Interview Advice

The Art of the Example

Tuesday, 2 Aug, 2022

I’ll let you in on a secret. Sitting on interview panels is really boring! Same questions, pretty much the same answers, candidate after candidate after candidate. So, if you want to get that job, you need to find a way to stand out. And this doesn’t mean that you need to wear a crazy tie or big dazzling earrings! The best way to get the panel to take notice is to use interesting examples.

Why are examples so important? For me, developing examples is one of the fundamentals of interview preparation. To be successful at interview, you need to convince the interviewers that you have the qualities they’re looking for, in other words, that you meet the selection criteria. Of course, you can always tell them that you have great communication skills and are a team player but I promise you, you’re going to sound exactly like the person before you and the person after. So much more interesting for the panel if you show them the skills you have through the use of a relevant example.

There are two ways that examples are used in interviews. The first is to answer direct questions, like “Tell us about a time when teamwork failed” or “How have you demonstrated leadership skills?” You need to have interesting, relevant examples that show that you understand what teamwork or leadership is and why it’s important as well as talking about what you did. The other way you’ll use examples is to add interest to other answers. Instead of just talking about how you would manage a particular situation, if you can add a brief anecdote, along the lines of “I had a situation like this…”, your answer will immediately stand out.

How should you develop your examples? The starting point is the selection criteria or core competencies. Once you’ve identified the qualities that the position requires, spend some time coming up with interesting examples. In most cases, it’s ideal if they’re about a specific patient or situation rather than a broader or more generic one. In every case, you’re trying to convey something positive about yourself and the way you approach your work and your colleagues.

So let’s say we’re looking at a time when teamwork failed. Instead of talking about the time when you were on a busy surgical team and the senior registrar was studying for their exams and nobody in the team was clear of their roles, this becomes a much more engaging story when you relate it to a specific patient. So you could add that there was an 89 year old lady with a fractured neck of femur and multiple comorbidities who required preoperative review by cardiology. Due to the lack of clarity about roles within the team, the consult wasn’t arranged and the patient’s surgery was delayed. You would then go on to talk about what the outcome of this was, both for the patient and for the way the team was organised.

We all know that feeling of our mind going blank when we’re asked for an example. You might have some fantastic examples but, when you’re nervous you can’t rely on coming up with them on the spot. The solution is to prepare in advance in advance. We all love a good story. Be the candidate who stands out from the crowd with your engaging examples.

If you’d like to know more about what examples you’ll need and how to prepare them, check out my Excel at Interview course or get in touch about 1:1 Advanced Interview Coaching.

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