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3 Tips to Improve Your Responses to Interview Questions

July 17, 2012

It’s been 10 years since Shrek emerged from a child fairytale book to one of the most recognizable cartoon characters of all time.   Who can ever forget the open scene where Shrek started to narrate, “Once upon a time, there was a lovely princess…”  The story left a memorable impression.

Successful presenters, public speakers, salespeople and politicians have mastered the art of storytelling like Shrek, and as a jobseeker, you should too.  It can be a powerful tool that helps provide a lasting impression with hiring managers.  We tend to remember stories longer and better than just facts on a resume.

The stories you must be ready to tell are about your experiences that took place in previous jobs, things that back up the skills and qualifications you wrote about on your resume.

Storytelling is a skill that can be learned. Here are three tips to help you be a good storyteller at your next job interview:

Insight #1 – BEHAVIORIAL INTERVIEWING:  Ever been asked to tell a story in an interview? You know, in response to something like, “Tell me about a situation where you faced a challenge in a previous position, and how you handled it.”  This type of interview question is an invitation for you to tell your story.   One of the biggest mistakes candidates make during an interview is that the candidate answers the interviewer’s questions with simple facts and details. Or, they talk about the intellectual way on how they would solve a problem.

I recently attended the HR Symposium conference, where there was a panel consisting of distinguished members of HR Leaders from Silicon Valley.  Now, I’ve attended many of these conferences over the last decade.  This year was a bit unique.  The panelist practiced the art of storytelling where they shared their personal experiences on some of their latest work they are engaged in, as well as how they formulated solutions to overcome the challenges they were facing in this dynamic business and economic environment.  While speaking, they shared personal stories about failures and real-life learnings.  Needless to say, the session was great.  It wasn’t just another boring conference that I attended.  It was meaningful, genuine, inspiring and engaging.

Photo by HR Inc.

This style and approach of storytelling is a powerful tool for job seekers as well.  Telling a story in a structural way is an effective way to describe events in your past experience and how these events demonstrate your multiple talents and skill-sets.   It is also effective in describing how you would approach future situations that are relevant to the job.

Insight #2 – MEMORABLE STORIES:  Great stories include sufficient details (think about how an engaging novel describes the environment in such a way that you can picture yourself right there in the action).  Details create a memorable story and help the interviewer visualize what you’re trying to illustrate.  Since hiring managers have plenty of good candidates to choose from, expect them to ask tougher interview questions as they try to reduce candidate pools and ensure they hire the right people.

What does this mean for you?

Be very careful of how you sell your skills and abilities highlighted on your resume.  For every one you write, be sure you have at least one story that can support it.  For example, if you write in your professional summary that you have a “strong record of meeting critical project deadlines in spite of unforeseen obstacles,” be ready for the hiring manager to ask you a behavioral question like: “Tell me about a time you encountered an unforeseen obstacle.  What did you do to overcome it?”

Insight #3 – DRAMA SELLS:  The most memorable movies and novels have content that is either out of the ordinary or contains drama.  Our brain remembers drama or anything that stimulates it. While you’ve still communicated your solution to a problem, you should seek ways on how you can respond in a way that will engage the interviewer.

The biggest mistake candidates make is spending more time on their writing their resume than preparing for the job interview.  Most people spent 20 or more hours writing and modifying their resume and only 1 hour preparing for the interview.  Some people even spend hundreds of dollars on resume-writing services but still only spend an hour preparing for the only event that can get them hired – the interview.  If you spend 8 to 10 hours preparing for each interview, this investment alone will improve you’re the outcome of your job interview.

If you’re not a natural storyteller, start practicing.  Tell your stories using the following structure:  beginning, middle and end.   Don’t just write it, recite it and memorize it.  The job interview is the most important moment in your job search.  Your resume may get you to the interview, but only your job interview skills will secure the job offer.  The most qualified person rarely gets the job.  It’s the person who interviews the best who wins the job offer.

Remember these three tips the next time a hiring manager asks for an example of a time.  They should enhance your ability to present more powerfully and memorably in your next job interview.

Has storytelling ever helped you land a job? Tell us about your experience.  Like and follow us to and join the conversation.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

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