Whether you’ve been working for years or this is your first or second job out of college, this one’s enough to keep us up at night. But never fear: we’re going to take the work you did last month on the nuts and bolts of your professional narrative to help you answer this question clearly and confidently.
And in case you’re stumbling across this blog and want to do the work from last month first (recommended) here is the info!
Keep in mind before we get started that there is no ONE way to actually answer this interview, and maybe you’ve seen another perspective elsewhere. That’s great! The main thing to keep in mind is that you check the boxes on the checklist I’ve provided in this post.
Some of the items on the checklist are self explanatory (like make sure you tell a chronological story), so I’m going to focus on the three items you will find on page 2 of the resource guide: 1) how your past experience supports the position you’re applying for 2) how do you connect with the company’s mission and 3) your story arc. Let’s take one at a time. Also, note that we’re not putting the story together yet, but instead working on the composite parts. You’ll weave this together at the end once you’ve nailed these.
Let’s take a sample job description. I’m working with a client now on an application for a culinary instruction position. We’ll work from this job description for the three above areas so you can see how it’s done for your narrative.
JOB DESCRIPTION We’ll Use for This Narrative Exercise:
As Base Coach, you will be responsible for the implementation of Culinary Instruction in the Drive Change kitchen-classroom. Our “prep-time” is not just “work-time” “ it is an opportunity for the culinary curriculum to be implemented to our Fellows. The kitchen experience should be an educational experience geared toward preparing Fellows for their next opportunity; in addition to imparting culinary skills and food-specific education; you are responsible for setting the tone in the kitchen as it reflects the desired assessments of the Drive Change Fellowship. For example, Fellows should be able to work in groups and independently; Fellows should be able to follow instructions/recipes; manage their time and work efficiently; kitchen protocol should be used as a tool to instill specific culinary requirements as well as generate workplace expectations that translate beyond the kitchen and into any future work environment. It is the responsibility of the Base Coach to communicate with Fellows on their progress and output; both verbal and written feedback is required. Base Coach must have a deep understanding of the kitchen (operations, inventory, ingredients, protocol) and must use that knowledge to teach the Fellows. The Base Coach must be able to address issues as they arise holding to the value of Fellowship first and maintaining our commitment to be a high performing operation.
Your commitment to the understanding that every moment within the Drive Change Fellowship experience is an opportunity for learning/coaching is the most important feature of this role and your success as Base Coach. The kitchen is not merely a time for production; it is a time for active observation, feedback, and teachable moments. You must be acutely aware of surroundings and balance the task of empowering Fellows to deliver outlined objectives in preparation for weekly service. As a chef/instructor, you recognize that the diligence you bring to the Drive Change kitchen will be infused into the minds/hearts of Fellows. You will be directly involved in the hard and essential skill development of Fellows. You must be able to read the environment and propose solutions for improvement; your input on curriculum will be valued greatly by the Culinary Arts Director and Fellowship Experience Designer.
• 3-5 years professional culinary experience
• Passionate about food and food systems
• 3+ years MGMT experience
• Positive energy and enthusiasm “ your ability to empower Fellows is essential
• You are a hands on person; desk-job seekers need not apply
• You must be observant and able to confront Fellows on areas to work on as well as areas that they are excelling in
• Ability to work well with others “ you will be working directly with the Fellowship team and your feedback to them is crucial for Fellow’s success
• Organized and outcomes driven
Narrative Takeaways of Job Description
Right off the bat, you can tell there’s a nurturing aspect to this job in addition to the nuts and bolts of cooking instruction. It’s more than just teaching- it’s about instilling confidence, empowering people and making the world a better place. How do we infuse both into our narrative to answer the interview question then?
1. How Your Past Experience Supports the Position. Take a look at the job description. Pull out the core essence of the job. This is usually pretty simple, since the most important parts of a job description are listed first.
For this position, we want to highlight the following:
• Any and all volunteer work surrounding youth outreach and mentoring
• Results surrounding empowering employees and team members. What did you do and how did it turn out? Any metrics in terms of employee retention when it comes to company-based experiences and youth progression when it comes to the community outreach experiences will be useful, but are not always readily available, so be as specific you can regarding the BENEFITS your job duties in these areas – not just what you did, but how it impacted the intended recipients!
• Actual culinary experience- developing recipes, teaching others, etc
2. Tying Company Values to Your Own – Showing complete alignment with the stated company mission and values also has another benefit for your narrative- it is a test to illuminate whether you should even be interviewing with the company to begin with. If you don’t align with the company’s mission in a clear and direct way, then maybe it’s not the right company for you. But I digress. Let’s say you do align – how do you convey that to the company? List out the company’s values by reading the mission statement. (Sometimes companies will show both, but sometimes you have to suss it out from the mission statement or from watching clips from speeches from company representatives, or reading articles about the company. Then, clearly show how you have demonstrated that value in a professional capacity over and over again in your narrative.
Back to the Drive Change description, it’s clear they’re looking for someone who believes in teaching, equal opportunities, mentoring/fostering an environment by which people can grow, etc. When you talk about your experience to date in the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, make sure you’re infusing the company’s mission and values in your answer. You can even say things like, “Throughout my career, teaching others to help them grow has always been an important value to me- and I’ve seen from what I’ve read and seen about Drive Change that you’re all about that too. So from an early point on in my career, I’ve sought out opportunities to teach, so I’m going to take you through my resume with that lens in mind.” So you can almost have a “theme” to your answer to this question to really drive home the value/mission bit without adding it in clunkily at the end. AND because companies are looking for culture fits sometimes above all else, you want to make sure your infusing the values stuff throughout your answer, not as a bolted on, clunky answer at the end.
3. Story Arc: Prospective employers not only want to see how you’ve grown, but they want any perceived changes in direction to be explained clearly to them. Why did you make the change? If something you did doesn’t fit your narrative for this job, but it’s not possible to take it out altogether, talk about what you learned and how you grew from that experience. “It made me realize that,” “Once I learned XYZ, I knew it would have major ramifications for my future career direction- specifically….” Are two good openers you can use to make it super clear to your listener. Try out your arc in the notes portion of the worksheet.
Ok, so the last phase of doing this work is to put it all together in a ‘script’ you can use in the interview. Script is in quotes because we don’t really want you rehearsing this to death so you sound like a robot in the interview. Keep it loose. If this means you just have a series of bullet points, great! Do that. Follow the checklist (page 1) and your notes from the three key components of your story on page 2 and create your story. This process isn’t the same for everyone so we’ve included some space on page 3 of the tool for you to play with it.
When you’re done, send me what you’ve come up with and one specific question you have about your work and I’ll help a sister (or brother, or person) out!