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How to talk about your past successes in a job interview

Resist the urge to ramble.

How to talk about your past successes in a job interview
[Photo: shironosov/IStock]
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When you started out in your career, you probably didn’t give much thought to talking about your past. After all, you have yet to reach professional milestones, so you probably talked about your future and your potential.

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Now that you’ve been working for years, you have a past when it comes to your career. You’ve executed complex projects, and you’ve made big sales. You’ve delivered innovations that mattered.

So how do you go about bringing up your past in the best way? By following this three-step formula, you’ll have a smooth, no-fail approach to talk about your history in your next interview in a way that shows you have so many future opportunities.

Step 1: Be direct

If the interviewer asks, “What’s one example of success?” Don’t say, “Well, it depends on how you define success . . .” or “Some people define success in different ways . . .” or “There are so many factors that I considered important in achieving success.”

Of course, you may be trying to buy time to think of what to say, but by not getting to the point immediately, you don’t engage your interviewer. It’s that fast-food slogan—they want it their way and fast.

One of the easiest and best ways to begin is by connecting to the subject of their questions. So if they ask for examples of your success, start with “One example of my success . . .” If they ask about a problem you solved, begin with “One of the problems I solved . . .” Then give a concrete example and own your success. Answering your interviewer’s question directly keeps them involved and interested in you. That opens the door to elaborate on your accomplishments, which can help you stand out as a candidate.

Step 2: Be relevant

If you are a cook interviewing with a restaurant owner to be the next chef, you don’t want to go on and on about how by experimenting with new combinations of spices, you achieved just the right aroma and the right flavor. You want to tell the restaurant owner that you developed a soup that was high margin and created an incredible Instagram following that increased sales and number of visitors to the restaurant. Of course, if you were interviewing with the chef, you’d want to talk about the spices and the innovation in ingredients.

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Think about who you’re talking to before you start to answer. Do your best to speak in the language that they speak, and emphasize the metrics and experience they value. By describing your past in the ways that are most relevant to your interviewer, you’re once again earning their interest. You’re not boasting—you’re connecting.

Step 3: Link your past to their future

Once you’ve described your past—make that example the springboard to describe how your accomplishments can benefit the company’s future. If you were able to execute projects—why might that be important for them? If the restaurateur is planning to open another restaurant—could you make a signature soup that drives traffic? If you’re speaking to the chef—can you help him excel in customer ratings and build their reputation?

You can’t expect your interviewer to figure out why your past is important for them. As a candidate, that’s your job. Remember, the interviewer’s mind is a crowded space with many other priorities and to-do lists they have to get to that day. It’s on you to fight for shelf space in their mind by making it easy for them to see that your past brings exciting possibilities for their company’s future.

When you focus on these three steps, you can showcase not only your successes of the past but illuminate the opportunities you can offer to the company you’re interviewing for. And when the company sees your value, they’re more likely to take a chance on you.