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Tell me about a time you’ve had to persuade someone to do something

The Real Question: People are tricky creatures. Do you know how to handle them?

Top-line Tactic: Focus on how you persuaded people, not just that you managed to convince them.

We’ve been through several of these competency-based Tell me about a time you . . . type questions already, so you might ask what’s different about this one? It’s a good point—the basic mechanics of the STAR method remain the same for all of these, so what’s left to consider after you have that mastered?

The next level of analysis is simply to consider the competencies behind the question. What quality or skills is the interviewer hoping to see you demonstrate in your answer? Here, for instance, this question about persuasion is a classic attempt to gauge people skills. The interviewer is probably looking for competencies like:

  • empathy
  • charm or rapport building
  • confidence and possibly assertiveness
  • flexibility
  • ability to handle conflict/difficult conversations
  • ability to put your ego aside, humility
  • ability to understand and motivate others

Of course, the exact skills required vary depending on the role and company culture, so take a moment before answering to think about what abilities the interviewer wants to see. Then use STAR to weave an answer that demonstrates them, for example:

When I was at ABC I was managing a group of six designers. Several of them came to me asking for more flexibility in their schedule and whether they could work from home occasionally. I’d done some research into productivity and I knew that creative people often benefit from this sort of freedom, but that management is often reluctant to give it them. In order to persuade my director, I put together a small presentation from the management literature that included several studies on the effectiveness of flexible work programs, their positive impact on hiring and retention, and best practices for running them.

I knew my boss would be worrying about productivity, so I came up with some key indicators we could track to hopefully counter that concern. I arranged a meeting with the director and also roped in HR, because they would need to approve the policy change. My boss wasn’t wild about the plan, but I stuck to my guns and ran through all the facts, countering each of his objections. He said he was impressed with my preparation and would think about it. After a week, I got the go-ahead to implement the change. My team was over the moon, and not only did productivity rise 20 percent, but soon after that I was able to hire a truly stellar designer, who said one of the main draws of the job was the flexible schedule. Notice that this answer doesn’t simply check the “ability to persuade” box but delves deeper into how the candidate went about persuading others, highlighting key constituent skills like empathy (foreseeing the director’s objections), consultation (roping in HR and listening to the designers) and tenacity (sticking with the debate despite objections).

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