Build powerful stories to answer interview questions

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

May 29

You should answer interview questions with powerful stories. But what are the characteristics of a great interview story? Stories that answer interview questions are necessarily different than stories that describe a fun time on vacation. Interview questions demand particular information — and you have to build the information into the stories you tell.

Stories show context

When asked an interview question, it is easy to simply provide the response. Like it was a list. How much did your work increase sales that year? 5%. How did your work improve the process? We increased productivity 20%.

Direct answers to specific questions have their place of course. But answering interview questions gives you the opportunity to provide context for the results. You can talk briefly about the problem you were solving, or how you overcame obstacles, or how important the work was to your manager.

Context shows the hiring manager why your work was important — and why you were important for the work.

Stories show how you fit the job description

Job descriptions are often poor. But when managers have a difficult time explaining the work (or giving you goals…), the place to fall back to is the job description. From a preparation viewpoint, the job description is about as good as it gets to having an idea what to say during the interview.

As you prepare for the interview, make sure your stories address the specifics of the job description for both the hard skills as well as the soft skills (like, “teamwork”) needed for the job.

Stories show numbers

After telling a great story with context and fitting the job description, people will often fail to deliver on the important conclusion to the story: the results of the work.

Hiring managers want to know how your work impacted the department and helped your manager reach goals — because they want you to help them reach their goals.

Having results is not only saying the work “improved productivity,” but by how much. You must use numbers in the story to solidify the power of the story. Saying you improved productivity is nowhere near as powerful as saying you “improved productivity by 20% because we reduced the cycle time by two days.”

Everyone can say they improved something, but very few candidates are able to build in the numbers that really make the story rock.

How do you construct your stories for interviews?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.

  • Rick Saia says:

    Nice post Scot!

    The best way to construct stories for interviews is to start with the list of accomplishments you will use to “sell” yourself to the employer. And, when you’re putting together your resume with your skills and accomplishments, it may be best to work backward: Find a story or two from your work history that leads you to conclude that you’re skilled at, for example, rooting out redundancies in a manufacturing assembly process to improve process efficiency, allowing the company to tighten its delivery schedules.

    So, you state that skill on your resume. When it comes to the interview, you use your one or two stories to give the employer a vivid picture of how you have used that skill.

    It’s just like writing a thesis: After you make your assertion, you need to prove your point. There’s no better way to do that in the interview than with a real-life example.

    Best,
    ~ Rick

    • Scot says:

      @Rick – another good way to build stories, this time from the resume. It’s a good catch as the resume is the only thing a hiring manager has to ask you questions from in the beginning of the interview. As always, you have comments with great insight.

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