Hero Stories – How to Talk About Yourself with Measured Confidence in Interviews

You can’t possibly predict every question your interviewers will ask (and neither can we), but you can prepare for any question. We’ve come up with a way to prepare you for any type of experience question that rears its head – from “Give us an example when you demonstrated perseverance” to “Tell us about a time when you failed to deliver” – and to help you talk about yourself with the confidence of a consultant.

Here’s an overview of the exercise we have our clients go through before spending an hour with us in a one-one-one interview prep session.

  • Write 4 hero stories that describe you as a hero, doing something impressive that made an impact.  The examples you choose should demonstrate your leadership qualities, your initiative, and your teamwork orientation. Pull from your school or work experiences—leading projects and teams, starting a company or organization, or taking a risk to develop a passion—and don’t forget to quantify your results.
  • Write 2 challenge stories that describe a challenge or failure you faced and overcame. Your examples should relay your perseverance, your improvement ethic, and your ability to overcome obstacles.  Classic examples come from difficult teamwork experiences at school or work—designating yourself as group leader when no one else could get the project off the ground, handling the difference in quality standards between you and your team members, and what you did to compensate for others’ lack of participation.
Shoot for a half-page minimum for each story using this framework:
Context – Actions – Results
Add a fifth step when relaying a challenge story: Re-assessment. After giving the results, re-assess your actions to demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake and you would do things differently if faced with the situation again: “If I would have set clear goals before starting the research, I could have saved hours of time and not missed my deadline.”  If you can, present another scenario that happened more recently under similar context, showing that you applied your learnings, took a different approach, and came out with better results.

Sticking to the framework is key. Why? First, to give some structure to your example so it’s clear and coherent (consultants are all about structure). Second, it ensures you cover all the important talking points your interviewers are interested in. By writing out an entire story, you’re exploring the same qualities examined by consulting interviewers during the fit questions.  Third, you’re giving yourself material to pull from when you do get a question that falls outside the standard list.  Fourth, you’re practicing your story-telling style and segues, and choosing words for maximum impact and clarity.

For a list of 8 typical fit interview questions, get our FREE Consulting Roadmap when you subscribe.
Practicing is really the only way to get comfortable talking about yourself in a positive light. When we coach interview candidates with little to no experience, a large portion of our time is spent on striking that balance between bragging and humility. For some of you it comes naturally. For others, it’s something you have to work on.
Here are 3 tips to keep in mind while practicing (which you should do out loud, multiple times, with different interviewers):
  • Don’t memorize –  You’ll simultaneously bore your audience and give the impression that you can’t think on your feet – both negatives you want to avoid.  Instead, draw from your practice to compose thoughtful, articulate responses that are spontaneous variations on the hero and challenge stories you’ve prepared.
  • Get a partner – Practice answering questions with someone who will give you an intelligent and honest critique. Allot a minimum of 2 hours to practice with your partner and make an effort to conduct your session during business hours – as much as you can you want to simulate the real thing.
  • Record yourself – While it may be uncomfortable at first, capture yourself on video, or use a smartphone to record and time your responses. With video, take note of hand gestures, your appearance, and your body position as you play back your presentation – watch for things like crossed arms (signaling tightness or discomfort) or shrugged shoulders (signaling uncertainty or fragility). With audio, notice pauses, stuttering, and tone of voice.

It takes hours of practice to get your presentation air-tight, but it takes only one mistake to go from a favored candidate to the bottom of the pile. Unfortunately, interviewers will latch on to bad answers quickly (they’re only human), so you’ve got to be at the top of your game 100% of the time.  Avoid a sticky situation by steering clear of these 4 key no-nos:

  • Negativity – Any type of negative comment – about yourself, your college experience, your internship program, or things you didn’t like in a former firm/position – is unwelcome. No one likes a downer.
  • Hesitancy – Sitting there with a stunned look on your face will convey that you can’t handle pressure. If you need time to formulate an answer, it’s okay to ask for a few seconds before you begin.  Letting them know you’re taking a moment to thoughtfully respond shows that you’re measured and calculating – just try not to exceed 30 seconds.
  • Confusion – Losing your train of thought mid-response is a signal that you’re unable to focus or you get distracted easily.  By start and ending your stories with a thesis statement, you can keep yourself on track and make sure you answer the question directly.
  • Dishonesty  You might be tempted to stretch the truth because you’re worried you’re not qualified for the job. Painting things in a positive light is fine, but when asked directly (for example, why you left your last job), you have to tell the truth. Legally, employers have no binding responsibility to you if they discover at any point in the hiring process you’ve lied to them. It also shatters any trust you might have had, so it’s never worth it.

Need help with your hero stories? Email us! We’ll get you started.

Filed Under: Consulting Case Interview