The Best Tips & Tricks To Telling A Story In An Interview

How To Tell A Meaningful Story In An Interview Without Losing Focus

When you’re attending a job interview, there are certain questions prompting you to tell a story, such as “tell me about the biggest mistake you made in your career” or “tell me more about the biggest achievement in your career that you are proud of”. These questions are called behavioural interview questions and you must have heard them a gazillion times. This is because, the questions focusing on you and your background have a great impact on the rest of the interview. This is your chance to build a good rapport with your interviewer while also showcasing your talent and experience.

However, these questions still remain a nightmare to many job aspirants. A wrong approach could mean your name would be ticked off the list. This even applies to how you introduce yourself to the interviewer. If you’re thinking you’re safe with an elevator speech that you have scribbled on your notepad, you’re wrong. The elevator pitch method of introducing yourself has become ‘old school’ these days when it comes to job interviews. So, it’s probably a good time to find a better approach to get your message across. Here’s what you can do - tell a story! Now, that’s an approach that never goes out of fashion. So, how can you incorporate some interesting storytelling in any interview without completely going off-track? Here’s how:

1) Deliver the answer to the question first

If your interviewer prompts you to tell your story out of the blue, it is natural that you may go into a panicky situation. However, just think of all these as just questions to test your aptitude and attitude. So, keeping your nerve, the first thing you need to do is, answer promptly and aptly to the question. Don’t simply start blurting out a long story, without answering the question first. That would make it look like you have no specific answer and are just beating around the bush.

To know what you’re expected to answer, you have to quickly understand the motive behind asking that question. If the interviewer is asking you about one of your biggest achievements in your career, don’t just start out saying something like, “there was a competition that was held in our office….”. Instead answer directly to the question.

EXAMPLE: “Even though there are quite a few achievements in my career, the one that I’m particularly proud of is when our team was able to complete a big project on time and I was promoted to the position of the Assistant Manager.”

2) Give a context to back up your statement

Now that you have your storyline set, you can proceed to give the context. Since you’re expected to tell a story, a one-liner wouldn’t satisfy the interviewer. There would be the set of questions that he would be seeking an answer for in his mind now. So, instead of being prompted, answering questions like how, when, why, where, and so on to give your story a background. However, don’t give an unnecessary description that is not related to your story, such as “it was a bright sunny day on 25th March, when the birds were chirping and the clouds were clear.” You don’t have to narrate a story like a bestselling author would. Instead, stick to what you have to tell.

EXAMPLE: “It was a during the time we got a big project from a very important client. We were asked to complete the project on time. Being a team leader, it was my responsibility to divide the task and get things done. It was my fourth month at this company as a Team Leader. By this time, I had already won the ‘best employee’ award, a couple of times. The management was also quite pleased with the effort I put in.”

3) Explain how you handled the situation

While you don’t have to go overboard with creating a conflict and a protagonist, there should be something that kept you off from achieving your goal, which is why you’re proud of it. Right? So, tell the interviewers about what the situation was and what were the challenges that you faced.

EXAMPLE: “Despite everything, this was a pretty huge project that my small team couldn’t complete without much help. Moreover, we had very little time to get it completed. We could’ve borrowed some more people from other teams, if we weren’t short on staffing. So, it came down to how well I could deal with the situation. I convinced my team to put in their best effort, even if it was for working a few extra hours every day. I had to continuously motivate them when they felt the pressure.”

4) Conclude the story

This is the part where you draw a conclusion to your story. By this time, your interviewer would be very keen on knowing what happened. Though it is expected to be a good ending, he’ll be eager to know how it happened and what was the outcome of your story. Remember that the story does not have a second part coming. So, conclude the story in such a way the ends are tied together.

EXAMPLE: “Ultimately, the intense effort that we put in paid off and the project was completed on time. Our clients were happy and my management recognised the strategic role I played in ensuring things were completed without having to extend the deadline. The very next day, I was called for a meeting, where I was officially promoted to the post of the Assistant Manager.

5) Share the lessons you learnt

While concluding, bring the attention towards your skills, how that experience impacted your career and the lessons you learnt from the whole challenge/incident. Think of it like a fable that ends with a moral. The lessons you learnt through your experience is what shapes you, and no one understands this better than an interviewer.

EXAMPLE: “This whole experience with the project has helped me understand the value of being strict to the deadline and how to manage a team under extreme pressure. It was when I really measured how important it is to deliver, when a company looks up to you and puts their trust upon you. I’m glad that my ability to motivate my team has helped achieve this position in my previous company.”

This method of answering interview questions requires good practice. So, don’t forget to prepare well and rehearse your stories — what is the context, what were the challenges that you faced, how did you overcome that challenge, and what lessons did you learn from that experience. When structured in such a way, the storytelling approach becomes quite easy and efficient to put across your answer. Not to mention, you’ll be building a good connection with the interviewer while subtly putting forward your qualifications and expertise, without sounding overly promotional.

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