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Interview Preparation: Micro and Macro Stories

Interview Preparation: Micro and Macro Stories

I was recently working with a client to help her strategize for an upcoming interview. The role was a c-suite level position, so we had a lot of scenarios and types of questions to prepare for.

As we got into big and small examples of her key experiences that would tie to the job description, she had an "a-ha" moment, reframing all of her examples of experiences as "macro" and "micro" stories and examples. What a helpful way of thinking about how to structure your preparation and stories!

Hiring managers love to ask questions like:

Tell me about what you did at x job.

Or:

What was your experience at x company like?

These are macro questions - they’re big picture. They allow you to tell a bigger, broader story about your work and journey during a specific position you had.

Hiring managers also love to get into the weeds with really specific hard and soft skill questions. These are questions like:

Tell me about a time when… [you had to project manage a lot of moving pieces and diverse stakeholders OR when you faced conflict with a team member and how you dealt with that].

These are micro questions - they’re more specific about individual projects, pieces of work, or situations you faced.

When you’re preparing your narrative and specific stories that will be relevant for an interview, it may help to think of your examples as macro or micro level - and prepare for both of them.

[Related: How to Interview Your Prospective Boss Before You Accept a New Role]

Macro questions and answers.

A macro question might be:

Tell us about your time at X company?

Here’s an example how you might answer that question:

I was hired as the first recruiter for the company. When I started, the team was about fifteen people and open roles were often easy to recruit for. Over the three years I spent at ABC company, we grew from 15 to 150 people and I oversaw every piece of the recruiting and hiring process as the searches became more complex.

For most of our roles, I’d meet with the hiring manager and team to understand their needs for a new hire, and would drive the finalization and posting of a job description. In addition to listing the description on internal and external sites, I actively recruited candidates by engaging our partners, current team, and network of supporters to get a robust candidate pool. Initially I coordinated all of the logistics - scheduling, exercise facilitation, reference checks, background checks, offer letters, and negotiations.

As we grew, I brought on a coordinator to help with some of these administrative pieces and coached him to take on more senior responsibilities - he’s now overseeing searches for a few teams on his own. Over the last year, we’ve cut down on the time to fill open roles by 30% with the majority being filled in 60 days or less.

As you can see in the example above, a macro answer shares the broad view story - why you were hired, or what the scope of responsibilities and duties of your work included. Ideally you share data in the beginning and the end to show the impact you had with metrics and results that will matter most to the person who’s interviewing you.

Prep for macro questions: What big picture questions do you think you might get in an upcoming interview, and what story can you tell that shows the scope of your work and paints a picture of where you started and ended in your work?

Potential macro interview questions might include:

  • Tell us about your time at X Company?
  • What did you do in X role?
  • Tell us about your management experience?
  • Tell us about your experience/familiarity with… [a broad piece of work you do like research, analytics, technology, social media].

[Related: Cultivate These Five Mindsets to Become Your Community’s Go-to Expert]

Micro questions and answers.

A micro question might be:

Tell us about a time you had a very challenging role to fill and how you got it done.

Here’s an example how you might answer that question:

About a year into my work at ABC company, our product team was growing super fast. It became clear we needed to hire an experienced, higher-level product officer to lead the team and report to the CEO. The c-suite team felt strongly they needed an experienced leader who knew the healthcare industry well and had experience at a high-growth company, which meant this would be a harder role to fill.

I started first by meeting with c-suite leaders to understand the hard and soft skills that would be most important in the role. We finalized the job description but we only got a trickle of somewhat qualified candidates when it was posted so I conducted more active recruitment and outreach to build a solid pool of candidates. I reached out to industry group leaders, posted on networking sites for product-specific and healthcare-specific professionals, engaged the team to share with their networks, and used LinkedIn recruiter to source candidates. Over a few weeks we started to get great candidates. The process for the candidates was more complex given how many senior level people’s schedules we needed to coordinate. And there were a lot of complex negotiations on the compensation package and start date that involved a lot of cross collaboration and communication between the final candidate and our CEO.

Thankfully the hard work paid off - our CPO has been in the role for two years and consistently gets great reviews from her team as a manager and leader.

Prep for micro questions: What situations or example-specific questions might you get in an upcoming interview? What story and details would paint an impactful picture of a specific experience or work project?

Potential micro questions might include:

  • Tell us about a time when you had to… [face a certain type of situation or challenge].
  • Describe a time when you… [faced a certain type of situation or challenge].
  • Have you ever had to… [do a certain type of work or handle a specific type of situation].

There are a million different questions you could get during an interview - it’s so hard to prepare for everything! But you’ll feel confident as long as you’ve got a macro story for each job you’ve had, and 5-10 specific situations for micro questions.

[Related: Help, I’m About to Lose My Job! Five Steps to Jumpstart Your Job Search.]

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Emily Lamia has been helping people grow and develop in their careers for over a decade. In 2015, she founded Pivot Journeys to create experiences to help individuals navigate their next career move and find meaningful work.


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