Constructing an Interview Story

by Kristy Amburgey

ImageOne of the most powerful tools you can use during an interview is a great story that does everything from answer to inform, hold attention to showcase your accomplishments.  By organizing and constructing an interview story in a clear, concise and results-oriented way, your story becomes an even stronger tool.

Many people use acronyms to help guide interviewees through the process of answering interview questions, specifically behavioral-based interview questions.  You can use the STAR (meaning Situation, Task, Action and Result), SBO (Situation, Behavior and Outcome) and other methods.  All of these concepts have several common themes that you can follow to construct your interview answer, and all of these ideas hark back to constructing a great story.

  1. Introduce the story: give the background to the story you are about to tell
  2. Build the scenario: provide a few details to explain the context of the situation and why it is important, hooking the listener into your story
  3. Tell what happened: explain your actions in response to the story’s background
  4. Build and resolve suspense: in this use of tension, showcase something you achieved or learned from the situation
  5. Close the story: end the story with any additional information about your successes or actions and how it might apply to the interviewer

To further promote your accomplishments, you should evaluate your interview stories by examining these questions.

  • Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Remember the basic construction of a good paragraph; include opening (introduce) and closing statements (summarize) and then ensure that the middle thoroughly explains your point
  • Are you sharing an action you took?  Many times, successes involve many people; know and explain your role in the group setting
  • Does your story place you in a good light? Show off your abilities; even interview questions focusing on negative circumstances should be answered with information placing you in a situation of learning, growth or success
  • Does the story have an end with results? Focus on concrete outcomes and not hypothetical ifs or maybes; quantify your outcomes as often as possible
  • Does it answer the original question? At times, an interviewee forgets the original question and tells an irrelevant story; simply answer the question completely

Consider these two scenarios as you decide if this type of method will work for you (and it will!) and imagine an interviewer and the interviewee in the middle of a dialogue about the candidate’s skill sets and accomplishments.

Scenario One:

Interviewer: Please tell me about a time when you took initiative for something.

Candidate A: I really like to take initiative [on what?] and often make suggestions.  Sometimes, I am able to help my supervisor by providing her ideas [what were the ideas?] on how to help make office procedures easier [did your ideas become reality?].

Scenario Two:

Interviewer: Please tell me about a time when you took initiative for something.

Candidates B: Taking initiative will be one of my important traits as a future employee at ABC Company [introduce the story].  In my current role, I recently identified a time-saving technique that shaved off 5 data entry steps from tasks [building the scenario].  In order to implement this measure company-wide, I created a proposal and submitted it to management for approval [tells what happened].  Within a month, all employees who enter data followed the guidelines I suggested [the climax of the story].  My department has saved approximately 10 hours per month, and I received a commendation from the company’s CEO [show off accomplishments].  Recently I was asked to sit on a new initiative-focused committee as a result of my proposal [another accomplishment].  This is just one example of my initiative, and I plan to evaluate the data entry process steps while at ABC Company as I understand from our conversation that that is an issue [close the story].

Although both answers mention innovation on the job, Candidate B has given the interviewer specific examples of how she shows initiative.  The interviewer has concrete information in which he or she can expect that Candidate B, based on previous accomplishments, can do the job while the interviewer must infer (or hope for the best) about Candidate A’s abilities.

Being a great candidate is more than just answering questions.  Your job is to answer interview questions with well-constructed interview stories showcasing previous accomplishments that leave the interviewer with complete confidence in your candidacy.  A great interview story is constructed similarly to any story; organize your information thoughtfully and use powerful but concise language.  With such an important tool at your disposal, you should learn, practice and integrate the construction of an interview story into your interview preparation.

Kristy Amburgey is the Associate Director of Career Services – Daytona Beach campus and currently manages marketing and employer relations for the department.  She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for approximately 10 years and with Career Services for nine years.

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