A column from the genuine, emotional, and often humorous exploits of coaching executives in Silicon Valley.

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Be More Assertive During Behavioral Interviews

interviewing realization May 26, 2022
Leave confident first impressions by being assertive during behavioral interviewing. Set the impression, direct your story, and ask forward-thinking questions.

Big surprise, I have a problem with how most career education and best practices propagate. Shallow and overtly generic career advice blasts from an influencer's cozy LinkedIn soapbox in a highly transactional manner to stir controversy and pump vanity metrics.

More specifically, sweeping generalizations such as…

  • Bringing employees back in the office will kill your business
  • Every job post needs a compensation range
  • Increasing pay will prevent employee retention issues
  • STAR is the best interview format

... and other over-simplified solutions misfired at highly complex challenges drive me batty.

While my petulance toward the matter is often on full display for anyone who knows me, I understand that there is a lot to learn from other career coaches and their obnoxious social media handles.

Let's take STAR, the so-called "secret to acing your next job interview," for a spin and into the shop for an assertive executive tune-up.  

 

What Is The STAR Interview Method?

STAR is a broadly used behavioral interview technique designed to frame your career storytelling into a more linear and understandable smattering of work you've accomplished.

It stands for Situation Task Action Result.

Being the simpleton I am, I could never tell the difference between a Task and an Action, usually when consulting a client on the spot—so I killed the T to streamline it.

But thanks to COVID and my lack of scientific ability, teaching my clients about SARs is frowned upon and possibly quarrelsome (and quarantinable).

However, while I may be a simpleton, I am also a cleverton with a degree in high-tech acronymous bullshit from Silicon Valley—so I modified it again to CAR, Context Action Result.

I knew I learned something from leading OKRs, driving ROI, and setting KPIs in my B2B SaaS career.  

What’s Wrong With STAR… err, CAR?

STAR, CAR, or SOARA, or whatever your acronym pleasure, is a good foundation for storytelling, especially for early and mid-career professionals. But when it comes to asserting yourself as an executive, what got you here won't get you there.

It's generic and boring—and it's about the past. It doesn't show any specific relevance to the role that you're interviewing for unless you've masterfully predicted the right story at the right moment.

The main issue is that when your interview is focused on the past, you're constantly remembering how something happened, fretting about whether you got your details correct, and if you're taking too much credit or being too humble. As a result, over-preparation may even come off as scripted.

No matter how many excellent examples you have prepared, you're at the mercy of what the interviewer chooses to ask you next. The interviewer leads you through the process, but you're supposed to leave the perception that you are the leader. Catch my drift?

Furthermore, STAR leaves a heavy impression on the work you used to do vs. the aspirational work you will do. It's not forward-thinking, and therefore, can plateau your career ambitions into a whole lot more of the same. Yawn.

Presenting The ThinkWarwick ICARQ Executive Interview Method™

Sorry, not sorry. I enjoy being obnoxious. But try this on for size when preparing stories for your next interview.

IMPRESSION: What impression must you make to win this role? Confidence? Cross-functional prowess? Clarity through ambiguity? Strategic, but scrappy? Impression is the guiding star of how your story comes across and it sets the boundaries for what you choose to share.

Your impression is something that lasts. It is not often said.

CONTEXT: Talk about an event that occurred. What were the problems that you were experiencing? What needed to be solved, and what resources did you have--or not have? Context is king, so providing it adequately could soak up three to four sentences.

Your target is 30-40 seconds.

ACTION: Speak about the key milestones that you went through. Tell them what you did to turn the situation around. Don't go into too much detail, though. It should only be about two to four sentences, and try to use active verbs, things such as "we implemented" or "we persuaded."

Your target is 30-40 seconds.

RESULT: Let them know how things turned out, how you solved problems, and what you learned. Try to include a clincher at the end, like dollars saved or improved profitability. It drives home that you did something great.

Your target is 20-30 seconds.

QUESTION: Cap your story with open-ended questions that turn the conversation back to the interviewer and explains why your story is relevant. It's your job to connect your experience and the needs of the new role. Executives don't leave the connection up to chance hoping the hiring manager finds the alignment naturally.

Your target is 15 seconds.

A Real Example

I'm speaking with the CEO of a seed-stage tech company that raised $5m. They are interviewing me for a Chief Growth Officer position.  

IMPRESSION: I need to leave the impression that I have a lot of experience, can be strategic, roll up my sleeves, and perform well under small team pressures.

CONTEXT: I recently worked with an early-stage B2B software company with $3m in annual recurring revenue (ARR). The company concentrated on securing enterprise contracts and had a lengthy 3-6 month selling process with an average customer value (ACV) of $60k/yr.

I was the first executive hired to build the marketing team with a new $1m/yr budget.

ACTION: We rebuilt the marketing foundation from the ground up. We collaborated with sales and customers, restructured the brand, ideal customer profile (ICP), website infrastructure, marketing lists, and sales enablement material—you name it. We redesigned the entire revenue operations stack complete with smart automation and new processes.

We brought in a Director for Product Marketing, Content Marketing, and Demand Generation, and a generalist Marketing Manager. Additionally, we supplemented our efforts with contractors to control cost.

RESULT: Within a year, we doubled ARR and 80% of the growth was attributed to sales qualified leads (SQLs) driven by marketing. We also secured new product partnerships and increased our TAM ~40%.  

QUESTION: Given that I'll also be the first marketing executive here, is there an opportunity for a similar approach? Do you see any roadblocks or challenges in my ability to execute these results? Can you share more about your expectations for how your CMO will grow the team? Have you considered the budget moving forward?

Bonus points if you can share your examples with casual anecdotes and cool confidence.

There you have it.

Finishing your work examples with pointed and open-ended questions shifts the focal point from your past to their future.

Now paint the world with ICARQ™

Joking of course, maybe.

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