In August 2010, I met Dave Schneider and commenced a fascinating and challenging journey of learning and new experiences in a world I barely knew existed until Dave introduced it to me. Long before that, at the age of 16, I joined the family business, and the industry I've lived and breathed since then is Executive Recruiting. That's right, I'm a headhunter; a business talent scout; an "ethical mercenary" in the War for Talent, as I like to put it.
So, I've decided to put on my recruiter hat and share with you the most effective interview preparation method I've ever encountered—the SOAR Method. (My new friend is currently in the job market, looking to transition his expertise in intermodal carriers to the shipper side of the business.
Whether you're interviewing for a new job, seeking promotion within your current company, or even hiring someone yourself and playing the role of interviewer, the SOAR Method will empower you so that you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. It will enable you to confidently represent yourself, your skills, and your experience to a potential employer to give yourself the best chance of a successful interview. Or, if you're the interviewer, it will provide you with a foundation upon which to build a strong understanding of the person you're interviewing, vet their capabilities, uncover the true value they bring to the table, and make the most informed decision possible.
I give full credit and deep gratitude to another of my friends, John Feeley, for teaching this method to me. He is a truly excellent manager and interviewer, and he gave me a tool I'll employ for the rest of my career.
Let's get started!
SOAR is an acronym that stands for:
Here's the premise: Your career and your life have been a sequence of stories. Each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a conflict and a resolution. And the choices you made in each of these stories are manifestations of your character, your values, and your skills. To fully represent yourself to another person, you must first know who you are and what you're capable of, and you must be able to express that effectively in conversation. SOAR enables you to do precisely that.
There are two fundamental processes necessary to complete a successful and fully empowering SOAR exercise. It breaks down into Mindset and Mechanics. The Mechanics consist of five steps, but before attempting to follow any of them, it is crucial that you establish the right Mindset.
We carry a lot of head-trash that tells us it's wrong to brag, that we need to keep ego out of everything and not talk too much about ourselves. We value humility as a society, and that's by all means a good thing. But as is always the case, you can get too much of a good thing, and humility is inappropriate and self-limiting in certain settings.
This is precisely one such setting. The correct and necessary mindset is one in which you clear your mind completely and are ready to speak about yourself, your experiences, and your choices at length. You must give yourself permission to brag. The objective here is to allow your greatest skills to bubble to the surface in a story-telling manner.
The Four Mindset Rules are:
1) Bragging is allowed. The phrase "I am the world's best …" is not only permitted, but absolutely encouraged.
2) Let your ego loose. Don't rein it in, don't stifle it. You spend all day every day wrestling with your ego, now is time to let it out of its cage for a little vacation.
3) Remove all filters. We have the tendency to filter what we say on the basis of what we think others will think of it or of us when we say it. Say whatever comes to mind and do not allow yourself to say it differently than you would naturally. No one will be reading your initial work here but you. It's just you and the piece of paper or screen in front of you.
4) Everyone has gold in them. You are digging deep to look for your perfect, untarnished gold.
Now, for the Mechanics. There are seven steps. Before engaging in each step, stop and check yourself to be sure that you are still following the Mindset rules. It will be helpful to read over them again.
Get in front of your keyboard or sit down at your desk with pen and paper. Start thinking (not writing, yet) about specific situations you've found yourself in. Think about times in your life where you've been challenged or when you've come upon a crossroads. Consider the significant events you've experienced in the course of your life. Each of these will have required you to choose a course of action. They may have required deep thinking. But don't get into the details yet. Just think about them the way you think of movies in terms of their titles. Keep in mind that often the worst situations in life make the best stories, and what is gold now may once have been lead. The story of that transformation, of how you've identified and dealt with your flaws, will be hugely powerful.
As these situations pop into your head, give each one a simple title and write it down. Include no details, only generalities that trigger the memory. You want half a dozen or so of these before you move to the next step.
When you've completed your first draft of the list, go away. That is, leave your desk or computer and turn to something else. Return some time later, no less than a few hours, and review your list. In the meantime, your unconscious mind will have been working and you may have remembered additional items to add to the list. By not plowing straight into Step 2, you ensure that you haven't missed anything. Waiting also gives you the opportunity to fine tune the list, removing items that you may decide are not germane or significant enough.
Guidelines for Steps 2–5
This is the writing phase of the exercise. Return to your desk or computer. Throughout these four steps, allow the words to flow out of your consciousness in a stream. Remember the Mindset rules. Not filtering includes not caring about wording, grammar, or spelling. Allow your thoughts to appear on the paper or screen completely unvarnished. This is a first pass, for your eyes only.
Step 2: S
From the list you built in Step 1, pick a Situation. This is the setting of your stories. Here you answer "Where?" "When?" "What was happening?" and "Who was involved?" You can begin adding detail. Move immediately to Step 3 on this same story rather than repeat Step 2 on another.
Step 3: O
Now write about the Obstacle you faced. There was either something that you wanted to happen, or something that you didn't want to happen, a threat or an opportunity, or a problem that needed solving. What did you want, and what obstacles stood between you and that?
Step 4: A
Facing the Obstacles you wrote about in Step 3, now focus on the Actions you took. You worked, you invested, you changed, you influenced, you negotiated, and you fought. Whatever you did to overcome those obstacles, describe it here.
Step 5: R
Finally, what were your Results. You took Actions to overcome the Obstacle and resolve the Situation. What came of your effort? How successful were you? What value did you create?
Perform Steps 2–5 on the rest of the stories you've chosen from your list in Step 1.
Re-read your stories and identify their benchmarks. That is, determine which of your skills and capabilities are demonstrated by the Actions you took and the Results you achieved. What strengths did the Situation require you to summon? What powers did you evince? What do they say about who you are?
Take an inventory of these strengths and qualities. Then return to your stories, polish them, and commit them to memory. The objective is to know them cold, so that when you are asked about who you are or whether you possess certain skills, you can summon the story without hesitation.
This is by no means an easy exercise, nor it is something that can be completed rapidly. It demands a lot of deep thought and introspective writing. You'll get nowhere without focus and hard work. But if finding a new job or advancing your career is a high priority for you, the effort you invest in this process will yield huge returns.
And if you, as interviewer, suspect that the person you're looking to hire may have greater potential than they're readily able to communicate, guide them in these steps yourself, and you'll have a much better opportunity to discover who they actually are and what they have to offer. The candidate who seems too good to be true may reveal themselves to be false, and the nervous guy who isn't interviewing well may actually be your star hire.