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!

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:

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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.