3 Ways Storytelling Can Enhance Your Interview

Whenever we meet someone new, we’re actively engaged in storytelling. We start by introducing ourselves and, depending on whom we’re meeting, cater our story to that particular audience. This can become tricky when we’re engaging with potential employers; what should we include in our stories, and what types of stories do employers want to hear?

Storytelling in interviews doesn’t simply mean providing a storybook narrative for all of your answers. Employers are looking for specific types of stories, and these can vary depending on the type of question being asked. Below we’ve identified three specific ways in which storytelling can enhance your interview, while highlighting the specific ways employers prefer these stories to be told.

Resume Questions

When an employer brings you in for an interview, it means you’ve submitted a strong resume. Since a resume is often what gets you through the door, the employer will most definitely have questions about the content in the document. Therefore, it’s essential that you can tell a story about everything on your resume, including those volunteer and extracurricular experiences you may have only been involved with for a few months (or days, or hours).

It’s essential that you can tell a story about everything on your resume, including those volunteer and extracurricular experiences…

This doesn’t mean that you have to prepare a story with a beginning, middle and end for everything on your resume. It means being prepared to justify the inclusion of everything on your resume, since we can’t anticipate what an employer will want to know more about. If you choose to include a list of relevant courses on your resume, you should be prepared to talk more about each of those courses in case an employer has a question about a specific one. For example, an employer may ask: “I see on your resume that you took a course called ‘Advertising & Society.’ What was that class about?” Take some time to review everything on your resume so that, if an employer asks a question about something, you can answer more thoughtfully than “I thought it would make me look good!”

Behavioral Interview Questions

One of the most common types of questions you’ll encounter in interviews are behavioral questions, which are designed to understand how you’ve handled a particular scenario in a previous role. These questions are popular with employers, as one of the strongest indicators of a candidate’s future performance in a position comes from understanding how they handled similar situations in the past. Behavioral questions require you to tell a specific story from a past job, class or extracurricular experience, but employers are looking for a specific structure to this story. Specifically, you should answer these questions by touching on four key areas: the situation, the task, the action, and the result. Together, these make up a formula best remembered as the acronym STAR. Let’s break this down with an example.

Behavioral Question: “Tell me about a time when you had to address an angry customer?”

  • Situation — Set the scene for the employer (e.g. Where were you working when you addressed this angry customer, and why was he/she upset?)
  • Task — The goal you set to accomplish in this situation (e.g. To diffuse the situation and ensure the customer leaves satisfied.)
  • Action — The transferable skills you implemented to achieve the task and address the situation. (e.g. Listening, communication and conflict resolution skills would make sense here.)
  • Result — The happy ending to your story! (e.g. “After implementing the above skills, the customer was pleased and left satisfied.”)

Following the STAR formula when answering behavioral interview questions will ensure that you are not only telling a complete story, but that you are telling a story that includes the key points an employer wants to hear.

Situational Interview Questions

There’s some confusion about what the difference is between behavioral and situational questions, and it can be best described as the following: while behavioral questions put a spotlight on how’ve handled scenarios in the past, situational questions are concerned with how you would hypothetically handle scenarios in the future, particularly those that pertain to the specific position you’re applying for. Examples of situational questions include “How would you sell our product to a resistant customer?” and “What strategies might you implement to increase our followers on Instagram?”

…behavioral questions put a spotlight on how you’ve handled scenarios in the past, situational questions are concerned with how you would hypothetically handle scenarios in the future…

In answering these questions, you don’t want to simply say you would do “x, y, and z.” It helps to provide some context for why you would respond in this particular way. Maybe you tried something similar in the past that proved successful (e.g. “In my previous job I would do x when I encountered resistant customers, and it was very successful. Here’s how I might implement something similar with your clients…”). Maybe you’ve conducted research about the industry that could influence your answer (e.g. “I read in Advertising Age that x strategy has been very effective in increasing social media followers. Here’s how I might implement something similar with your Instagram page…”). Ultimately, situational questions are great opportunities to share your ideas for how you would succeed in the role you’re applying for, and doing so by telling a story based on your own (or other’s) experiences will help drive these answers home.

Additional Resources for Interview Success

It can take practice to feel comfortable with storytelling in interviews, but the Career Center has a number of ways to help! You can meet with your career advisor to learn more about interviewing tips, or take part in a practice interview with an alumnus through our Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) program. We also have a terrific interview prep tool called InterviewStream where you can practice answering common behavioral and situational questions. Take advantage of one or all of the resources to ensure that you are telling the types of stories employers want to hear!

Your Guide to Following Up After the Interview

Job interviews can be nerve-racking. Even if they go well, many people breathe a huge sigh of relief once they’re over. But before you celebrate too early, keep in mind that how you handle yourself after the interview is just as important as the interview itself. So, while it’s okay to treat yourself for a job well done, there are a few additional steps you want to take to maintain professionalism and good standing beyond the interview.

Send Personalized Thank You Letters

The most crucial step to take after an interview is to deliver a thank you letter to everyone you spoke with; these letters should ideally be sent out 24-48 hours after an interview when the information and discussions are still fresh in your mind. Doing so will also help demonstrate your enthusiasm for the potential employer.

In terms of format, email thank you letters are appropriate and may be easier to complete if you spoke with a number of people at one company. However, we consistently hear from employers that thank you letters received in the mail always stand out, as it shows the applicant went the extra mile to find a card, write a message by hand, and send it off. Since most employers rarely receive mail that isn’t directly tied to their role, personalized thank you letters can stand out in a significant way.

Keep Up with the Employer

Most employers will give you a timeline for when they intend to move forward in the interview process or make a hiring decision. It’s important to honor that timeline and not be too eager to find out where you stand. For example, if an employer says they intend to make a hiring decision by December 12th, don’t contact them about the status of the position until after that deadline has passed. Reaching out sooner won’t make you seem enthusiastic; rather, it may give the impression that you are impatient, or that you don’t know how to follow directions. Best to wait it out, and then follow-up via email. If an employer doesn’t give you a timeline for when they intend to make a decision, it’s best to wait 7-10 business days before following up.

When you do follow-up, send a brief email to let the employer know that you are still interested in the position and that you were just writing to check the status of the hiring process. This is a non-aggressive way to let them know you are still passionate about the role.

If another two weeks go by and you still haven’t heard from the employer, it’s okay to send one final email to check the status of the position.

Review Salary Expectations

If you’re applying to a full-time job, you may be faced with having to negotiate a salary and benefits package. Take some time after an interview to research the average salary for the position you applied for, both at the national and local level, and evaluate your financial obligations to determine a salary range you would be comfortable communicating in the negotiation stage.

Visit your career advisor to learn more about salary statistics pertaining to your major or career path, as well as to develop a negotiation strategy specific to the position. We can also help if you are juggling multiple offers and need assistance on how to communicate with employers professionally.

Next Steps

Need help crafting a thank you note or follow-up email? Check out our Job Search Letters packet on our website for thank you letter examples. And, if you’re emailing an employer to follow-up on the hiring process, you are welcome to send a rough draft of that email to your career advisor for suggestions and feedback. Finally, if you have questions regarding salary, reach out to your career advisor for additional tips so that you feel comfortable and confident during the negotiating process.

The Cover Letter Conundrum

Every student I have advised over the years has presented a unique set a questions pertaining to the job search. But, there’s one topic that seems to confound even the most seasoned applicant: cover letters.

A significant number of applications require a cover letter, yet there’s so much anxiety around how to craft one. In fact, students will admit that they simply won’t apply to any position that asks to see one. Just think of all the missed opportunities.

Concept of studying. Student buried under a pile of books, textbooks and papers. Flat design, vector illustration.

The main reason cover letters seem so daunting is because they should be tailored to each position. Unlike a resume—which you might tweak here or there for individual applications—your cover letter should be very specific to each job, as employers use it to get a greater sense of why you’re passionate about their company specifically and the role they’re hiring for.

The process of crafting a new cover letter for each application can seem tedious or time consuming, but there are a few tips you can take advantage of to make this process easier while also meeting the expectations of your potential future employer.

Structure

Unless an employer asks you to format your cover letter in a very specific way, the structure of your letter can remain the same for 95% of the positions you apply for. Think of structuring your cover letter as you might structure a paper for class: one introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Your introduction and conclusion will stay fairly consistent across the board. The introduction should include the specific position title and company you’re applying to, and the conclusion should restate your enthusiasm for the position and highlight your contact information. You might want to make little tweaks, particularly in the introduction, such as highlighting how you found the position and clarifying why you’re interested right off the bat, but these are easy updates that shouldn’t take too much time to complete.

Buzz Words

The body paragraphs are where you want to make the most changes for each position you apply to. Use language from the job description—often referred to as “buzz words”—and incorporate them throughout your cover letter. The biggest mistake applicants make in their cover letters is simply rehashing content that’s already on the resume, when the focus should be on highlighting how the skills from your resume specifically relate to the position you’re applying to.

A smart way to begin a body paragraph is some variation of the following:

“In reviewing the job description, I understand that this position requires an applicant with skills in _____, _____, and ______.”

Fill in the blanks with buzz words from the job description that you are a match with. Doing so will let the employer know right off the bat that you understand a few of the key components of the role. This will also help highlight how your past experiences directly relate to the requirements of the position.

More good news: you can use a variation of the sentence above in each of your cover letters, and simply fill-in-the-blanks with buzz words that are unique to each specific position you apply to. This is a great way to personalize each of your cover letters without having to completely rewrite each one.

Company Website

While it’s always a good idea to research a company before applying, it can be especially helpful in gaining additional insight that you can incorporate into a cover letter. Information that might not be evident in a job description—such as a company’s mission, values, goals, client base, and office culture—can often be found by reviewing the company’s website. If, for example, you find that your career values are a direct match with an individual company, mention this in your cover letter. This is a smart way to highlight that you would be a great fit beyond your skill set, and employers will appreciate that you went above and beyond the job description to learn more about them.

The company website can also come in handy in the absence of “buzz words.” Some job descriptions you come across may be slim and not provide enough information about the responsibilities and qualifications needed. If the position description is bare, focus on what you learned from the company website to personalize your cover letter.

Next Steps

Take a look at some cover letter templates curated by the Career Center’s Peer Advising Team. This packet includes cover letter samples, as well as samples of other job search letters such as thank you notes. Once you’ve drafted a cover letter, bring it to the Career Center for a walk-in advising appointment to get it touched up before sending it off to employers!

Do You Have Questions for the Interviewer? You Better

At the end of almost any interview, you will be asked, “Do you have any questions for me?” How you respond to this can make or break the interviewer’s overall impression of you—so make a plan to respond to this prompt wisely.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you develop a strategy for asking questions after the interview:

Do aim to elicit valuable and relevant information from your interviewer that would help you decide if the opportunity would be a good fit, should you be offered the position.

Don’t feel limited to asking only about the specific position you are interviewing for. Aim to learn about the organization’s culture so that you can assess whether you would both feel comfortable and flourish there.

Do ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the field, organization, and position.

Don’t ask questions that could be easily answered through research via the organization’s website or other resources. Instead, use the information that you glean from such pre-interview research to demonstrate your knowledge, as advised in the preceding tip.

Do explore how the position at hand might fit into your larger career path. With that said, however, be careful not to suggest that you see this position as a simple stepping-stone. Instead, you might ask about where the last person in the position has moved on to or what skills you can expect to hone in the role.

Don’t inquire about salary, benefits, or perks—you haven’t yet been offered the position, so now is not the time to request this information.

Do come prepared with multiple possible questions and don’t ask those that have already been addressed throughout the course of the interview!

Looking for more guidance on formulating smart questions to ask an interviewer? Check out this article from Business Insider for inspiration.

Behavioral Questions: What Employers Really Want to Hear

By: Lynn Gibson, Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) mentor and DePaul University marketing graduate

Have you ever wondered what the hiring manager is really looking for in your answers? In this article, Lynn Gibson, DePaul alumna and mentor, decodes the underlying meanings of job interview questions and shares what hiring managers are really listening for. 


During interviews, the hiring manager has one primary goal: Choose the candidate with the highest success potential for the role. While the necessary skills are certainly a part of that, candidates who don’t have the skills usually do not get an interview. So, the decision comes down to behavior. Since it is believed that past behavior predicts future behavior, most interviews are heavily weighted toward discovering your behavioral strengths.

Now, let’s discuss how to frame your strengths in response to behavioral questions to make sure you highlight your success potential.

As a hiring manager, here are a few things I’m listening for when I ask behavioral questions:

  • Do you take responsibility for your actions in a challenging situation, or do you project the problems onto others?
  • Can you accurately and concisely identify the real problem or challenge, explain your actions, and describe the result of your actions? (CAR)
  • Does frustration/irritation show in your answers, or does a can-do attitude shine through?
  • Do you show empathy for and understanding of others in situations, or do you project a my way or victim attitude?
  • What did you REALLY do on that team project? Can you relate the situation/assignment, tasks you were assigned, actions you took, and results that you measured? (STAR)
  • How do you assess or explain your successes? Are they all “just about you,” or do you appropriately share credit?
  • Are you enthusiastic when you talk about helping others or going above and beyond on something, or do your answers show more obligation than eagerness?

Here are a few more things I’m listening for:

When I ask about failures/weaknesses/disappointments, etc., I really want to know if you “own” your behavior, know how to break down and solve problems, view obstacles as stumbling blocks or opportunities, have the motivation to push through and finally succeed, and grow from the experience.

When I ask about successes/achievements, I want to know how and what you actually contributed, how humble you are in terms of assessing your success, and whether you can clearly and concisely tell me about the process you used to gain the success. In other words, is your success repeatable because it is process driven or did you get lucky?

When I ask questions about your goals, I am looking to gain insight into your values and how you measure success or progress. Can you articulate why something is important and can you chart a reasonable course to try to achieve it? This also provides insight into your “core” motivation, which is what will drive you to reach your success potential.

When I ask about the types of environments that have brought out the best in you, it helps me to know whether you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach, and if you are a self-starter or need someone to provide motivation.

Hopefully, after reading this, you will understand that the interviewer is using behavioral questions to try to gauge how you will react and respond to daily situations in their firm. They are listening for more than the “answers.” They are attempting to discern the traits/strengths behind those answers and measure your success potential based on how their other successful employees behave – or react/respond. And, that is a very good thing! A really great interviewer will never offer a job to someone who can’t be happy and successful in the role. As much as you think you want a particular job, always hope that the interviewer is very capable and will spare you much disappointment if it really isn’t a great fit for you.

With that said, you are responsible to make certain that you are responding in a way that best captures your success potential. Now that you have a little more insight into the real questions behind the questions, it may be time to give a little more thought to your answers.


The Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) network connects DePaul students and graduates with alumni to explore college and professional transitions, life challenges, and university and career questions. To connect with Lynn and other ASK mentors like her, visit Handshake. Questions? Contact ASK at ask@depaul.edu.

Interview Musts for Job & Internship Seekers

By: Alejandra Ruiz, DePaul University honors marketing major ‘16

The common mistake made by many of us is to think that because we have successfully mastered our resume, cover letter, and job applications that we don’t have to worry too much about the interview. Regrettably, that’s far from the truth. Even though you did a great job explaining your experiences and qualifications in your resume, cover letter and job applications – so much that you got noticed – you still need to cross that finish line. To do just that, you need to connect and impress the recruiters during your interview.

Here are 8 important tips that will help you wow hiring managers and be a successful interviewee:

  1. Conduct Research: It is fundamental for you to be prepared when you get to the interview. For everything to run smoothly, you should have a solid foundation of knowledge about the hiring manager, the company and the position you applied for. The more background information you have, the more confident you will be in answering the interview questions.
  2. Practice Ahead of Time: Before the interview, anticipate what types of questions they’ll ask and what detailed, concise responses you may give. The best way to practice is to think of your responses in forms of a story. This will ensure that you don’t sound like you’re regurgitating an already set response.
  3. Dress for Success: Make sure to plan your wardrobe ahead of time. Always dress professionally and according to the culture of the organization.
  4. Show up Early: For a less stressful interview, make sure you pack your portfolio and extra copies of your resume the night before. The day of the interview, show up 15 minutes early to ensure promptness and in case you get lost, have to fill out paperwork, or just want to give yourself a few minutes to relax and get a feel of your surroundings.
  5. Mind Your Manners: Say hello and goodbye to everyone, from the secretaries to hiring managers; you never know who is watching and when. During the interview greet with a firm handshake, smile, maintain eye contact and sit up straight! A positive attitude throughout the interview will express how enthusiastic and likeable you are.
  6. Be Authentic: To be successful in your interview, remember the quality and delivery of your responses matter. When responding, be truthfully and don’t be afraid to show your personality. Tell them a story; make them excited to hear what you’re saying. Show that your skills are not the only factors that make you amazing; but your authenticity is irresistible.
  7. Ask Insightful Questions: Show you are interested by asking questions. Show the hiring manager that you researched the company and that you have been listening. This simple yet always forgotten piece can set you apart from the rest.
  8. Be Thankful: Dedicate an extra minute to writing a follow-up email or letter thanking the interviewer for his/her time. This small gesture will go a long way and may influence the hiring manager’s decision.

Job and internship seeking is an exhausting and stressful process, but if done correctly, it can result in very positive outcomes. Remember, creating a perfect resume or cover letter and applying for the job is only a small portion of the process. Preparing for the interview and succeeding at it takes dedication and some practice. Consider these tips, and good luck on your next interview!


If you have any questions about these tips or are seeking advice before an interview, please visit the Career Center where wonderful advisors can guide you through the process.