Add Storytelling To The Interview Process

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By Marc Miller

Storytelling? Storytelling is a very compelling way to inform the interviewer that you know your stuff.

The purpose of telling stories is to get you to talk about your most memorable accomplishments, biggest challenges, the ways you deal with conflict, and how you recover from a stumble.

If you answer every question in an interview with a story, it shows that you have demonstrated your expertise in a real world setting.

Over time, you will want to build up a library of stories that, at a moments notice, you can pull off the shelf and share.

The stories in your library should be constructed to have three sections:

  • Clearly state the problem
  • Describe how you solved the problem
  • Describe the outcome

What stories should you have at your disposal?

Step #1 – Look at the responsibilities section of the job description

Take each responsibility listed in the job description and create a story that talks about a situation where you demonstrated the documented skill. Write out each story then rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. You will want to be able to tell the story in a very conversational manner. You want it to sound natural.

What if you have not actually performed the tasks or roles described in the job description?

Find a situation where you performed similar responsibilities. Start the story out by saying:

I have not been in that exact situation, but let me tell you about the time I did something similar!

Step #2 – Standard interview questions

Prepare a story for each of the following common interview questions (from About.com):

  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is you greatest weakness?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
  • Describe a difficult work situation / project and how you overcame it?
  • How do you evaluate success?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What are your goals for the future?
  • Tell me about yourself.

Step 3 – Be prepared for Behavioral interview questions

Behavioral questions are best answered in story form. Some sample behavioral questions:

  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • Give an example of a goal you didn't meet and how you handled it.
  • Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • How do you handle a challenge?
  • Have you been in a situation where you didn't have enough work to do?
  • Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
  • Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.

Interview preparation

You will want to practice telling your stories in front of a mirror. Remember to smile! Pay attention to your facial expressions as you tell each story. Your delivery should sound natural and unrehearsed.

Print out each question that you have prepared for, along with a short description of the associated story. Use large fonts with a lot of white space to make it easy to read.

Bring this into the interview and be prepared to take notes on how well each story was received.

If you are unsure which story to use to answer a particular question, repeat the question back to the interviewer by saying, "I want to make sure I understood you correctly. What I heard you say is..."

This gives you a chance to gather your thoughts and scan your list of questions and stories in order to pick the most appropriate.

Over time, your library of stories will grow and you will get better at retelling them. Each time you tell a story, pay attention to how it was received. Did the interviewer enjoy the story? Did the interviewer display positive body language?

The more you practice sharing your stories, the more natural you will become in telling them.

Marc Miller is the found of Career Pivot and author Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers. Follow him in Twitter and Facebook.
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