Know Your Story

Know Your Story

April 19th, 2015  |  Published in Culture

Tony Ouk received his MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Tony has worked in the fields of investment banking, technology, marketing, and financial services. He has been with several notable companies, including PubMatic, CrowdFlower, Oracle, and Opentable. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Tony speaks fourteen languages and loves to cook in his spare time.

By Tony Ouk

You’ve put together that solid resume and sent it out to a few companies, any of which you’d love to add to that already stellar resume. You check your inbox one morning and behold! They like what they see and want to proceed with next steps. You’re elated! You’re already thinking about the idea of working at some of these companies and all the great things you’ll experience there. But then you realize what “next steps” really mean and you’re suddenly gripped with fear… it’s the dreaded interview process.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to have been a candidate and done a fair amount of interviews. And now at this point in my career, I’m often asked to be an interviewer. When you ask most people if they like interviewing for a job, the most common response is a resounding no. It’s understandably nerve-wracking. You feel that you’re being evaluated and worse, you fear they’ll ask you a question you just don’t know how to answer. But as I’ve done more interviews, both as a candidate and as an evaluator, there are a few tips and tricks that’ll get you through over 90% of any interview process. In this series of blog posts, I’ll share with you some of my tips and tricks that have gotten me through some of the toughest interviews.

Know your story

Within any interview process you’ll be asked to recount your story. The question takes on a number of forms. Some of the most common are:

“So tell me about yourself.”
“Why don’t you walk me through your resume?”
“What brings you here today?”
“What led you to apply to this position?”
“Why are you looking for a change?”

Besides wanting to know more about you, the interviewer is looking to see if you can coherently walk him through a thought process. I’m often amazed at how many candidates I interview who aren’t prepared to do this and sort of just jump around from job to job or event to event on their resume.

Remember, your resume is a reflection of life events. Tell me why you took certain jobs in the past, what were some great achievements while you were there, what you learned, and why did you decide to move to the next opportunity. This is your opportunity to make your resume come alive and not just be a list of bullet points. An example could be:

“After graduating from college, I decided to take a marketing position at XYZ Company. I had always been interested in marketing and even took a few marketing courses in college. Of all the opportunities that I could pursue, this position really resonated with me. The team seemed very knowledgeable in marketing and they seemed very open to passing this knowledge to me. In short, I felt I could find really great mentors there. On top of that, the company seemed like a fun culture and the product they were selling was interesting to me also. I was there for a year and half and as I had hoped, I learned a great deal. In particular, through ABC experiences I was able to develop XYZ skillsets. But I realized at that time, that my next steps in my career were to develop ABC skillsets, which led me to pursue the opportunity at my next job at…”

In that above example, the candidate has stated why he took a job, what he learned, and how that ties into his next job opportunity. In short, it’s a story. And the story doesn’t always have to have positive remarks. The majority of professionals have experienced taking a job that didn’t turn out to be what they expected, economic downturns that called for staff reduction, or reorgs that negatively impacted an individual’s job function. The important part here is that you are able to tell the story that connect the dots. In so doing, you send a clear message to the interviewer that you are articulate, self-aware, and reflective.

This is often one of the first questions I ask in my interviews and within minutes into the candidate’s narrative, I quickly come to the conclusion if I want to still consider the candidate for the opportunity. It’s not always a conscious decision but rather an overall first impression the candidate is giving me. I’ve spoken to a number of other people who interview candidates often and they share a similar view: not knowing your story makes it very difficult to recover in the rest of the interview. In fact, in my experience, 50-60 percent of candidates fail to tell their story well, leading to a less than optimal first impression for half the candidates I interview.

As difficult and daunting as this all sounds, the great part is that this part of the interview is completely within your control. This is something in your interview that you can practice before the actual interview until you are comfortable telling your story. And best of all, it’s a guaranteed topic that you will have more knowledge about than your interviewer.

Lastly, there are no guarantees that you’ll be able to tell your story exactly as you practiced it. During your narrative, the interviewer might hear something he is really interested in and pause you to explore that topic further. Or due to time constraints, he may want to move to another topic. The great part is that if you’re comfortable with your entire story, there’ll probably be an opportunity for you to hop back into your story later in the interview. It could be a question as simple as, “in this role we’re looking for someone who can do XYZ. How do you feel about that?” This then gives you the perfect opportunity to find that part of your story to help answer that question.

To recap:

Know your story and be completely comfortable with it before you go to the interview. Don’t just recite your resume; tell me how one event ties in with another. Your story should highlight the best parts of you, so don’t forget to include your top achievements and what you learned in each of your experience. In our next topic we will discuss lessons we can learn from politicians in our interviews – the importance of knowing your main talking points.