There are lots of suggestions about how to perform better on job interviews: show up early, dress well, yada, yada, yada.

The single most important technique to learn is the “Situation, Action, Results” method of answering interview questions.

If you followed our advice your resume is chock full of quantified accomplishments – not just past job descriptions. There should be bullets that state such accomplishments as increased sales by X, increased collections by Y, decreased response time by Z, etc.

Almost all interviewers will ask you about one or more of your stated accomplishments. For every accomplishment on your resume, you need to be able to tell a story. What was the situation when you took over? What actions did you take to improve the situation? What was the result of your actions? If you can perfect this system, you will differentiate yourself from the hundred other people you are competing against.

Each story must be concise and well rehearsed. The situation should be a couple of sentences about how bad things were when you took over. The bulk of your response will describe the actions you took to remedy the situation – perhaps 6-8 sentences. The results will be one or two sentences which mirror the wording in your resume.

Let’s see how Sally, a Call Center Director, aces her interview:

Interviewer – Sally, your resume says that you reduced average speed of answer by 50%. Tell me about that.

Sally – When I started as Call Center Director, the average customer had to wait 40 seconds for an agent to pick up their call. I did an evaluation of the reasons customers were calling, the timing of some of our procedures, and the scheduling and efficiency of our agents, and I knew that we had lots of opportunity for improvement.

Many of the inbound calls were the unnecessary result of quality problems within our operations, such as late deliveries and installers not showing up on time. I worked with my peers in other departments to reduce these problems, thus reducing the number of calls coming in. I also saw that some of our processes, such as marketing and collections, could be time-shifted to drive inbound call volume during less busy times. Regarding call center staff, we revised our shift schedules so that we had more people during the busy hours and fewer people during the slow times. Finally, we instituted a series of incentive programs as well as coaching and discipline practices, which improved the overall efficiency of our staff.

As a result of these efforts, we were able to reduce average speed of answer from 40 seconds to 20 seconds, a 50% improvement. We did so without an increase in costs.

Interviewer – That’s great, Sally. When can you start?