Skip to content

Interview Storytelling Tips, Part 1 of 2: Preparing Your Stories

  • by

meme, "the most interesting man in the world"

The essence of good interviewing is storytelling.

Why is this? Basically, a hiring team shouldn’t be convinced when a candidate says, “You should hire me because I can do this.”

The gold standard for the hiring team is to use behavioral interviewing techniques. “Please tell us about a time when…” and “Share one or two examples of when you…”

What they are asking is, “Tell me a story.”

This two-part blog series will help you 1) prepare your stories and 2) craft your stories – so you can be “the most interesting candidate in the world”.

Let’s start with practical tips to help you recall, gather, and prepare examples from your professional experience thus far.

Start by going through your resume or LinkedIn profile, and take some short trips down memory lane. For each of your positions, make a list of stories or accomplishments that stand out from that work experience. Be sure to recall both successes and failures. You will be thankful for the latter when interviewers ask you for examples of learning experiences.

Similarly, when it comes time to prepare for a specific interview, go through the job description line-by-line. As you read the job duties, examples will come to mind of your own experiences doing similar tasks. Jot them down with just a few words so you’ll remember them.

The “Recall” step should result in a hodge-podge of different memories, perhaps in the form of various lists or notes on scraps of paper. The next step is to organize your stories.

Review your examples and identify categories or tags for each one. You should be able to attribute a few different labels to each story. Organize them in any way that works for you, while keeping in mind the types of questions or topics the hiring team will ask about.

For example, let’s say you planned a fundraising gala. The story might be tagged as “project management”, “volunteer management”, “success”, and “working with challenging people”.

If you’ve ever frozen up in an interview because you were asked an unexpected question, spending quality time on this step will help you a lot. As you gather your stories, identify holes: topics for which you haven’t yet recalled any good examples. Dig into your memory to unearth a story that fills in those gaps.

In a previous blog post, I suggested searching the internet for common interview questions. Once you have those – and now that you have recalled and gathered your own stories – you can prepare answers to the questions that will be asked.

Some encouragement: Truly, anyone can tell a story. A facilities technician can share how they saved the day by unclogging a toilet. A candidate for a veterinary technician position can talk about the childhood pets that attracted them to the profession.

The key to effective interview storytelling is to prepare a concise story. The hiring team is not interested in the feature-length film, “The Project That Went Over Budget”. In most cases, interview responses can (and should) be just a few sentences.

Example: “I was frustrated that the numbers didn’t tie out. I took a short break from my desk, then came back to go through the ledgers line-by-line. After a couple of hours of patience and persistence, I was able to find the six cents that were throwing off the books.”
Example: “I had a vision for a major change within my organization. I wasn’t sure if the board would support me. Rather than introducing the idea in a board meeting where limited time for discussion would create confusion and distrust, I scheduled one-on-one calls with each board member to get their feedback first. By the next board meeting, everyone understood the background for my vision, and the board chair could facilitate a discussion that focused on the key decision points.”

To get you started on your preparation, choose one of the stories you gathered, and prepare a 1-3 sentence version that describes a time when:

  • You learned something at work
  • You discovered your strength or interest related to your current profession
  • You made a mistake and had to correct it

Have fun with it!