Job Interview Prep Tips: Success Moments

I’ve had  some comments lately from job seekers who got ambushed by their own work history. Or to be more precise, their inability during an interview to remember strong examples of things they actually did that would show their aptitude for the new job.

Most job seekers at least have some inkling that they may come up against eye-rollingly standard interview questions like Where Do You See Yourself Five Years from Now? , What’s Your Greatest Strength? , What’s Your Greatest Weakness? and Tell Me A Little About Yourself. But to answer those or most other question successfully, one of the things you need to do is help them see the connection between what you and you’ve done before and what the new job will require of you.

I wrote about the same basic idea in What Is a Behavioral Interview?


“A behavioral interview looks at things in your past as evidence of how you might handle situations in the future if you’re working for the company. They  are based on the belief that your past behaviors can predict what kind of employee you’d be.

Of course, in a good interview, you should be using strong examples anyway to create a bridge from the past to the future for your potential employer.  This is where your stories come in – stories of problems you solved, projects you led to success, new ideas that saved time and money, etc. In effect…your behavioral history.”

Even to answer the standard questions, being able to draw from your success moments is key to giving a strong interview. You want to leave a strong impression after an interview so that you stand out in their minds above all other candidates. And a great way to do that is with success stories they can remember.

Come prepared with a bag of your success moments

You have no idea what you’ll actually be asked. Some interview questions can get pretty far away from the standards. But at the very least, make sure you come prepared with a variety of your best success stories to choose from, if the opportunity presents itself.  Usually, interviews – even phone interviews sometimes – give you a chance to tell at least one story that helps link your skills and attitude to the new job. You want to listen carefully to what they are asking, see if one of your stories fit, and then tell it in a way that helps them see the connection easily. Of course, don’t try to squeeze them all in. And definitely don’t make them more than a minute or two unless prompted to go on.

Please don’t assume you’ll remember the right story in the moment without some preparation. Preparation is the key to a good interview and also helps tame interview nerves. So here’s what you might want to do ahead of time to prepare:

  1. Sit down in a quiet place with your resume in front of you (to help refresh your memory).
  2. Take a moment to remember each job and things within that job that you helped make happen.
  3. This is also a good time to review the job description carefully and think about which of those skills / experiences they might be most interested in.
  4. On a clean sheet of paper, start listing everything you can think of where you improved something, led a project, helped save a company money, helped a company earn more money, solved a major (or minor) problem, came up with a new idea that worked, helped resolve communication problems, created a document or presentation that was especially good, played an essential role in developing a new program or method or product, etc. 
  5. It’s important not to edit or censor any ideas. Write everything down that comes to mind. One thing might trigger another. And this is only for you. 
  6. Now look at everything, and think of your best stories – ones that shows something about you a new employer would want to know. (Reminder: This is about how you fit the new job and not just something fun or cool. Unless you have good reason to suspect the fun or cool thing will also relate in some way to the job, company or interviewer. Careful research should help you there.)
  7. On a separate page or somewhere to the side put some words down to remind you of each of your strongest stories. 
  8. Then practice telling them to yourself, to a friend, or even on a recorder or video. Don’t memorize them because you want to seem natural. But practice enough that you feel comfortable with your strengths and all that you have to offer your new employer.

And now, you have a bag of success moments to draw from if the time feels right. Not only does this exercise help you remember stories to use, it also reminds you of how much you have to offer your new boss. And considering how demoralizing job search can be sometimes, it’s good to remember what makes you so special.

Good luck adding a new success moment – a job offer!

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. The biggest mistake that jobseekers can commit is come unprepared to an interview. Advance preparation is the key to achieving interviewing success. The tips that you’ve share are truly useful and can be effectively used to create a win-win situation in an interview. Thanks!

  2. Thanks! Nice to see you again, CT. Appreciate your adding to the discussion.

  3. I have a question about call backs. I actually got the employer to e-mail me back. They said that they would be making a decision last week and hoped to get into contact with me by Thursday. It’s now Monday. I’m reluctant to call back a lot since I believe it’s off-putting but I think their statement might give me a little extra leeway to give them a call back. I figure that they gave me a timeline, we’re now past that time line, so I can now call back. I should note that they stated they would contact me regardless of their decision. Thanks for the help!

    • Hi David,

      If they said that they would contact you regardless of their decision, that’s very good. I’d be a bit surprised to find out they actually do it – because good intentions can sometimes be lost in the daily work process – but I hope I’m wrong about that.

      However, I agree that it appears they have given you a little extra leeway to contact them.

      Tomorrow will be Wednesday, so I’d send them an email Wednesday morning to politely ask for the status since they indicated a decision would be made last week. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that the decision hasn’t been made yet, but it gives you a bit of an opening. Be sure to be businesslike, confident, and polite in your message.

      Good luck!

      • Thank you for the input. I agree with you 100% and just needed a little confirmation from someone else. I think I will wait until next week to call back though. Either I got the job or I didn’t. Waiting another week will not change that fact. I do know I rocked the interview and the employers sought me out (I never directly applied, they asked me to interview). The process started with 4 people and I was one of the finalists. I’m feeling pretty good but will keep my options open just in case.

        Thank you very much for your quick response!

      • Hi David,

        Sounds good. Just one thought, given that they sought you out, not the other way around…

        I have had recruiters (more than one) tell me that they look for a strong candidate to get in touch with them. It shows that the candidate is sincerely interested in the job. That MIGHT be what is going on here. You might want to reach out Friday, just to check in and to let them know that you are interested.

        Keep us posted! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

        Good luck!

      • Definitely! Based on your advice I shot off an e-mail around 2:00pm. They close at 5:30 so hopefully I will hear from them soon. It’s for a contract attorney position with a Native American Tribe. I studied Federal Indian Law while in law school. Since the Native American circle is small I am contacting other people within the field to find out about this tribe’s particular hiring process/what events might be holding them up. I have a tentative meeting with my old professor tomorrow. She’s quite a big deal in Federal Indian Law so she just may know. I’m crossing my fingers and decided to continue my solo career in the mean time.

      • Excellent, David! Keep us posted.

        Good luck!

  4. Hey Susan. Just heard back on the job front with an interesting way I was able to finally make contact.

    I called my old law school professor and she didn’t have much information on the hiring practices of this particular tribe. My professor brought up a really good point though – there’s no problem talking to another person involved in the hiring process besides the HR director as long as you have their information. I was reluctant to call the attorney I would be working under but I did. It was a great decision in the end.

    I got into immediate contact and the attorney was very professional and straight-forward. She stated that they offered a package to the other candidate due to that candidate’s vast experience. On the other hand, the tribe could not meet her salary requirements. Thus they said that there is a chance she will not accept and, if that were to happen, they will extend the offer to me.

    In terms of speaking with administration this has actually been a very pleasant experience. Everyone has been so nice and professional. While there’s only a small chance I may still get it the experience was excellent. I can only hope that other companies/organizations treat other potential employees the same way.

    Again, I will keep you posted if anything else happens!



    • Thank you for the update, David! Wish the news was better, but good that you made the connection and learned what is happening.

      Yes, do keep us posted – this could still work out for you, and I hope it does!

      Good luck!

  5. Hi Susan!
    Thank you again for this wonderful website. I am curious of a few things…
    I didn’t get a few jobs I thought I was a shoe in for… so I applied for one that was of interest to me but didn’t think it would be anything really exciting. It turned out to be though… I had my interview last Tuesday, it went well. I have emailed back and forth with the HR Manager almost everyday since then. She called the person whom I am friends with that has worked in the same company for 16 years to see about me. I know for a fact two of my existing clients (who know I am not too happy where I am currently) work with this company as well and have spoke to the manager (branch manager, not HR Manager). Now I have an interview set up with the sales manager on Wednesday. I am one of two out of 6 weeks of candidates that it has been narrowed down to.
    I asked at end of my last interview what would make them reluctant to hire me (Account Manager) and they said my knowledge of the product but nothing else. That my sales strategy and teamwork seem to be exceptional. I sent a Thank you email promptly after the interview to the branch manager and told her I would be studying up (which I am) and then later that evening when I got home and had a chance to email HR Manager who was also in on interview, she made a joke of feeling left out that she didn’t get a Thank you earlier like the other manager… She ended the sentence with a “LOL.” Then said they were impressed with my promptness.
    SO… I feel all is well so far… I am studying up, but am wanting to know how do I nail this second interview with the Sales Manager? (I am going to do the whole look over my resume and review highlights) and Is there a way to “ASK” for the job at the end… being that it is a sales job?
    Thanks so much! I wish I could do something in return for your efforts. I am very grateful.

    • Also… HR manager sent me an email after confirming my 1:00 on Wednesday interview. She asked me to call her after the interview…?!
      Aaaahhhhh…. So excited and nervous and all that Jazz!

    • Hi Bea!

      Sounds like things are going very well for you! Employers prefer to hire someone already known by someone in the company, and I would think they are also happy that current clients have spoken well of you, too. Excellent!

      Perfect question to ask, too – what would make them reluctant to hire you! Well done! Now, if you can, think of what would make the sales manager want to hire you – what kind of concerns would the sales manager have that may not be big concerns for the branch manager? What issues, in addition to product knowledge?

      Yes, absolutely “close the sale” and ask for the job at the end of the interview! What could be more appropriate?

      You are very welcome for whatever help we can provide at WorkCoachCafe and! Thank you for the thanks!

      Good luck!

      • Thank you! I will be thinking of what the Sales Manager would want out of me (outside of sales growth :))
        So… in asking the closing question do I just say, “When can I start?” Or: “Are you ready for me to start?’ eeeks… if I ask an open ended question, then he can say No. So When can I start leaves him no option. However, would my Ego be too big by asking that?

      • Hi Bea,

        You’ve got some time. Think about it. Wouldn’t a closing that leaves no option but a “sale” be the best kind?

        Have a few options in your mind when you go into the interview, and then pick the one that you think would get the best response based on the rapport you build up with him (hopefully!) during the interview.

        Good luck!

  6. I am new to this blog and it has been very helpful! I’ve been out of work for several months. I have been getting interviews – but always a finalist and no offer. I have come across three situations I could use advice on to interview better and get the offer. I know this might be too long, but advice on any of the following would help me immensely.

    * When interviewing with several people at once, I have experienced one person out of the group, who, before we even sit down begin, has appeared to be tired, stressed, distracted, etc., like the last thing he/she wanted to be doing was interviewing me. The other interviewers I connected with right away. Anything I can do?

    *In a recent final interview, I came prepared with stories/examples of hard skills and experience detailed in the job description and verbally mentioned by the employer in the first interview. However, when I asked about specific responsibilities detailed in the job description, I was told they were being handled by another staff/not a priority. The final interview questions focused on my soft skills and cultural fit, which I thought I answered well. To generalize, I was told the chosen candidate had particular experience/hard skills over me. The kicker is I have this particular experience and skills – experience and skills not mentioned in the job description or asked of me in the interviews. I feel deceived (and frustrated) because I prepared myself according to what they detailed in the job description (and verbally), but feel like they made a decision based on qualifications they didn’t bring up with me or give me the opportunity to demonstrate.

    *I have worked with two organizations, which sadly did not operate with integrity, honesty, etc. When asked about one of them, I have answered it wasn’t a good fit. A third organization was not financially stable and closed. At one point the organization couldn’t afford to pay us for three months, so I have a few dings on my credit for not having a paycheck for so long. How much do I say in interviews without appearing negative?

    • chandlee says:

      Hi Ann,

      Glad you are enjoying the site and find it to be useful. Here are a few thoughts regarding these scenarios:

      #1: Dealing with the one person in a group interview who is disinterested — ask them one question at the end of the interview which shows you are paying attention to them and understand what they do, but focus your energy on asking the main question and connecting with those who are engaging you. I know it’s tough.

      #2: That’s frustrating to not get picked over something you weren’t asked about. Here’s how I recommend you deal with it…Ask the following question during ANY and all group interviews. “If hired for this job, what would my first assignment be and how would I work with each of you to get it done?” This allows the discussion to evolve organically — and if the job involves something that isn’t mentioned, it will likely come up.

      In my own experience, it’s even more frustrating to get hired for a job and NOT have the skills that they need.

      #3 In talking about organizations that didn’t work out, a good answer is often to simply state the facts without interpretation. Example: _______ lost $X during the last year I was there. During that time, they missed payroll six times. They ultimately went out of business.

      Don’t use any adjectives, just say what happened — and how you dealt with it. Even if it’s: I decided to look for a new jo.

      Finally, I encourage you to follow up with each of the companies that had you in as a finalist. Express interest in getting their feedback on how you could strengthen your application, and don’t be afraid to say, I remain interested in working for your organization and would appreciate it if you could keep me in mind for future opportunities.

      Good luck and all the best,

  7. Chandlee,

    Thank you so much for your reply and wonderful tips! I will defintely take your advice and know it will very useful for future interviews!

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