DePaul University Career Center's Blog

The Perks of Storytelling in Interviews

By: Gina Anselmo, former career advisor for the DePaul University College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences

The formal process of an interview can sometimes feel awkward, stiff, and formal. In order to make an authentic impression and put your best foot forward, it’s helpful to think about stories that demonstrate your interests, strengths, and achievements. Practicing and applying the art of storytelling can strengthen your ability to share meaningful elements and can help an interviewer visualize a transferrable application of your experiences to professional roles and settings. Recently, I developed a workshop that uses storytelling as a primer, so to speak, to translate meaningful experiences from a conversational format to formal interviewing. This workshop was inspired by the many conversations I’ve had with students about interviewing and feeling stuck about the right things to say, or even having enough to share.

Based on this workshop, I’ve compiled tips on using storytelling in an interview:

Why Storytelling? The Perks:

  • Enables you to see the relevancy of life experiences to career development
  • Allows you to uncover patterns or themes that can connect to your identity and skills
  • Brings to light the connection between stories of life experiences and interviewing
  • Supports a deeper insight into your career path in a creative and less intimidating way

Where to Start:

Ever heard of blackout poetry? Blackout poetry focuses on editing or rearranging text from a newspaper or magazine article by using a permanent marker to cross out words that are not needed. Blackout poetry can be used as an initial reflective exercise to find what excites you, what motivates you and what is important to you. With the words or phrases that are left behind, ask yourself: What words speak to your interests, skills, work values, or represent parts of your personality? This exercise will ultimately help you think about the words that best describe your professional identity and can be shared in traditional interview questions, such as the infamous, “Tell me about yourself?” question.

The Approach:

Taking a more conversational approach to storytelling can shake the nerves off a bit and help you identify the most meaningful experiences or traits without the pressure of diving for the perfect response. After trying this reflective exercise, take it to the next level by adding personal, specific content to your stories. To help you master this, craft a response to these three points:

  • Tell me a time when you felt a sense of pride.
  • Think of someone who is important to you. How would they describe you?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt connected to a group, event, or other experience.

Pulling it All Together:

Now is your chance to pull a Mr. Miyagi move and put all your reflections and storytelling to use by translating your notes from narrative storytelling questions to traditional interview questions. First, it’s important to think of common interview questions that are presented in most initial interview situations:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in our company?
  • Tell me about a successful project you completed.
  • Tell me about a time that you had to respond to a challenging situation.
  • Can you share your strengths and weaknesses?

To analyze an interview question consider this: What is the question behind the question. In other words, why are they asking these questions and what do they genuinely want to know? After you have given this some thought, revisit your narrative storytelling questions and think about the responses that you can translate or develop further for traditional interview questions. Here are a few translations of storytelling questions to interview questions:

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 2.03.17 PM

My advice to you when preparing for an interview?

Storytelling is simply another approach to laying a foundation and applying parts of your best stories to traditional interview questions. When you give yourself permission to think about the “why” behind interview questions and practice for interviews through causal conversation, then the interviewing process can feel less daunting and the authentic traits that best describe you professionally will shine through.

Need help preparing for an interview? The Career Center offers workshops each quarter to help with interview preparation. Visit Handshake to find upcoming events and workshops.

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