For many, walking into a job interview has about as much appeal as walking into the dentist’s office knowing their teeth will get drilled. In part, this is because job interviews mean answering questions you didn’t anticipate. It’s also because these interviews are inherently subjective, as opinions and first impressions are formed based on limited information and preconceived notions. Some even say job interviews don’t work. Yet they remain a necessary part of the process when pursuing a new position.
Job interviews are also challenging because it might not be easy for everyone to talk about themselves in a positive light. And when you do toot your own horns, you run the risk of coming across as conceited or arrogant—because of the subjective nature of the interview process.
The process is subjective, you can’t anticipate the questions, and you might feel awkward when you’re talking about yourself. What’s a job candidate to do when facing major obstacles like these? Simple: Learn to tell your story.
Why Stories Work
Stories can work in a job interview because our human brains are wired to get attracted and interested in stories. In addition, telling stories builds a connection between you and the interviewer, as brains align during the story-telling process. Stories can also fill in the blanks. If all the interviewer has seen is your résumé or CV, they know nothing of your real story. They have names, dates, places, and responsibilities, but none of the context a story offers. Telling stories gives you a great way to talk about yourself in a favorable way that’s less awkward and less likely to come across as bragging—when done right.
To help you craft narratives for your next job interview, apply these eight techniques during your preparation time to create stories that will connect with your interviewer, give context to your credentials, and make you a memorable job candidate—for all the right reasons.
1. Write Out Your Stories Ahead of Time
If you think you’ll remember some specific examples relevant to an interviewer’s question on the spot, you might be right. But chances are you’re wrong because your nerves will be messing with your memory. Don’t risk it. Write out your stories. You don’t need to write a novel, but do jot down the main points, especially any numbers or other facts pertinent to the story. Writing it down will also help you remember details you might have forgotten since the incident happened.
2. Have Two Versions of Each Story: One Short, One Long
Be prepared to give only the highlights of an example or story, but also be prepared to go into detail. The interviewer might not want the whole backstory nor all the details, in which case you can be prepared with a synopsis and give that as a reply. If the interviewer wants to know more and asks you to go on, you’ll have the longer version of your story prepared as well, so you can fill in any blanks. Knowing the longer version also prepares you to answer pointed questions the interviewer might want to zero in on. As with not trusting your memory to remember stories in the first place, don’t trust your memory to recall details on the spot either. Be familiar with every detail you can recall—ahead of time.
3. Be Prepared With Awkward Stories Too
Be forewarned: You might be asked about past mistakes. If so, you’ll make a better impression when you’ve thought through your negatives in addition to your positives. Preparing a story like this ahead of time will also give you a chance to think about your lessons learned from that mistake so you can make that part of your narrative. Interviewers don’t want to hear about a time when you screwed up and blamed someone else. They want to hear about a time when you erred, how you learned from your mistake and how you grew from the experience.
4. Be Audience Specific
You could also call this tip “Tell Them What They Want to Hear.” Depending on the position you’re interviewing for or the role of the person you’re interviewing with, you might need different stories or different versions of the same story. Try to think that through ahead of time. For example, someone in HR might be more interested in the communications part of your story while someone from IT might be more interested in the technical specifics. Get to know your story so you can tell it from different angles.
5. Craft Your Career Narrative
In the age of “getting to know you” type interview questions, you might not be asked about specific examples from your job history, but rather your career in general; your experience, education, skillsets, goals, expertise, etc. Follow the advice above to prepare a narrative ahead of time that you can use to answer these types of questions. You want to be more than the stats and dates on your résumé. You want to paint a picture for the interviewer so they have a clear vision of the kind of employee you could be for their organization. Your story can make that happen.
6. Make Certifications Part of Your Narrative
If the position you’re interviewing for is not one you’ve excelled in—yet—because you’re transitioning into a new domain or interviewing for a position that’s a step up from where you have been, consider making certifications part of your narrative. Maybe you don’t have a story about a specific time when you solved a particular problem because you haven’t done that yet. But you can tell a story about a certification you earned, the skills you learned while doing so, and the hands-on experience you gained as part of your education.
7. Wrap Up Your Story with a Conclusion
To make sure the takeaway is what you intend it to be, wrap up your story with some kind of concluding statement to drive the point home. A sentence that starts with, “And that’s how I …” can work. If your story kind of peters out at the end, the interviewer might focus on something you consider irrelevant to the point of your story instead. Don’t let that happen.
8. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
The more you rehearse your stories ahead of time, the more comfortable you will be in telling those stories—and that ease and confidence will be obvious to your interviewer. Don’t leave this to chance. Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Get to know your narrative until you can tell it without stopping to think. That way you’re sure to include all the important points and your story will be told in a natural way that’s not stilted.
Walking into a job interview can be a nerve-wracking experience. When you walk into the dentist’s office, at least you know what to expect! Not so with the job interview, and that’s why having a stash of stories ready to tell can give you a big boost, both in confidence and your performance during the interview process as the questioning starts.