“Mastering Effective Interviewing Skills and Situational Interviews in a Professional Setting”: Dr. Sylvia Martin, Chief Nursing Officer at Kaiser Permanente (Video + Transcript)

September 20, 2023

Dr. Sylvia Martin (Chief Nursing Officer at Kaiser Permanente) shares how to prepare for an interview, understanding how to engage and connect with an interview panel. She covers interview goals, building rapport, command and executive presence – with a focus on situational interviews. Attendees leave with her framework for success and over a dozen interview tips for success.


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Angie Chang: Welcome back to ELEVATE Virtual Conference. My name’s Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X, and with us today we have Dr. Sylvia Martin, the Chief Nursing Officer at Kaiser Permanente. She spent over a decade as a hospital administrator at Stanford Children’s Health and earned her doctorate in nursing practice from Yale University. She has earned both her MS and BS from the University of Alabama Huntsville. We welcome today Dr. Sylvia Martin.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Welcome to this girl geek presentation on mastering effective interviewing skills and situational interviews in the professional setting. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Sylvia Martin. I am a Chief Nursing Officer with over 25 years of healthcare experience and many years of hiring team members at all levels. I received my doctorate degree in nursing from Yale University, completing my dissertation on moral courage. In my free time, I enjoy spending it with my family or volunteering in the community.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: In my current role, I conduct situational interviews because I found them to be effective in helping me identify the desired characteristics and strengths of those I’m interviewing.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: I’d like to start out by establishing a shared understanding of the purpose of interviews, and that is making an assessment of your skills, qualification, critical thinking, and even your potential. From an interviewer’s perspective, we’re seeking the best candidate for the organization, for the department, for the team, and the role. From an interviewee’s perspective, this is your opportunity to shine, to showcase your skills, your ability to make a constructive impact, and you want to market what you bring to the table and even brag about what you’ve accomplished. This is your time to really put it out there for people to see how great you are and why they need to hire you.

dr sylvia martin building rapport in interview elevate speaker

Dr. Sylvia Martin: One of the most important things you want to be able to do in any interview is build a rapport and connection with those who are interviewing you. Most commonly, you’ll either be interviewing with one individual or you’ll have a panel that you’ll be interviewing with, meaning that you’ll have anywhere from three to 10 people that may be there to hear what you have to say in the interview.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: I usually conduct panel interviews. This allows different perspectives to have input on the hiring decision, which I really appreciate. Now, some of the ways that you can incorporate into your interactions in the interview to help build this rapport and connection is starting with a warm greeting. Use active listening skills. Your body language matters if you need to take notes so you can use the interviewer’s name when you speak to them.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: You want to share stories and communications that will highlight your characteristics and your strengths and what you have to bring to the team that will help everyone succeed. Give them that energy enthusiasm that will help inspire them around the opportunity to work with you. Find common ground. Cautiously use humor when that can be appropriate. Ask about their role.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Showing curiosity is a great way to engage and connect with people and expressing gratitude. It’s always a connecting formality to say thank you and be gracious about the time people are spending to get to know you and to find out why you would be the best person for the role.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: It’s also important to communicate confidence and establish credibility in the short time you have in your interview. I call this commanding the room. To command the room in your panel interview, it will demonstrate confidence and that you’re present and you can communicate effectively. You want to come in with a brief, impactful introduction that highlights your background and skills and your energy and enthusiasm for the opportunity in front of you and the role. This can be done with a confident, clear tone, concise statements, confident body language and posture, making appropriate eye contact, and avoiding fidgeting and body movements that may distract from what you’re trying to communicate.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Remember, commanding the room is not about dominating the conversation, but rather demonstrating your competence, professionalism, and your ability to engage effectively with a diverse panel. Practice and preparation will go a long way in boosting your confidence and helping you make a lasting impression. When done with grace, it will get everyone’s attention and make them curious to know what is different about you, and that’s a good thing because you’re about to tell them.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: There are different types of interviews that can be conducted when you go in for an interview for a new job. There are behavioral interviews, situational interviews, competency-based, and traditional interviews. For the focus of this presentation, we are going to talk about situational interviews, where an assessment is made for problem solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and decision-making. What else can we learn in situational interviews?

Dr. Sylvia Martin: The author Janneke Oostrom wrote an article on situational interviewing and in her research found that there was considerable similarity between what an interviewee says they would do and their actual behaviors and corresponding work situations. What does that mean? It connects the intentions to actual behaviors, and situational interviewing will highlight the ability of the interviewee to correctly decipher situational demands.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: When I ask a question, I can see are they able to line up what I’m asking with what that situation would or does demand in their answer, either from experience or from hypothesis, right? Showing your confidence in the ability to influence in a positive way to find the desired outcomes or learn from a situation, and then an assessment of authentic characteristics versus an interview persona. Say, where a person might come to an interview and only share ideal responses. Situational interviewing will give you a more accurate reflection of the person’s real life responses to give you an authentic look at who that person is and what they have to bring to your team.

dr sylvia martin situational questions answered with star method situation task action result elevate speaker

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Now, when you’re being asked questions in a situational interview, the best evidence-based methods to respond is by using the star method. STAR is an acronym for situation, task, action, and result. It is much easier to share a focused answer providing the interviewer with a digestible but compelling narrative. Sometimes people may tend to provide too much detail and their answers get too long, thus their main points get sort of lost in the dialogue. You want to focus on one or two sentences for each letter of the acronym.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Choose a few strong, versatile example stories that you’ll practice and have ready, making sure that they are still authentic in your experience and responses in the past or your intentions in how you know you would behave to respond to these situations. Your situation is going to describe the context and the challenges that you faced. Your task explains what you needed to achieve and why it was strategically important. The action is outline the steps that you took to develop and execute the plan and your results, highlighting the positive outcomes such as enhanced customer satisfaction. Or clearly explaining what you learned from the situation and what you would do differently next time if it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: It’s important to be prepared for possible questions in a situational interview. On this slide I’m sharing some of the more common questions you may encounter. You would want to have your STAR method response prepared or at least formulated in your mind for these or similar questions. I’m going to demonstrate a couple of questions and responses to show you what this would look like.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: The question is, “Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed at work and your manager asked you to take on an additional task or initiative.” My situation, I had several complex projects requiring almost all of my time. They were engaging and allowed me to collaborate with other teams. The task one of my team members received a well-deserved promotion, meaning I needed to hire a replacement team member.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: The action, I acknowledged my limited time and capacity and talked with my manager and the colleague to gain support with the hiring process. The result, my colleague agreed to complete the screening and first round interviews, allowing me the time I needed to wind down my projects, then take over the final round of the interviews, completing the process in a timely manner without delaying the completion of my projects.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: A second scenario would be “Tell me about a time when you had to handle a difficult team member. How did you address the situation?” In my previous role as a project manager, I was leading a cross-functional team responsible for developing a new product. One of my team members consistently missed deadlines and had a negative attitude, and both were affecting team morale. The success of the project depended on timely deliveries from every team member. It was crucial that I addressed the performance issues and improve the collaboration within the team.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: First, I scheduled a private meeting with the employee to discuss the challenges and concerns. I wanted to understand the root cause of the behavior and address any underlying issues. During our conversation, I discovered that the employee felt completely overwhelmed with his workload and felt he didn’t have enough support.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Next, I decided to work very closely with the employee to develop a clear action plan. I allocated specific tasks that aligned with their strengths and expertise, and I provided additional resources to help manage the workload. I also started regular check-ins to monitor progress and offer guidance. To improve the team morale, I organized team building activities and open communication and collaboration. During team meetings, I highlighted individual and team achievements, celebrating milestones and success, which positively reinforced a culture of appreciation and recognition.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: As a result, the employee’s performance significantly improved. They began meeting deadlines consistently with a transformation in their attitude, becoming more positive and engaged. Team morale boosted with this increased communication and a stronger sense of unity. The project met its deadlines on time with positive feedback from both internal stakeholders and customers.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: This experience taught me the importance of proactive communication, empathy, and tailored support from my team members. It reinforced my belief that addressing performance issues head on, having difficult conversations and fostering a positive team environment can lead to a remarkable improvement and successful outcomes.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: These are just a couple of examples of how you can move through the STAR method to answer situational interview questions. Before we close out this presentation, I’ll share just a few other tips for interview success. You want to make sure that you’ve researched the company, that you know how the company is doing in the market in a SWOT sort of format and where this company stands so that you can speak in an informed way around a vision for your role and how you can contribute, and that’ll help you tailor your message for what you want to communicate.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: This will give a why to your vision as well for the work that you can do at this company. You want to emphasize mutual benefits, and you want to connect your past work experience and education to what you will bring that will make you successful in this role. Give a good foundation to why they should want you there on their team, why they need you there on their team.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: Demonstrate a future oriented mindset and a proactive attitude. You want to break down your thought processes, show that you’re aligned with the company goals, mission and vision, and provide tangible examples from your experience so that they’re able to see the authenticity in all of that. You want to be a good listener and ask for feedback and be passionate and energetic and gracious and express gratitude.

Dr. Sylvia Martin: These are all things that will help you build that rapport and connection and inspire the team that’s interviewing you to help you be successful in snagging that opportunity that’s in front of you for this job. Thank you so much for your time and attention today in attending this presentation, and I want to wish you all the best in your future interviews. Have a good day.

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