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Best Job Interview Strategy: Tell Stories


Ralph Baer scribbled on a note pad and changed entertainment forever.

What was on that piece of paper? CNN’s Doug Gross says Baer imagined a “game box” to let people “play board, action, sports and other games on most television sets.” With a $2,500 budget, Baer ultimately created the first video game console and launched what is now a billion-dollar industry.

This week Baer died at age 92. Raise your hand if you’ve never played a video game. Exactly. We owe the German immigrant a debt of thanks for his invention. But look deeper and we find a hidden lesson scrawled on Baer’s historic note pad: a few words on paper can transform our careers too.

The Best Way to Answer a Job Interview Question. Period.

The next time you have a job interview, walk into the room with a pen, paper and a list of three bullet points.

The three bullets are quick reminders of success stories and ways to let your personality shine. That’s because stories demonstrate in vivid detail why you are right for the job and turn a typical Q&A interview into a dynamic, memorable conversation.

Stories already work great on cover letters and reference letters. Now they will help you nail a job interview.

Example: you want a job as an client manager at a tech/IT company. Let’s up the stakes and say you’re 25, spent the first three years of your career at a nonprofit and don’t have experience in the private sector. Doesn’t matter. Your stories can still carry you.

Before the interview, jot down three great stories from your life that show you know how to lead and solve problems. It can look like the list below — except your handwriting is probably nicer than mine.

how to answer interview questions

Then, as the interview goes along, look to weave the three stories into your answers. Many interview questions focus on ability or past work experience so you will have opportunities. The key is to have storytelling as your go-to strategy from the start.

In my example, I chose two stories from the workplace and one from someone’s personal life. No, the person may not use all three stories in an interview, but they remain on standby if the conversation allows for them.

#1: The Fire Alarm Incident

Question: Why are you interested in the project manager position at our IT firm?

Answer: I have spent the past three years at a nonprofit and gained a lot of great skills running different programs and events. I’m ready for a new challenge, and I prefer fast-paced environments like your company where I need to think quickly. In fact, let me tell you a good story.

About six months ago, our nonprofit hosted its annual fundraising gala. Five hundred people, black tie affair, the whole nine yards. Right as we’re about to announce our record-breaking donation total, the fire alarm goes off and wouldn’t stop blaring. Everyone’s looking around for what to do so I jump on the microphone and calmly ask 500 PEOPLE to exit the banquet hall and go outside.

The fire department came, searched the place and didn’t find anything. Then I herded all 500 people back into the room and kept the night on track. So I have definitely handled stressful situations and stayed calm when everything broke down. And I’ll be poised again when a client has a critical IT challenge.

Boss thinks: OK, this person can certainly get through a rough day at work. Excellent.

#2: The Sick Day

Question: What’s your greatest strength?

Answer: I think my greatest strength is I’m resourceful. Actually, I have a great story about that too. A year ago, half of our team at the nonprofit got sick with the flu. It’s an eight-person team so we were down to four employees for an entire week. We also had a huge program that weekend — a jump rope for health event with over 250 children.

With only four of us in the office, we had to use our time and energy wisely. I handled online sign-ups and coordinated with the caterer. I directed two of my co-workers to oversee the awards presentation and music. And our fourth co-worker was our intern, Kacie. I quickly taught Kacie how to work the phones and answer questions from parents and the media. We worked hard that week, but the four of us got it done and the jump rope event was a success. So I like to think I know how to make due with what I have…and not miss a beat.

Boss thinks: Wow, what a strong manager. Poised and everything.

#3: The Camping Trip

Question: What do you like to do outside of work?

Answer: I’m big into the outdoors. Last weekend, my friends and I went camping in Shenandoah National Park. It’s actually kind of a crazy story. We set up our tent in what we thought was a remote part of the mountains. After an hour or so, this huge group of people showed up in “Lord of the Rings” costumes. Apparently a local acting troupe is doing a “Lord of the Rings” play and came out to the wilderrness to practice its lines. So we had Frodo and Gandalf walking around our campsite all weekend. It was weird and also hilarious.

Boss thinks: Great stuff. Didn’t expect to hear a story like that!

OK, let’s recap

Do you see the power of stories? You can’t prove your ability unless you provide on-the-job examples. And if the boss asks about your personal life, you have a story ready there too. Plenty of people like the outdoors but no one else would ever talk about the “Lord of the Rings” situation. It’s yours and makes you different!

Well, hold on a second…

You might think, “What if there’s no natural way to tell a story? Won’t it sound awkward if I launch into one?”

Not so fast. You can answer a lot of common interview questions with a story:

– Why should we hire you?

“Well, let me give you a good example of my work performance…”

– How do you deal with stressful situations?

“Let me tell you about this one time…”

Is there a moment when you exercised leadership?

“Yes, there was this one week when half of my office got the flu and…”

And finally…

When the boss says “Do you have any questions for me?”

You go with the four questions every millennial should ask in a job interview. Again, they show you’re unlike every other person who asks typical fluff like “How much vacation time will I have?”

Instead, you drop a gem like “I see we can expect a huge growth in the Internet of Things in 2015. What does that mean for the company and the services you provide?”

Bam. You just crushed the interview.


 

You can be like everyone else. Or you can blow away the competition.

Rely on your stories, and watch what happens.

 

Have stories ever worked for you in a job interview?

Share below!

 

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