Interview Tip: Don’t Give Answers, Tell Stories

Before a big interview, most people will spend time to prepare answers for likely interview questions. This is useful and can get you prepared for the basics. The trouble is that the interviewer is not looking for answers that are already on your resume, they want to hear something that adds to it. You have to realize that a successful interview isn’t a cross examination, it’s a conversation. If you want to break out of the question/answer ping pong match, you should aim to sprinkle in some interesting information about yourself in the shape of stories.

The case for telling stories

If you have ever sat through a competency based interview, you know how important stories are to convey your message. I say that stories work really well in any interview (and any sales meeting) as they are memorable. Facts can easily be forgotten and mixed up but people tend to remember stories and who told them. The human brain is hard wired to remember stories, not just the words but the visuals that went through the listeners head as well. Marketers make very clever use of stories to sell products and services and so should you.

If you think about it, your whole life you have been told stories in one form or another. Whether it was bed time stories or fairy tales adapted by Disney, whether it’s a French art house film or a detective novel – there is a story there that you still remember. By using stories you will appeal to the human mind, you will create a strong connection with the listener, you will demonstrate your communication skills and finally you will be remembered.

How to tell stories

A story needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end. The punch line will be your result. You don’t want your anecdotes to be too long, aim to be able to deliver the story within 60 seconds if required. There is no need to put more details in there, if it’s an interesting story you can be sure the interviewer will ask you about it and there is your chance to elaborate.

In order to tell a really memorable story, you will have to make it original. People want to hear about your out-of-the-box way of doing things, your imaginative and clever methods to reach goals. The interviewer has heard a few stories in their day so make sure yours are special and they will go down a treat.

Another really important aspect is to remember to listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions. Make sure you understand exactly what they are asking and what type of story that would apply. The kiss of death to your interview would be you going in all guns blazing, churning out story after story when all they asked was whether you wanted coffee or tea. Remember that an interview is very much a sales meeting, you are selling yourself and you have to put the focus on the employer and their needs as opposed to your ego.

There are 7 stories you can start working on today, all tailored to the needs of the employer:

1. The story about yourself

This is the obvious one and perhaps you will have this one prepared already. This should contain the basics as where you are from, where you went to school/university and your most recent positions. You should include where you are heading and most importantly what value you can add to your next employer. This is the one story that tends to get a bit long, as everyone loves to talk about themselves.

2. How you can make money or save money

You will be hired for your ability to make or save money for the employer. Demonstrate how you did this in the past with an anecdote of how you became the top sales rep or how you found an ingenious way to slash the phone budget by a third.

3. Team player

Being able to work in a team is essential in any company nowadays. Prepare a story for how you helped the team to achieve a great goal or how you organized a trip to Italy and increased the team spirit so that nobody has left that team since.

4. Hard working

Every boss wants a hard worker on their team. Assuming this is you, prepare a story of how you went the extra mile for your company and/or client. This can be you working evening or weekends and really making a sacrifice for the good of the common goal.

5. In it for the long run

With generation Y changing jobs like flipping tv channels, the employer will want to know that you intend to stay in this role for the foreseeable future. Tell a story of how others left your team but you made the decision to stick by your manager and see the project through, obviously ending with why now is the natural time for you to move on.

6. Your great challenge

The time you faced an enormous challenge and it took you some time to get through the trials and tribulations. In the end your ingenuity helped you overcoming it and you are now stronger than ever, with new skills that nicely transfer to the job you happen to be interviewing for.

7. Dealing with conflict/setback/stress

You will be asked about how you have resolved a conflict, how you dealt with a massive blow, how you coped under pressure. Prepare short stories around these topics which are all designed to demonstrate how you can deal with the negatives and turn them in to something positive.

Final note

In all of these stories, you want to throw in what actions you took, what skills you used and what results you achieved. Make sure these three elements are very clear so that the interviewer can take nice little notes on your prowess.

Don’t wait until next time an interview comes up, start working away on your stories today. In order to put on a bard-like performance in your next job interview, you will have to practice your new skill at every given opportunity. I am convinced your anecdotes will come in handy in other everyday situations as well.

Have you used stories in an interview and how did it go? Share your experiences in the comments.

Related: Top 5 Most Commonly Misunderstood Interview Tips.

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.