Storytelling in Interviews

Everyone knows how nerve-wracking interview sessions can be, especially if it’s your first time or if this job is the one you have prayed for and dreamed of for so long. However, most interviewees end up just plain reciting their achievements and certifications, which are usually long-winded explanations without anything substantial. First of all, those achievements are already in the resume, so there is no use reciting them in the interview.

During the interview session, the interviewer wants you to know who you are as a person and as a prospective employee which is why effective storytelling is useful when attending job interviews. If you can captivate the interviewer within the short time you are allotted during the interview, you are surely leaving your mark in their head, and that can be a fast track for you to get hired.


Why Storytelling is Important

In an interview session, it is essential to use storytelling to captivate the interviewer truly. For instance, when they ask what you can bring to the table or your strength or weakness, the story must be about how you acted in a predetermined situation.

In this way, you can show them how resilient and driven you are. It has been proven that “story-driven discussions” create a more positive impression during interviews than pure recitations of credentials.

Researchers have also found that employers considered applicants with better storytelling skills in interviews as having greater potential for success during the sixth month job performance evaluations. Henceforth, even if only for this reason alone, effective interviewing stories are important to include in your arsenal.

Of course, more than just impressing the interviewer, you should also tell a story that will show how capable you are of being in your desired position. Your interviewer has and will be talking to dozens of applicants which is why you need to make your mark and be memorable to get hired.


The Five Types of Interviewer-Storytelling Questions

The best way to answer any question in an interview is to tell a story. Stories are interesting, engaging, and they help interviewers get to know you as a person. There may be cases when you might use them interchangeably because, most likely, they can fit into any part of an interview session with no hassle. So here is a list of examples of the five different types of storytelling questions and answers during interviews.


1. The Origin Story (e.g. “Tell me about yourself”)

Your origin story is the perfect place to start off with a story. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself and share your journey with the interviewer. Do keep in mind that they’re not asking for an autobiography, instead, focus on sharing the most relevant and interesting details of your life that are relevant to the career or position you’re applying for.

Lily Zhang, Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab, came up with a quick and effective formula to answer this question. She suggests the following steps:

  • 1. Start with your Present

Share about your current position and the breadth of it, as well as any recent significant accomplishments.

  • 2. Then, Introduce your Past

Talk about what led you to where you are at and why you’re interested in the career or position. What is it that moves and motivates you? You may also want to highlight any significant or interesting experiences from your past that relate to your career path.

  • 3. Share your Future Goals

In reality, the interviewer is asking this question so they can get a sense of your ambitions and motivations. Talk about what you want to do next and why you’re interested in this work, how it is in line with your goals and motivations, and of course, why it’s a great fit for you).

This isn’t the only approach to go about creating your response, of course, and it’s open to variation. If there’s a particularly compelling narrative about why you became involved in this area, for example, you might want to begin with that “past” story before getting into what you’re doing now.

In any case that you want to tweak this formula, be sure that it’s still linked to the position and company. We recommend that you always end it by saying something along the lines of, “This is why I’m here”.


2. The Leadership Story (e.g. “Tell me about a time a time you led a time”)

Interviewers love to hear stories about leadership experiences because it gives them an idea of how you think and handle difficult situations. Not everyone can be a leader, but there are people who show leadership qualities in the smallest ways, and that’s what interviewers want to hear the most. They do not want to hear boastful stories about how they lead a team to do this and that because most of the time, they’re not really practicing what they preached in the interview rooms.

For example, “Can you tell me about a time when you had to lead a project?”

When answering this question, focus on the steps you took to complete the project and highlight your successes. Since this question assesses your leadership capabilities, it would be great if you can showcase your story in an organized and logical manner. Doing this just shows how you approach and manage situations as a leader. Don’t forget to talk about how you handled any challenges that came up along the way. You can say something like, “My team and I had a lot of disagreements about how to go about this project at first, but through a lot of hard work and time spent on listening to what everyone had to say, we were able to overcome our differences and achieve our desired results.”


3. Overcoming Adversity Story (e.g. “Tell me about a time you overcame an adversity”)

This story type is also known as a Situation-Response story. Here, you are asked to describe a particular situation and then share how you reacted to it. This is different from the first two types of questions because this will highlight your skills and the ability to think on your toes.

For example: “Can you tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure?”

The key here is to make sure that your response is logical and fits the question. For instance, if the interviewer asks about working under pressure, don’t share a story about handling a conflict with a co-worker. It’s important to be strategic in your storytelling. It could be a time where you were able to deliver a work output on a very tight deadline. Here, you can share a bit of the struggle you faced and how you were able to still deliver on time.


4. Strengths/Weaknesses Story

This is one type of story that interviewers love to hear, and applicants often have difficulty telling. It’s not because they don’t have any strengths or weaknesses, but because they’re often unsure of how to talk about them and are afraid that their story might not be interesting enough or that it might reflect negatively on them.

For example: “What do you consider to be your greatest strength and weakness?”

When answering this question, it’s important to stay away from generic answers. Be sure to frame your strengths in a way that makes them relevant to the job you’re applying for. You can discuss talents that aren’t necessary for the position, areas in which you’ve enhanced your skills, or turn a negative into a positive.

For instance, if you are applying for a position that requires strong leadership skills, then you might want to focus on your strength in being able to motivate people and getting the best out of them.

Your weaknesses, on the other hand, should also be framed in a way where the positive aspect of having that weakness outweighs or makes up for any difficulty it could cause. For example, if you’re a perfectionist, you might want to say that this makes you rigorous and able to produce high-quality work. While it may appear that the objective of this type of question is to discover flaws, your response should always be centered on the positive aspects of skills and talents.


5. The Case-Study Story

A case-study story refers to questions that ask you about your experience in doing something or feeling something, and what you have done about it. This helps the interviewer assess your skills in dealing with real-life situations that might happen in the office.

Here is a good example of a classic case study question:

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to handle a conflict with a co-worker?”

Now, after the interviewer asks this question, it is your turn to share an experience from your past that will show how efficient and effective you are in handling tough situations. It can be something from work or outside of work.

For example, you can say, “We had differences on how to execute this and that, but through communication, we were able to resolve our differences, and the conflict was settled.” You may also choose somewhere in between. Whatever it is, make sure that you choose something where your decisions lead to success while staying true to yourself and while always keeping the bigger picture in mind at all times.

What if this doesn’t fit into any category? Well then: “I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head, but I’m sure I could if we talked about it a little more.”

Remember that storytelling is a weapon that you can use to your advantage. Stories form a part of your identity as a person, as a professional, and as a leader and interviewers want to know who you are in a few paragraphs. Use storytelling to tell the company why they need you, what you can bring to the table, and what you can promise to do when they hire you. With the right stories, you can make a great and lasting impression and increase your chances of getting the job.

For more tips on storytelling, visit our website. There you’ll find plenty of articles, examples and free resources to help you inspire your audience through stories.