Ever since the first cave paintings, humans have been telling stories. We love stories and the more memorable, the better. You only want to be memorable for the right reasons, so how do you tell a story without lying or exaggerating? People love stories, particularly an if-this, than-that setup. You need a beginning, a middle, and an end – but also to let your hiring manager that you are answering the question. Here’s our time-tested and hiring manager approved way to answer any question that needs a story:
Before the Story, Answer The Question
Yes, you need to answer the question first. This isn’t a set-up for a joke, it’s an interview and that requires ruining the surprise upfront. You don’t need to include tension or suspense as a novel writer would. Your main concern is answering the question.
For example, if someone asks you about a major mistake you made, you could answer in this format:
Broken down this is 1) repeating the main part of the question so the hiring manager knows that I’m answering the question and 2) providing a summary of the story itself.
Mistake Story: “A professional mistake that still sticks in my memory is when I mixed up the date for a large meeting my departing was hosting.”
If it was a question about when you solved a problem:
Solved a Problem: 1)”I solved a problem the company was having with using lists in email chains by 2) using Excel spreadsheets.”
Provide Context With Your Story
Don’t get bogged down in too many details, but do provide enough so that the hiring manager understands.
Mistake Story: “My department had tentatively scheduled the meeting for the first week of June. When we changed the date to a month earlier, I forgot to make that change on my own calendar, causing me to scramble at the last minute and rush through the work.”
Solved a Problem: “No one in management saw how the fast changes in the lists were getting lost in the email chains because they weren’t on them, so they weren’t aware of the problem. Those that were on the email chains had to constantly double-check every new email that came out to make sure all of their changes were on there, which ate up a lot of company time.”
Explain Your Role
Be sure to explain what duties you were responsible for and elaborate on those. Make sure you don’t make excuses or shift blame. Take ownership of the story.
Mistake Story: “I was responsible for the PowerPoint presentation and while I had wanted to take my time putting it together, I just wasn’t able to do that once I realized the correct date. It was finished, but not as polished as I liked.”
Solved a Problem: “Once I realized the issue, I suggested using Excel spreadsheets. It turned out one employee didn’t know how to use it and was resistant as a result.”
You’re wrapping things up and sharing how it ended. This is the resolution of what happened, but you’re not quite finished:
Mistake Story: “Although I could have done a better job with more time, my coworkers were happy with it. Even though I had to spend late hours finishing, it didn’t reflect poorly on the company as a whole.”
Solved a Problem: “Once I realized the issue, I offered to spend some time with my coworker going over the basics. Once she felt comfortable with the program itself, we integrated Excel spreadsheets into the system, eliminating using tedious email chains.”
Final conclusion! This is about the lasting impact the experience had on you.
Mistake Story: “While I didn’t enjoy those late nights, it really showed me the importance of staying up-to-date with my calendar and deadlines. Now I make a point of checking those every Monday to make sure I’m not missing anything important.”
Solved a Problem: “What I hadn’t taken into account was that not everyone was comfortable using Excel. Once I figured that out, we were able to achieve far more than management had expected and I made a new friend at work.”
Telling a story in an interview can feel daunting, especially if you’re not prepared. To sum up, each story will show:
- answer the question and announce which story you’re about to tell
- provide context and why it’s relevant
- explain your part in the story and then resolve it
- explain results and the lasting impact on you
But which stories should you rehearse? How are you supposed Don’t worry, we have you covered: 5 Stories You Need For Your Next Job Interview
Don’t forget the other interview questions: