Interview Story Telling

The other week, my blog post encouraged individuals to focus on Four Words during their interviews to help communicate an image or personal brand. As we discover which four words we wish to weave into our conversations with prospective employers, we now shift our attention to how to insert these words into conversations without forcing the themes.

The first step is accepting that job interviews are not about answering questions; your resume does most of the answering of the basic questions about your skill sets and abilities. Interviews are about telling stories and communicating desired messages to a hiring committee. When interviewing, you should strive to communicate how you would be a great fit for the organization and the position.  This requires the ability to tell a storytell.

Two recent articles drive this point home:

Undercover Recruiter: Don’t Give Answers, Tell Stories

Marketplace: How to Interview Better Than 99% of People

In addition to the tips shared in the articles, how can you be an effective storyteller in your next interview?

USE EXAMPLES: During the interview process, you will be asked to “Share a time when…” or “Provide an example where…”  This is the perfect time to tell a story.  Stories need to have a beginning that sets the stage, action items, and final outcome.

  • Set the Stage: When sharing an example, be sure to provide a setting.  How many people were on the team?  What was the goal of the project? Was this a work or outside activity?  In 20-30 seconds, you should be able to convey the main setting points of your example.  Do not deluge the interviewer with minutia; hit the pertinent background points in order for the interviewer to understand the lay of the land.
  • Action: In this part, be sure to communicate your contribution/action.  What did you do?  What part of the project did you own? How did you approach the client?  What suggestions did you make to further the discussions?  In short, the interviewer needs to hear from you as to your actions/efforts/contributions.  In this step, you can weave some of your branding themes into your example.
  • Results or Outcomes: Every story has to end, so make it a memorable one. What did you learn from that experience?  How did your activities achieve a specific goal or influence an outcome?  What would you do differently next time?  The interviewer wants to know how you have developed to become a better individual because of this example. Again, this is an opportune time to weave some of your four words into your story.

For example, I recently interviewed for a role that required the ability to reach out to clients for new business. Because of this job requirement, relationship building was a key attribute for success in this role and one of my four themes that I wanted to communicate during my meetings.  During one interview session, I was asked what my first job was – no lie, the committee wanted to know about my first job.  I could have told them in five seconds that my first job was a paper route when I was ten years old – instead, I told a story.

My first job was a paperboy when I was 10 years old.  In addition to delivering the daily paper, the role required me to visit each customer and collect the weekly amount for the paper delivery.  Collections were a key aspect of the job as without the collections I would not get paid.  As I made my rounds to my clients, I tried to get to know each customer and often engaged in small talk while the monetary transaction took place.  I discovered the families where I had developed a stronger relationship were the clients whom I knew their preferences – paper inside the screen door or send through the mail slot section by section, collect on Sundays when the Giants were not on television (I grew up in Northern New Jersey), etc.  In addition to knowing these clients’ preferences, they were better tippers during the weeks and holidays and were more forgiving when their paper was late or wet.  The paperboy role taught me the need and the power of taking the time to develop a connection, or relationship, with clients.  The better I knew my clients, the better service I was able to provide and the better business I was able to generate. 

The key to this answer is to connect the story to a desired skill set needed for the position. By relating the stories and examples back to the core competencies of the job, I communicated an image instead of just providing answers to questions.

The next time you head into an interview – be memorable by relating stories that weave in your Four Words.


Kevin Monahan is the Associate Director of the Notre Dame Career Center.  In this role, he leads the center’s  employer relations efforts in addition to coaching young professionals in career management and career change capacities. He combines career consulting services with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituencies.  He is the author of the Career Seeker’s Guide blog.