If hiring managers could learn everything they need to know about you from your resume, then there would be no need for interviews. An interview is your opportunity to convey all the intangibles your resume can’t: your personality, how you overcome challenges, and other qualitative traits that don’t show up on paper.
There’s no better weapon in your arsenal for conveying these subjective traits than storytelling. Sure, you could tell someone that you’re terrific at leading teams, but sharing that leadership through an anecdote is far more compelling, effective, and memorable. In fact, if you say that you’re terrific at leading teams; most interviewers will ask you for an example. Don’t let that prompt catch you off guard; come prepared and be ready with illustrative stories.
As a former Naval Officer and now a recruiter helping military veterans transition into new careers, I can tell you that storytelling is the key to both making your interview impactful and communicating the value of your past experiences to a hiring manager. In fact, in the war for talent, it is the thing that differentiates you from everyone else. Therefore, it’s the primary job interview tip I emphasize in coaching military veterans.
Structure Your Story
The first thing to know about storytelling is how to structure a story. The STAR format is the gold standard here: Situation, Task, Action, and Results. What was the situation or the challenge? What was the task at hand and the issues involved? What actions did you take to address the issues? And… What did you achieve (both quantitative and qualitative results)? Always provide the reason “why” you took an action before you have to be asked. Doing so demonstrates emotional intelligence, a trait in high demand by employers. This may sound like a lot to get through, but it’s actually possible to move pretty quickly once you have your outline formulated. Try to keep each anecdotal story less than 60 seconds.
Tell Your Story with Confidence
If you are asked the open-ended question, “tell me about yourself,” be creative. The interviewer cares less about your answer to this question and more about the confidence, enthusiasm, and passion with which you answer it. Remember that the speed of the response IS the response. The biggest mistake you can make is pausing, stalling, or fumbling through the story. This shows a lack of self-awareness or lack of preparedness.
The difference between a good story and a great story is whether it’s merely illustrative or it’s memorable. Descriptive details make your story come alive. For example, saying that you were faced with a team that “bickered like siblings” is going to stick in a hiring manager’s mind longer than saying that you were faced with a team that “didn’t get along”.
Prepare for the Interview
Finally, while great stories may come off as unrehearsed, they are actually well planned. Once you have outlined your story in the STAR format, write it down. Rehearse it while visually looking at the outline several times and it will become more memorized. That will enable you to recall it more rapidly or spontaneously in the interview. You should have a repertoire of prepared stories that can be used in response to the most common interview questions, including:
• What is your greatest strength or weakness? Bonus tip: Remember that hiring managers respect honesty and humility but use storytelling to demonstrate a weakness that you have conquered or that you can spin into a strength.
• What is a challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
• What is your greatest personal achievement or failure (and what did you learn from it?)?
• Why are you interested in this position?
• Where do you see yourself in five years?
• Are you a leader or a follower? Bonus tip: No matter how you choose to answer this question, remember that before someone becomes a good leader, they must first be a good follower!
• How would you describe a great leader?
• Do you work better independently or as part of a team (or both)?
• How do you handle pressure?
• What are your career goals?
With a handful of well-structured, memorable stories in your back pocket geared towards common questions, you’re guaranteed to make a lasting impression.
What stories have you used in interviews to help you land a job? Share your storytelling in an interview skills with us.
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