armed with the specifics on your passions and theories for this space. A question that I hear a lot is, "Where do you see the sustainability (or climate change adaptation, CSR, carbon, etc.) agenda going in the next five to 15 years?"

Interviewees are usually not ready for it, but it does get asked, so do your research on the latest thought leadership on the areas you have expertise in and the issues that this job will require you to manage. Be ready to share your vision and put across something different to set you apart from the rest of the pack.

This strategic approach makes it easy for the hiring manager to not only see why you're the right person for the job, but also why you're someone that they want to work with, to manage and to build impact with.

Good luck with your next interview and let me know when you get the job.

Calendar image by FuzzBones via Shutterstock.