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Interview Tip - Show Your Learning

For more information on answering job interview questions or questions from potential patrons or partners, check out these articles:
The STAR(ce) Method – or how to ace your job interview! 

Interview Tip – Present the Evidence.

Here’s another tip for those applying for new roles and facing the sometimes daunting prospect of job interviews. This is also applicable for anyone approaching patrons for support, applying for ordination, or in countless other contexts where you find yourself in some way competing against other candidates for a role, experience, or some other outcome.

Always make sure you can share what you’ve learnt through your work experience. When I was in school, my maths teachers were always telling me, “Show your working.”  When it comes to presenting yourself as a potential candidate for a job, investment, or partnership, a similar thing applies; “Show your learning.” Lots of candidates will be able to detail their experience, or show their knowledge, but an outstanding candidate will be able to show what they’ve learnt.

Always make sure you can share what you’ve learnt through your work experience.

The best predictor of future performance is past performance

Any job interviewer or potential financial backer you encounter will be looking for the candidate with the best future performance. The point of the interview is to find that out! And they’ll working on the assumption that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. So, your task in the interview is to speak about your past performance in a way that gives them confidence for the future. But past performance isn’t just about impressive bottom-line results.

Learning, learning, always learning

Part of what helps an interviewer make guesses about your future performance is how well you learn, specifically, how well you’ve learnt from your past experiences.

Consider a role where performance is measured financially.  And imagine a candidate who could demonstrate that they’ve consistently made a million dollars of sales every year.

You’re also interviewed for the role, but your highest sales year has only been $900,000 and it was only $800,000 the year before. An unthinking interviewer might immediately offer the job to the other candidate since they’ve performed better in the past, thus giving the impression of likely higher performance in the future.  But if you can explain what you learnt in that first sales year, the $800K one, that enabled you to improve the following year, and then explain what you learnt in the $900K year that you believe will enable higher sales in the future, you’ve demonstrated a capacity for reflection and learning that indicates you’re capable of even greater performance in years to come.

Or let’s consider a different example. “Tell us about a time you had conflict with a colleague” is a common question that interview panels and recruiters love to ask. An alternative candidate, your competition, might respond, “I’ve never had serious conflict in any of the teams I’ve led or worked with.” And that might even be true! Though having conducted dozens of interviews and led countless teams, I’m sure it’s not! But for now, let’s just assume this candidate has led a charmed existence and has never suffered through conflict with a colleague. You, on the other hand, know that you have had conflict, either with a colleague, direct report, or line manager. It seems like the other applicant is the better candidate for the job – they get along with everybody!

In answering the question about conflict though, you’re given the opportunity to share what you learnt through that conflict that makes you a better manager or team member, both now and into the future. The other candidate, sure, hasn’t had any conflict, but therefore hasn’t learnt what you’ve learnt about de-escalation, conflict resolution, compromise, etc. Your answer about having experienced team conflict, rather highlighting a weakness on your part (as it can sometimes feel) is actually one more way to show that you’re an ideal candidate for the role.

The thing you learnt doesn’t have to be some major breakthrough. It might even be something that lots of other people have known for ages, but now you can say that you know it too! If you were asked the “Tell us about a time you had conflict with a colleague” question, you might be able to include in your answer something like, “That really reinforced for me the importance of dealing with conflict when it arises, rather than avoiding it and kind of hoping it goes away.” It’s not rocket science, but if I’m the interviewer, I’m really pleased to hear that you learnt that.

Interview panels love to ask the question “What’s your biggest flaw?” as it reveals self-awareness and self-perception. If your answer was something about not appreciating or commending your colleagues’ work enough, work out what you’ve learnt about your flaw, so you could answer something like this, “I tend to expect my direct reports to function at a high level, so it can appear that I don’t appreciate their work or commend them when they’ve done a good job. I’ve realised this isn’t helpful for them or for the team culture, so I’ve started looking for opportunities to publicly acknowledge different members of my team for their efforts.”

Of course, it’s not about making things up! Don’t say you’ve learnt something if you haven’t. In fact, it might be a really good idea, if you’ve been speaking about a difficult time in your recent employment, to say, “I’m still trying to work out what lessons to take away from that situation.” This shows you’re still committed to learning even when the lesson is hard to distil.

If you come the interview prepared to speak of what you’ve learnt through your experience as part of the STAR(ce) method of answering interview questions, you’ll be well placed to demonstrate your experience, aptitude, and knowledge to the interview panel!

Read Next: The STAR(ce) Method – or how to ace your job interview!