How Have You Exceeded Expectations?

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One of the most frequent requests from hiring managers during interviews is for examples of situations where you went beyond expectations. This may be phrased in a variety of different ways. You may be asked- “What kinds of things have you done at school or on the job that were beyond expectations?” “How have you gone above and beyond in your career or while pursuing your education?” or “Would your previous employers describe you as consistently going the extra mile?” You may also be asked to “describe a situation where you had to go beyond the call of duty.” In today’s highly competitive business atmosphere- the success of any given company is rooted deeply to the commitment of the people who oversee its day to day operations. Employees who consistently go beyond basic job duties are highly sought after. Preparing in advance for these interview questions with specific examples of times where your extra effort significantly contributed to the larger group will help you stand out from the sea of other less prepared interviewees.

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How to Answer the ‘What Kinds of Things Have You Done at School or on the Job That Were Beyond Expectations?’ Interview Question

Use the SAR Technique to Frame Your Question: The Situation-Action-Result- or SAR- Technique gives you a basic framework for elaborating and articulating your response. Begin by describing the situation that set up a need for your intervention. Avoid general statements here. The more specific your situation- the more powerful your account will be. Once the groundwork is laid- explain the actions you took that went above and beyond the call of duty. If you had to make multiple attempts and tweak your approach- make sure this is part of your story as well. Doing so illustrates a level of commitment and resourcefulness that is highly attractive to employers.

Paint a Picture: The more you can craft your example into an engaging- relevant story- the more memorable your answer to interview questions will be. Practice telling your anecdote out loud. If it takes you fewer than 20 seconds- dig deeper. You already have a beginning- middle and end crafted with the SAR technique- which lends itself easily to a narrative format. Avoid going to the other extreme by aiming for an Emmy. The sweet spot tends to be right around a minute- enough time to create a logical narrative and flesh out details without overwhelming or even boring the interviewer.

Don’t be Afraid to Brag: Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal- which is to blow the interviewer away. Your goal is to strategically answer interview questions to convince them that you are the best choice. For many- it can feel uncomfortable or awkwardly egotistical to promote yourself- but ultimately- that is exactly what you are there to do. However- just like with any technique- you also need to hit just the right note to avoid simply coming off as a blowhard. Don’t tell the interviewer that you are natural leader- share with her or him a series of short examples that clearly illustrate your abilities as a leader- or give examples of specific feedback you received from colleagues or former employers in which your abilities to lead effectively are praised. By simply leaving the trail of dots for your interviewer to connect- they will be much more likely to feel as if they have made a judgement about you themselves rather than feeling like they have been beat over the head with personality descriptors.

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Sample ‘What Kinds of Things Have You Done at School or on the Job That Were Beyond Expectations?’ Interview Answers

I understand adaptability and flexibility are important features of this job. In my last position- we often had trouble holding onto secretarial staff. It was becoming a significant burden for management to keep our front desk fully staffed to greet and schedule clients. Although the position paid significantly lower than what I was working- I volunteered myself to train to take over the basics of front desk operation so I could step in in emergency situations. On one of our busiest days- a newly hired secretary failed to show. While I still had to balance my own job duties- I was able to use my knowledge of our scheduling system to step in and direct clients to keep us operational for the rest of the day.

During the last semester of my senior year- I was part of a team of students who wrote and directed a short documentary for a regional film competition. I had spent most of my career in support positions when working in group settings- but this particular project centered around a subject for which I had a lot of passion. I jumped right in the middle- the first one there to every meeting and the last to leave. I found all the administrative skills I developed in support positions evolved with my leadership- as it fell to me to delegate many of the important tasks of the project. Not only did the entire team come together- we ended up winning second place.

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