A good story is informative and engaging, and if you think about it, aren’t these also the qualities of a successful interview? All too often, exceptional candidates risk missing out on great positions because they don’t use their interview time wisely. Instead of forming a lasting connection with their interviewer by clearly articulating what about their background specifically makes them the best candidate, they rehash the skills and experience already listed on their resumes. But bullet points and lists aren’t memorable, so how can you avoid this mistake and leave a lasting impression on a potential future employer? Paint a picture with a story!
When on an interview, look out for and take advantage of openings for storytelling. Some may be obvious, such as questions beginning with “Tell me about a time when…”, but not every interviewer might use those tactics. Either way, be receptive to what’s really being asked of you and use your past experiences to help you deliver a stellar answer in story form, offering the hiring manager images and examples to back up your claims.
Stories can help in a number of ways: they give the interviewer insight into your career and work ethic; give you an opportunity to show confidence, communication skills, and creativity; and demonstrate your ability to prioritize and get to the point.
Here are some examples of stories you can tell, and which situations you might want to tell them in:
When the interviewer asks…
- “Tell me a bit about yourself.” This question gives you an opportunity to take charge and influence the direction the interview goes in. You can summarize your career thus far, how it’s helped you grow as a person, and how you’ve come to be who you are today. As long as they’re relevant and appropriate, you can talk about your hobbies, as well.
- “When did you experience a challenge, and how did you handle it?” The interviewer asks this question to essentially find out whether you are a great problem solver and critical thinker. Craft a story that details a challenge you faced, how you reacted to the stress and the pressure, how you addressed the issue and what the successful outcome was.
- “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” This is a question that’s easy to be stumped by, and it’s all too easy to fall back on the “I’m a perfectionist” answer. However, if you want to truly tell a career story, you should reference a true flaw of yours, one that is honest but not hugely problematic, and offer an example of a time your flaw proved to be a problem—and how you overcame it.
- Teamwork: Collaboration is becoming an even more important principle of the workplace and companies are even restructuring their offices to facilitate it. So, should the topic of teamwork come up, offer a story in which you worked (successfully!) with your fellow employees on a project. Focus on how you interacted with them, how you split up the work, etc. It can be especially helpful to show that you trust your coworkers but are willing to take on more work if they had too much on their plate.
- Goals: Almost inevitably, goals become a major topic during interviews. Whether long-term or short-term, they are usually of interest to your interviewer. Give an example of a time when you set, and successfully completed, a goal, and what its outcome was.
- Stress: Interviewers may sometimes ask you about how you work under pressure or stress. Usually, they aren’t looking for a one-word answer. This in particular is a great place to fit in a story of how you managed to work under a tight deadline or an unexpected obstacle. Should you be pressed for time, you can even include these details in your answer to the question about challenges.
An especially hard story to tell could be the one that hasn’t happened yet – where you see yourself in five years. We’ve addressed that before and you can read about it here.
So how should you craft these stories? First and foremost, always stick to the truth. Before an interview, think about them, write them down, and recite them. This will help keep them short—try for 60 seconds or less. This way, when you recognize an opening in an interview, you’ll be ready to dive right in and keep any rambling or tangents to a minimum. To help give structure to your questions, keep them to 3 parts: the beginning, the obstacle or struggle, and the outcome. And remember to always end on a positive note—this is why planning your stories out ahead of time is important.