WHY YOU? Preparing Your Story to Answer the Inevitable Make or Break Question

By Taura Prosek

What You Will Learn: 1. You have impressed a prospective employer on paper. Or, perhaps you have networked your way to a referral to be considered for an open position. Or, you secured an on-campus interview with an employer who is visiting your school. However you secured the interview, you have an opportunity to sell yourself. 2. You now must prepare for the interview to rehearse how to communicate what makes you the best candidate for the position. 3. All employers will attempt to learn about you beyond your resume by asking this key question in a number of different ways. But the essence of what am employer wants to know is “Why should I hire you?” 4. This short presentation gives you a framework to prepare for any interview. Key Points Part I: Prepare to Answer questions in a personal way 1) Why you? Why should I hire you? Why are you qualified? What makes you the top candidate? This question always surfaces in one form or another and if it doesn’t, be sure to close the interview with it. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself by strongly communicating your brand as it relates to the value you bring to this employer. Prepare for this question by articulating 2 to 3 key points and validating it with evidence. “I am the best candidate for this role because of my experience in successfully operating in situations of ambiguity based on my time in ____ role, which was a newly created position at ___, Inc. back in 2012 where I was able to…” 2) Tell me about yourself. Often times, interviewers lead with this question. You may follow-up with a question asking them if they mean personal or professional, etc. I recommend jumping right into your answer leading them to why you are interested and why you are qualified. “I first found a passion for marketing back in 2009 when I experienced….” The interviewer is looking to see if you are the right fit for this job, company, culture, their team, etc. Where you grew up or held your first job as a teenager might be of interest to them, but when they ask you this question, “tell me about yourself,” you want to remember that this is an interview and you are selling yourself. Determine what is relevant for this interviewer and start your story there. If they want to probe further back, they will. Part II: Prepare specific value statements Take an inventory of your qualities and ACCOMPLISHMENTS that make you valuable to the company. Use the following three categories of qualities Technical competencies: These may be described as your areas of expertise or functional skills. For example, a marketing role might seek technical competencies around market research, advertising, social media, SEO, branding, channel, integrated marketing, or data analytics. Identify the specific functional skills they are seeking. Competencies: These are personal effectiveness and leadership skills a hiring manager is looking for which may include things like conflict management, negotiation, change management, project management, presentation, communication, program management, people management, global, etc. They can be easily pulled out of a job description by reviewing the responsibilities outlined and other preferred qualifications. Values or Attributes: This can be researched on websites but is commonly communicated in the job description. Examples might include team player, innovative, critical thinker, strategic mind-set, analytical, initiative.Don’t worry too much if they are behaviors, competencies, values, attributes, etc. Just list them for the role and then the work begins. Part 3: Interview Preparation Framework I often tell my MBA student-clients that if they have 10 to 12 stories prepared in addition to the important questions presented to you earlier, that they will be in good shape for any question that comes at them. An interview preparation framework can help you prepare your answers to best market yourself. This framework allows you to identify:

  • State what you did;
  • Explain why you did it;
  • Describe how you did it;
  • Define the results compared to the goal; and
  • Identify the longer-term impact of your actions.
See this example: Interviewer: “Tell me about a goal you’ve set for yourself that you are particularly proud of.” This interviewer is looking for a self-starter – someone with initiative. MBA Response 1: “I set a goal to complete an IronMan by the age of 25 and I accomplished this last year which I’m pretty proud of.” MBA Response 2: “I was a competitive high school athlete although not good enough to play college ball. As I was approaching my college graduation, I realized how much I missed that athletic and competitive part of my life so I set a goal to complete an IronMan by the age of 25. I took 2 years to research training programs, IronMan events, and to save the average $10,000 needed for training and in 2013, decided on the IronMan Arizona: 2014. I spent 12 months training while raising $8,000 for the SmileTrain philanthropy giving me extra motivation to continue on. I overcame a couple of minor injuries and even a time when I totaled my bike in an accident but I’m proud to say I finished in 12.5 hours against my goal of 13. I’m committed to living a healthy lifestyle and have inspired others to run marathons and compete in triathlons by sharing my experience. “ If you have this “story” fleshed out in the framework, you won’t leave any cards on the table. That happens when you walk out of the interview and get upset because you forgot to mention that you overcame a hurdle, finished ahead of goal, or achieved a more positive outcome than management expected. With response 1 above, I am wowed by the accomplishment but so much is left out of the story. I know so much more about you and what you’re able to achieve by response 2. See how this framework might look on paper:
What Why How Result vs Goal Impact
Technical Competency: 1. 2. 3. 4.  
Competency: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.  
Value: 1. Self-starter         2. 3.     Completed Ironman Arizona in Nov 2014   Missed competitive sports; Commitment to health & wellness   Researched for 2 yrs, Saved $10K; Trained for 12 mths; Overcame injuries   Completed in 12.5 hours (30 minutes better than goal);   Inspired others to compete; Raised $8K for charity; Lifelong commitment to healthy lifestyle
Once you’ve completed these steps, ask yourself any interview question and see if you could pull from one of the 10 to 12 stories you’ve outlined above. See below for some sample questions.
  • What is an accomplishment you’ve achieved that you are particularly proud of?
  • When is a time you worked on a team that wasn’t functioning properly and how did you manage through it?
  • Tell me about a time when you had conflicting priorities and how you managed expectations.
  • We are looking for someone that has experience in [insert functional skill here]. Can you describe to me a time when you demonstrated this ability?
  • What is a goal you’ve sent for yourself that you’ve achieved and how did you about it? Didn’t achieve?
  • What is your greatest strength? Biggest development area?
  • Describe a time when a project you were working on got off track, how did you course correct?
It’s important that you don’t go back to the same story or example more than once. When a candidate says, “well, let me go back to that time when I had a team project due…” it signals that the candidate has little depth to their experiences. You’ll realize that the same story can be used for multiple questions at times. For example, the Ironman story could be used to describe a goal, to talk about conflicting time priorities, to discuss challenges overcome like injuries, etc. With thousands of interview questions, the important prep work entails researching the job, identifying what the employer is looking for, and describing your experiences in this framework. This will allow you to feel confident and prepared for any question that comes your way. Summary To be the most prepared you can be, follow this framework to best market yourself and articulate why you are the top candidate for the job. Prepare the most important questions which are: Why are you interested? And why should I hire you? In a customized manner with focus being on the value you have to offer to that organization. Practice these two questions out loud and voice record yourself over and over until it no longer sounds rehearsed. Then, research and prepare 10-12 stories that are specific to this job that will allow you to adequately answer any question that comes your way. Prepare for your next interview with confidence by effectively answering, Why You!