I’ve been in the room just like you. Being asked the most common questions, thinking I nailed the interview, yet disappointed to learn they decided to go with another candidate. I didn’t realize I just needed to make a simple tweak to my interview skills until a few years ago.
After an interview, I asked for feedback, and I was told by the hiring manager that they were “seeking someone who can obtain results.” My reaction? Puzzled and pissed at the situation because I knew I could perform and achieve results, yet I didn’t articulate it clearly enough in the interview. ‘
So let me help you learn from my mistake. I want to share best format to answer any interview question that shows results.
Why Results Matter
As hiring managers, we agree that we have an idea of the person we want to hire before he or she walks into the interview room. We want someone we like, someone who gets along with the team, holds others accountable, and most of all someone who can provide results that pushes the organization to the next level. That’s what I look for in people I’m hiring. Who can my team work with, who can I work with, and who can perform at the highest level to obtain results. But how the hell do you do this when you are given an hour to prove yourself? Simple. Follow the formula I’m about to teach and you’ll conquer any question provided.
Let’s take a stab at the most common interview questions you’ve heard:
Tell me about yourself.
Tell me about a difficult situation you dealt with and what did you learn from it?
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Tell me about a mistake or regret you’ve made in your career.
These are just a few of the most common questions, but how do you answer these questions that show RESULTS?
The Easy Formula to Follow
I work in healthcare and we use the SBAR format (Situation-Background-Action-Result) when communicating and producing business cases. For interview preparation, I simply remove the B, and focus on answering questions in a SAR format: Situation-Action-Result.
If you can get this down, you will leave the room proving you can get the results. Let’s analyze each of the letters in more detail.
This is your opportunity to set the stage and share the important details necessary for your audience to understand why your result was powerful. Was there a problem with quality in the completed products? Was there an issue with the staffing model in department you worked in? What specifically happened in the example you’re about to share?
This is the fishing hook. Use the story to reel the audience in. Once they understand the story, it’s time to move on to the A.
What did YOU do to address the problem you mentioned in the situation? Tell the interviewers specific details, but avoid rambling. When addressing the quality of completed products, did you teach your team about Lean or Six Sigma, or did you conduct an audit of the suppliers to see where the bottleneck in manufacturing occurred?
This is where you start reeling in your fishing hook. The room understands the problem you laid out and now they are leaning in waiting to hear what you did next. This is your opportunity to show your ability to critically think through problems and take immediate action. Now that you’ve shared what you immediately contributed to the situation, it’s time to share the most important part: R.
This is self-explanatory, but is the difference from doing well in an interview and killing the interview. Surprisingly, this part of the response is what most interviewees spend the least amount of time preparing and sharing. The average interviewee tells the hiring manager about a problem and what they did, but if they touch upon the outcome, it’s brief and lacks details. This is where you’re going to set yourself apart from the pack. Don’t be bashful.
What was the result of your action? The key here is to QUANTIFY your results. Don’t say that the products got better. Tell the audience by how much they got better. Did the redesign decrease quality product issues by 25%? Or did you decrease the errors per supplier by 40% through education and implementation of new systems?
Why is this important? Your interviewer has a ton of things running through their mind, and quantifying results helps the interviewer create a memorable story about YOU. When I hear numbers in an interview, I latch onto those numbers. It makes my job easier to create a story. 40% increase or decrease is significant. Making the design better doesn’t tell me anything.
Stay away from being vague here. Be specific with your answers.
Putting the SAR Method in Practice
Now that a simplified explanation was given, let’s run through an example. Let’s set the stage by saying you are currently a data analyst interviewing for a business intelligence manager position, and the interviewer throws in the infamous question: What are your greatest strengths?
A mediocre answer would be:
My greatest strength is that I’m hardworking, and I have the ability to analyze data quickly and find where the organizational deficiencies are.
What’s wrong here? It’s a bunch of vague words trying to tell the story, but doesn’t help the interviewer create a memorable moment about you. The interviewer is thinking, “Apparently everyone is hardworking and can analyze data… but what’s in it for me?”
A better answer would be:
My greatest strength is that I’m hardworking. I have the ability to analyze data quickly and find where the organizational deficiencies are. I’ve been able to improve workflows and reduce costs in my role.
A little better right? But not a home run. You’ve told me what you’ve done with the data, but I want it more impactful, more remarkable.
A killer answer would be:
My greatest strength is my ability to analyze data accurately, find where the organizational deficiencies are, and quickly take action. For example, in my organization there was an issue with turnaround time from ordering to manufacturing to shipping. Based on the data that I analyzed, I provided my boss two options and they decided to dig into one area, ordering. Based on my findings and the work we did, the turnaround time from ordering all the way to shipping reduced from 2 weeks to 5 days.
A LOT better right? As a hiring manager, if someone told me this I would be blown away. It’s memorable and that’s what you want when you are walking out the door. You want the room to remember you. When I’ve been in all day, back-to-back interviews, it’s brutal. I need to remember you after a long day. You need to stick out in my mind, and this is the one way to achieve that.
SAR Method is a Multi-Purpose Answer
So what can you do now? Start by creating a few SAR answers. Early in your career you may only have a few, but that’s perfectly fine. One SAR answer can be used to respond to 2-3 different questions. Our example above can be formatted to answer a questions about your strengths, about a challenging situation, and even an accomplishment when you have to speak about projects you’ve worked on in your previous roles. The bottom line is: it’s your responsibility is to show that you can do the job you applied for, get results, all while making a positive impression. The SAR method has been the best way to help me land offers that I knew I was probably in the bottom of the barrel of candidates. Try this format in your next interview and watch the room give you the head nod when you prove to them you can get RESULTS.