Learn the Art of Storytelling to Answer Tough Interview Questions

Do you use storytelling in the interview? Interviewing is a skill you can learn with practice. By coming into a meeting prepared to answer some of the most challenging interview questions, you can show the hiring panel you have what it takes to excel in the available position.

This is your chance to stand out from the competition and create a more compelling narrative about the skills listed on your professional resume.

Preparing for a job interview can be a stressful time. Still, if you are willing to put in the legwork to overcome the most common interview questions, you will undoubtedly be able to prepare well-rounded answers to some of the most challenging questions.

Below, you will find tips and tricks to overcome the nerves and anticipate more challenging interview questions that give the interviewer a broader sense of who you are professionally and personally. By learning the art of storytelling to answer tough interview questions, you will form the skills needed to back up the experiences highlighted on your resume and prove your overall fit for the position.

Storytelling Response Format

When creating a narrative to answer interview questions, keep it relatively short and to the point. Don’t start rambling, head off on a random tangent, and get off-topic. Stick to the basics of storytelling: who, what, when, where, and how. Relate these points to the job you are applying for and elaborate on the results you achieved or the lessons learned. Study other interview tips besides responding to questions to prepare for a successful meeting.

Below are the key points to develop a balanced answer to those tricky interview questions.

1. Answer the Question

The most important aspect of answering the interviewer’s question is answering the question. Do this immediately to set the stage for elaborating and clarifying your response.

For example, an inquiry such as, “What is your greatest weakness?” could result in a response such as, “Organization hasn’t always been my strong suit, as I have always been more focused on prioritizing tasks that directly reflect the bottom line, and maintaining a well-organized desk didn’t seem to result in a loss of overall productivity.”

From here, you would continue with how you overcame this “weakness” to thrive as an organized and productive employee.

2. Expand and Provide Context

The next part of the storytelling process is to give your interviewer context for the situation. You do not need to provide irrelevant details, such as the weather; however, you will want to include information relatable to the specific question.

Expanding on your answer, you do not leave the interviewer wanting more. A one-sentence response will not cut it with the problematic interview questions asked.

Bring into light the particular problem or challenge you faced. You can begin this part of the story with, “I was fairly new to my role…”, “Everything was going according to plan until…”. Or “We were making headway, and then…”.

Connect the situation in your story directly to what the interviewer wants to know. You can always include words from the interviewer’s question to relate your scenario to the subject better.

3. What Was Your Role?

After you have answered the question and provided appropriate context, it is time to describe your role in resolving the challenge in more detail. Your skills and qualifications will come to the forefront in this part of the story.

Use your actions to illustrate better what you did to resolve the situation and show the panel what you will bring to their company in a similar scenario. This should be the longest part of the story as it describes your actions, relates your qualifications to the question, and showcases your ability to overcome a particular challenge.

When developing and practicing your answers, think about specific duties and actions you took and elaborate on your responsibilities. Entirely give credit to the team; however, the interviewer wants to know how you handle certain situations, so limit the use of “we” in your responses.

Another thing to remember is not to make excuses or shift blame to someone else, especially if you are asked about a mistake or conflict. Take ownership of the failure and express what you learned and how you grew from the experience.

“After being promoted to district manager, I realized my leadership skills were not up to par when my first evaluation came out. I was rated lower than I have ever been and lower than what I had expected.

After reading through the evaluation, I realized I needed to learn more about my new role’s responsibilities and expectations. I took it upon myself to further hone my leadership skills through online courses, peer feedback, and delving deeper into the role requirements.”

4. End Results/Clear Ending

When finishing up your story, make sure to highlight the results. Pull it together by explaining the overall outcome of your chosen example to answer the question. End with a strong correlation between your response and how it applies to the new position.

5. What did the Experience Teach You?

Some questions and answers are meant to show less-than-favorable results. Take this opportunity to share the results, but add what you learned from the experience. Your takeaway from the unfortunate outcome will focus on a less-than-favorable situation and show that you are willing to take constructive criticism and build from your mistakes.

Take this opportunity to elaborate on how the experience drove you to improve as an individual and made you an overall better employee.

For example, an ending to a question asking about your biggest failure could look something like this: “While it was not my intention to rush through the demonstration prep, and the mad dash at the end was not my favorite part, making this mistake proved the importance of keeping a close eye on my calendar.

Now, I have it scheduled to go through every week and double-check the commitments planned for the company to ensure that I never miss another critical engagement”.

Research Company and Specific Position Qualifications

Knowing what the company is looking for in a successful candidate will go a long way in preparing for the overall interview process and creating meaningful answers to some tough interview questions. Scour the job posting and look into the company website. This research will help you create a more rounded presentation of yourself to the interviewer, as you will know who they are looking to hire.

When reviewing the job posting, jot down each trait and qualification requested. You may discover you don’t have every skill the organization is looking for in a new hire.

Do extensive homework to allow you to elaborate, without lying, on your skills and attributes and tie them back to the position and potential questions in the interview. Remember, significantly, if you are changing careers, some, if not most, of your skills are transferable.

By physically listing the qualifications, you can pinpoint where you need to focus and will be better able to formulate professional stories that intrigue the interviewer to know more.

Practice Answering Interview Questions

Imagine you are auditioning for a play. Would you sit down on the couch and only read and re-read the lines? No. You would stand up, play the part, and read those lines with a friend.

The same goes for preparing for an interview. Yes, there are the basic interview questions that you can get through with a single sentence, and you could rely upon your charismatic personality to get you through the rest, but why not be fully prepared to create and tell your story in response to the more difficult questions you will inevitably be asked.

Take the extra time preparing for the interview to run through a mock meeting with a friend to ensure you correct any stumbling points in your answers and hone your storytelling ability.

It is one thing to mentally answer the question, “Why should we hire you?” but it is an entirely different challenge to say it out loud and in front of someone else.

By repeatedly practicing your answers, you will become more confident when you can finally relay them back to an interviewer. It will also help with pacing and ensure you do not go off track. Remember that your answers should present the situation, introduce the challenge, describe your role, and explain the outcome.

Storytelling and Interview Body Language

No matter what job you are interviewing for, how much preparation you have done, and how good you are weaving your resume into a well-balanced story if you go into a meeting without displaying a sense of confidence, it will all be for nothing. When sitting across the table for the interview panel, sit up straight and look into the interviewers’ eyes when relaying your answers. There are many ways to interview confidently, and body language is one of them. 

Possible Questions and Important Traits

A popular interviewing style helps determine if you have the specific behaviors the company is seeking. Sharing your unique selling point will answer the necessary questions. Use storytelling to make your responses come alive. 

Behavior-based interviews ask questions about your experiences and how you handled particular situations. This is where the art of storytelling comes into play.

Some behavioral questions you may be asked include:

•    Tell us about a time you made an unpopular decision.

•    Describe when you were forced to call without all the information.

•    How do you handle stress?

•    Tell me something you would have done differently at work.

Other tough interview questions you may be asked are:

•    What motivates you?

•    Tell me about your dream job.

•    Why do you want to change career paths?

•    What did you like least about your previous job?

•    Who was your worst boss?

•    Why should we hire you?

•    What do you expect from a superior?

Some critical traits to focus on, especially if mentioned in the job posting, include your ability to problem solve, overcome challenges, bounce back from mistakes, make decisions, and work with others.

If you can work your answers around these qualities, you will show the potential employer you have what it takes to succeed in the position.

Bring Your Resume

Your story-like responses’ basic premise is based on your qualifications, skills, and accomplishments outlined in your resume. You will likely use your resume as guidance when you assemble answers for your interview prep.

Candidates usually take a few extra copies of their resume to the interview if an additional copy is needed. Always have a copy in front of you for reference purposes. If you are beginning to stumble through an answer, having the information in front of you may help you get back on track.

The best interview stories accomplish two things: they give a more detailed explanation of your resume points and intrigue the interviewer to know more about you. We call it storytelling. Go into the interview with three to four points that communicate you are the best candidate for the job. Use stories to highlight your best selling points.

An interview is a perfect time to showcase your skills and bring success to the company. If you can show that you have been in similar situations to those they are asking, the interviewers will see you have what it takes to fulfill the position requirements.

By anticipating tough interview questions and preparing engaging answers through compelling storytelling, you will score a successful interview and, quite possibly, the job!