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If you’re preparing for an executive interview, one of the questions that’s bound to come up is how you solved a problem or overcame a challenge.

Executive Interview Coaching founder Richard Elstone likes to call these, ‘war stories’.

Here, he explains how to effectively share a war story in an executive interview setting, why they are important, and how he and his team can help you prepare for them.

What is a war story?

A war story allows you to showcase how you dealt with a particular problem or issue. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

An HR person may have a war story around how they managed to negotiate a successful outcome for an enterprise agreement with a union.

How did they do that? What was the issue? What was the sticking point? How did they overcome it?

A sales person might have a war story around a customer threatening to leave and how they managed to turn that customer around.

A CFO might have a war story about how they turned the relationship around with a bank or how they dealt with stock market analysts.

A CEO might have a war story about how they managed to develop a new strategy and transformed a company.

Why are war stories important?

“War stories are really useful because they give you an opportunity to tell a story and in telling the story, it gives the interviewer a real sense of how you’ve successfully dealt with difficult situations,” says Richard.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase your skills.”

Richard says war stories also allow you to show where your passions lie.

“When you transform something, it’s giving people an idea about how you work. Because you’re describing your experience, you’re generally more passionate in your answer because you’re thinking about those things.”

How to prepare war stories

The job description often provides a clue as to the type of war story you should be ready to share, according to Richard. You’ll want to make sure your war stories are relevant and interesting.

“The job description might say you’ll need to develop a new strategy in the advertised role,” says Richard. “Think about how you did that in your previous role, what the problem was that led to the new strategy and the outcome.”

When you answer the question, you need to paint the picture about what the situation was and the impact that situation was having on the company and/or on you.

Be sure to talk about who the characters were. This helps set the scene, provides context and makes the story more engaging for the audience.

Next, explain what you did about the situation. Some people make the mistake of leaving it there, according to Richard.

“It’s a bit like saying Prince Charming kissed Sleeping Beauty and ending the story at that point,” says Richard. “What happened next?”

Go a step further and talk about the measurable outcome your actions had.

“The measurable outcome may be that you now have a fantastic relationship with the union or that you won back the customer and it’s gone from a $3 million account to a $10 million one.

“If you don’t talk about the measurable outcome, it becomes a bit of a half-baked answer,” says Richard. “It’s incredibly important to put the numbers in to show the significant impact you had.”

What about follow up questions?

Sometimes an interviewer might listen to your answer and then ask you what you’d do differently next time.

“The wrong answer would be to say that you did it all perfectly and wouldn’t do anything differently,” says Richard. “There’s always something you could do differently.”

Need Executive Interview Coaching?

How to prepare your war stories for an interview is just one example of how Executive Interview Coaching can help you land your next executive appointment.

Our coaches help you practice and deliver your war stories in a convincing, compelling way. Minimal waffle. Maximum impact.

“It’s very difficult to prepare for an interview by staring at a computer screen, because

at the end of the day, an interview is a conversation,” says Richard.

“It’s also hard to think of these stories on the spot in an interview situation, and that’s why it’s so incredibly important to prepare well for an interview – with our help.”

Let’s chat. Get in touch today to find out about our Interview Ready program.


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