3 ways stories help you answer interview questions

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

May 04

Answering interview questions is a tough business. Candidates provide answers in numbingly similar manners without the benefit of what the candidate really brings to the job. How do you differentiate yourself from these 1984 relics? You need to answer interview questions with stories about your work.

Here are three benefits.

1. The story answers interview questions with more information

Certainly, you can provide bullet-type answers. But you might as well show your PowerPoint slide at the same time and really put the hiring manager to sleep.

Answering interview questions with stories help provide the context of your work–the effort it took, the politics involved and how you accomplished your magnificent feats of attaining corporate goals.

2. The story is more memorable to the hiring manager

Do people remember facts and figures? No. Do your results of your work need facts and figures to differentiate yourself from others answers to interview questions? Yes. A conundrum.

You weave your facts and figures into the story of how you helped the company succeed. The hiring manager remembers the story, not the facts and figures. But the hiring manager remembers there was accomplishment there and there were numbers to back it up.

3. The story helps with the key words for the interview question the manager needs to hear

If the interview question is about how you interact with a team to accomplish results, you can say that you work hard, support others and all that blah blah blah stuff.

Much better to share a story about how you and your team overcame adversity to a pressing business problem. The one where Mary needed your support on a subject she didn’t quite know how to solve. And how you learned that special work-around from Frank and then implemented it in your work to figure out the problem you needed to solve. How the team overcame the cross-functional headaches that most teams have to get the information needed to move forward. How the team bonded through adversity and came out stronger the other side.

Yes, you can do the boring blah blah blah corporate speak answers–compared to the thrill of a problem to solve, overcoming adversity and heroes saving the day. Hey, heroes will always carry the day compared to corporate speak. But you get the corporate speak in the story so the key words are there. Just check how many corporate speak phrases are in the middle of that story to see what I mean.

Answering interview questions with stories makes you remarkable

Constructing a story to answer interview questions takes a lot of work. But it is work that significantly differentiates you from other candidates doing the interview for the job. Think of a hiring manager who listens to nine interviews of boring corporate speak and unfocused people who don’t know nor can explain how they work.

Then comes you, our Cubicle Warrior, with spot-on examples of how you get the work done, how you can contribute to the team from your past work and how you have results that a hiring manager wants. And when the hiring manager is asked what is so great about you, he or she repeat the stories you told when you answered your interview questions.

You need the results. But this is marketing.

Who do you think the hiring manager will hire? The boring corporate speak candidate who focuses on their job skills? Or the hero who works to help the company succeed?

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  • Ozzie Saunds says:

    Great article Scot, love the advice about creating stories in your interviews. I reTweeted this to all my followers. I find that the best way to that is my using the C.A.R. technique. A candidate can use this technique to answer questions from hiring managers with a story. They first put the hiring managers question into (C) Context, than describe the (A) Action they took to overcome a challenge, and follow it up by communicating (R) results that were achieved by taken the action.


    Ozzie Saunds

  • Rick Saia says:

    Exactly right! Bring the resume words to life in the interview. However, dropping in a good story in the cover letter can't hurt if it really resonates with what the employer is looking for.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Quite a different purpose, an interview from a resume, as well. The resume gets you the interview, but rarely has stories in the resume-just the results. The results have to come to life during the interviews and that is what differentiates you from the resume work. You have to know the purpose of the resume and the interview; they are different.

  • Rick Saia says:

    Nice post Scot! You can have all the experience necessary to land the job offer, but if you have memorable stories to use as examples, it's the stories that resonate more with your audience. They may not remember that you're a “consensus builder” as much as that story in which you talked with four others on the same team individually over the course of three hours, and what you had to negotiate with each of them in order to reach an acceptable solution to the problem everyone had been working on.

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