A common belief among Interviewees is ‘I can’t tell stories, or I don’t have any stories’.
This isn’t true. It does take practice, but anyone can tell a story. You may not be the next Tony Robbins, nor do you need to be. He would be the first to say he did not start out as a great storyteller.
Where to start?
- If you have four key roles in your career, set out each on a whiteboard or excel sheet (columns).
- Start with the following headings ‘Failures, Lessons, Struggles, Leadership, Teamwork.’
- Now think back for examples of the above; they don’t need to be perfect (perhaps jot down the scenario as outlined below).
I have set out some theory, together with examples of some stories I tell in Interviews. These stories tell more about a person’s commitment, drive, attitude, experience than any other mechanism.
I have said this before, don’t spew out buzz words; tell stories that demonstrate the value you have brought to every role you have undertaken.
Note: these are all real stories from my past (from my teenage years to my first role as a Senior Surveyor.
Any ‘prepared’ candidate should have stories ready from all stages of their career.
Every person or team experiences failure at some point. Understanding this is key to getting better at your craft; many behavioral questions concern failures, it is also a test in humility. Is the Interviewee humble?I love Tim Ferriss’s question on ‘what is your favorite failure that set you up for a later success?’ It yields amazing and relatable stories.
My favorite failure was in school as a 17-year-old. I was drifting through a series of poor results, and my care factor was low, primarily because I was immature and didn’t relate to the subjects I was forced to study. After yet another mediocre result, one of my teachers pulled me aside and read the riot act. She pretty much told me I would amount to nothing. I hated her for making me feel that low; however, that was the turning point; she understood exactly what I needed and delivered exactly that. I turned my results around, got into college, and the rest is history. When I started college, I was consistently in my class’s top percentile, simply because I loved what I was doing, and accordingly, I applied myself.
Companies want people that are willing to learn; any good Candidate should be open to learning and demonstrate that in an interview.
In my first role as a student, I had my first progress meeting with a Chartered Surveyor that represented the Client. I represented the Contractor; I thought I was prepared until he pulled out sketches, photographs, logs, reports, cost comparison exercises. I was wholly unprepared for that meeting, never again. I always cite him as one of the best mentors I have had in my career, we had phenomenal battles, and I relished every one of them; you had to be on your ‘A’ game with him; he made me a far more accomplished Quantity Surveyor.
Like failures, everyone struggles at some point. It is how you deal with that struggle that is most important.
As well as the example above, I was blessed to work under two amazing QS’s. Each one was smart, had extensive experience; they were also fantastic negotiators. I struggled at the outset with negotiation, particularly with aggressive Contractors. I was taught how to prepare, be organized, set out offers, listen, and leverage any situation. Not only did I get to experience them do this first hand at the end of my first year, but I also led all negotiations on the Contractor and Client-side.
Depending on the role you interview for, companies will want you to demonstrate what kind of leader you are. You may not have managed large teams; however, everyone can be a leader in a project or work initiative.
I love working in a fast-paced environment with multi-disciplinary teams. That is the greatest part about capital projects. There are always fires to put out and interesting problems that you need to solve. One of the traits I pride myself on is building relationships and working hand in hand with construction. To do that, you need to show up, be present at the site, and support them with what they need from you. One of my previous projects started with a negative margin in double figures. I was tasked to make a profit which meant I needed to monitor costs carefully, ensure there was no wastage on-site, and chase variations and claims aggressively. All while maintaining relationships and not stepping on toes. That effort took a huge extent of analysis and strategic planning with internal construction and project management stakeholders. It also meant I had to be intimately familiar with the Contract documentations’ strengths and weaknesses and communicate these regularly to the project team at all levels. This project started when I was 27, it was a fantastic learning curve and taught me many leadership lessons.
Inevitably, most jobs involve interaction with many stakeholders. Questions on teamwork are always asked in multiple ways; It is the best way a Company can ascertain how you interact with people.
The most important facet to any well-run project is working cohesively as part of a team. If there is any fragmentation between any of the key departments, things start to break down. In my first role as a graduate, I worked for 15 months in the Pharmaceutical industry doing fit-outs, refurbishments, shutdowns, and other brown-field work in a live plant. The key to knowing exactly what events transpired was having a relationship with the Construction and Site Engineer. We play ed cards together at lunch and talk about the day-to-day project activities. This strengthened our relationships, and I learned everything that went on in the project by listening and soaking everything up.
I was fortunate to benefit from two great mentors; they trained me, taught me measurement, cost value reporting, negotiation. They were also great at dealing with different types of personalities. Every day was a learning experience.