Flipping an achievement story for interview

When writing to selection criteria about results and achievements the part about results and achievements generally comes at the end of a story structured using the STAR model. For example if the selection criterion is about ‘Achieving results’ in the context of a project, then the story follows the structure of giving information about the situation, outlining what actions were taken, and ending with the result that flowed from these actions.

When it comes to the interview however, I suggest the structure needs to be reversed when outlining to a panel your significant results or achievements. For example, to take a generic question about what has been a recent or significant result or achievement that the applicant considers to be significant, you may be tempted to use much the same structure as in your application. You start by talking about a situation, outlining the actions you took that flowed into the result of which you are pleased.

This response however does not fully meet the question nor convey the full significance of your result. So I suggest the order be changed to focus on the result or achievement first and to spend a significant part of the response highlighting why the result was significant, rather than giving all the details around how you achieved the result.

So let’s take an example. The question is: Tell us about a recent result that you have been pleased with or you consider significant.

A response might then sound like this:

“A recent result that I am particularly pleased with and which made a significant difference to my team and management was my contribution to increasing managers’ awareness of how to interpret financial reports. Over the course of six months of providing financial reports to eight branch managers it became clear that some significant details were either being misinterpreted or overlooked for their significance. It was also clear that some managers were paying a lot of attention to details that were insignificant. As a result my team was receiving numerous queries which were time-consuming and generating frustration for both the managers and my staff.

To help these branch managers understand and interpret the reports accurately as well as reduce staff’s workload and increase the perception that my team was providing useful information, I facilitated a team discussion to identify practical strategies to increase managers’ understanding in a way that would be acceptable to them.

Implementing these strategies resulted in:

  • Branch managers having a better grasp of the reports they were receiving, and being able to accurately interpret the information.
  • Branch managers shifting their perception of my team as a group of expert advisers who are professional, courteous, friendly and helpful.
  • A reduction in time taken by my staff in responding to managers’ queries.
  • An improved sense amongst my team members of their role and strategic contribution as corporate advisers.

These benefits meant that relationships between branch managers and my finance team improved significantly to the point where branch managers felt comfortable seeking further information from us. This then meant that some compliance issues which had previously not been addressed were able to be sorted out in an amicable environment.

I consider this to be one of my most significant achievements as it demonstrated what a team effort under guidance can do to support an agency’s corporate role. It also meant that my staff’s skills in explaining technical information and building relationships were much improved, their self-confidence also improved as they were able to see how they could work with senior managers in a fruitful manner.

What also please me about this contribution is that it demonstrated how providing guidance and direction to a team can generate a combined sense of purpose to achieve a result.”

This response focuses less on the details of what happened and more on all the results that contributed to this result being considered significant. This example is about showing all the ways in which a contribution has been made and the person’s awareness of strategic thinking, and how they can have an impact at multiple levels-on the agency, senior managers, the team, as well as themselves.

So next time you’re preparing for an interview, particularly for more senior levels and management roles, think about the results you have achieved in terms of:

  • All the contributions you made in the given situation.
  • Why these contributions were significant.

In explaining why a contribution is significant you may have to highlight things like how much time you had, was there a short amount of time or was it something that dragged on for a long period of time, the amount of resources involved, whether you had to learn something new, whether the situation was unexpected, whether the problem was entrenched and no one had previously been able to think of a way to deal with it. These are all details around what makes something significant and becomes part of the verbal story to convey to the panel what impact you have had.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.