You can only plan so much for your interviews. One of the main reasons an interview is beneficial for your potential employer is that they can assess how well you respond to a situation on the fly. Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean they’re trying to catch you out. However, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re asked a question you didn’t expect.

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Would you like to phone a friend?

So, how do you prepare for the unexpected?

Today, we’re running through a useful template for answering questions called the C.A.R.L system. Having a template for your answers might seem formulaic, but it’s an effective strategy for laying out your skills and experiences in a manner which will impress employers, back up your CV with evidence and demonstrates your ability to communicate relevant information clearly.

The C.A.R.L system breaks down everything a potential employer is looking for in a candidate’s answer. It’s not enough to simply say that you’ve used a particular skill before, or you have experience working in a certain field. The C.A.R.L system allows us to contextualise our experiences credibly whilst painting a more complete picture of our approach to a challenge. Remember, the process of problem-solving is just as important as the outcome. The C.A.R.L system outlines both and then some.

That’s the thing about outlines. If you know the basic structure of a good answer before you’re asked it, answering questions feels more like colouring in. Taking away the mental energy it takes to figure out how you will answer a question gives you time in your brain to do the colouring in.

With all this in mind, let’s get to know C.A.R.L.

C.A.R.L stands for Context, Action, Result and Learning. It’s a step-by-step structure that we will walk through right now:

Context

Explain to your interviewer the background details of your situation concisely, avoiding jargon. This section of your answer brings your interviewer on board with your perspective of the situation and allows them to follow your answer whilst demonstrating your communication skills.

Action

Explain the action you took to resolve this scenario. This is perhaps the most vital part of your answer as it allows your prospective employer to see how you as a candidate will take initiative in a situation and make the job your own. Outline the steps you took to reach a particular outcome, emphasising your role.

Result

What effect did your action have?  This is where you prove the value of your actions. Results can be quantitative (an increase or decrease in a numerical value e.g. sales closed, tasks completed, money saved etc.) or qualitative (e.g. positive feedback from a customer, new ideas gained, positive recognition from your employer). Describing the results of your actions will show to your interviewer that you follow along with your actions enough to understand their impact.

Learning

How did your experience change you as an employee and how will you use these new insights in the role you are applying for? Remember to be specific, as employers look for candidates who can adapt to any situation. For you as a candidate, this is where you can show off your intuition for transferring skills. If you don’t have as much in terms of background or experience, this step can push you ahead of other candidates based on your ability to develop as an employee which, in turn, adds value to the company.

Now that we know what the steps to the C.A.R.L system is, let’s apply them to a question.

“Can you give me any examples of you having to deal with a disagreement with a co-worker?”

Context

“Whilst working as a project assistant for an ecological surveying company, I had a disagreement with a fellow assistant on the software we should use to analyse the data. The software I proposed was better suited to exporting our findings in a way that the client could more easily understand. However, my colleague was less familiar with this software.”

Action

“Seeking to put the client first, I recognised the opportunity to resolve a conflict whilst sharing the knowledge I have with this particular software with my colleague. I delegated some time to train my colleague with this software and offered my assistance whenever they needed it.”

Result

“The client was pleased with the report we had provided and signed a contract with our company to survey all of his building projects in the area. My colleague and I continued to use this software with me as a continuous source of assistance. It only took two months of training until they no longer needed my help and was fully competent in the software.”

Learning

“Firstly, I learned that putting the client’s needs first allows us to more quickly reach a shared objective and understand our path more clearly. I approached every decision thereafter with the benefit of the client first and foremost. The experience also increased my confidence in my leadership skills. I am now eager to share my knowledge with my fellow colleagues and taking an active role in the development of my team.”

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A firm handshake is your second best friend

It’s as easy as that. Remember, the C.A.R.L system allows you to squeeze the MOST out of your answers with LESS time thinking about them. It lets you know when you’ve answered a question fully, giving all the relevant information. We remind you of this because it doesn’t just tell you how to obtain more to talk about, it’s useful to know when to stop. The C.A.R.L system allows us to know when we’ve answered the question fully. Knowing this demonstrates confidence in your answers.

Now it’s your turn. Practice using the C.A.R.L method on these common interview questions. Not only will it acquaint you with this useful template, but the chances are you’ll also be using one of these answers in a real interview!

Remember, C.A.R.L is your best reference.

Questions:

  1. Name an instance when you had to use teamwork to resolve an issue at work.
  2. What is your biggest failure at work? How did you deal with it?
  3. Can you tell me about a time where you had to deal with a challenge you didn’t have the knowledge to face at the time?
  4. How do you deal with criticism?
  5. How have you approached a task you’ve had to complete when you had little motivation to complete it?