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How to Tell the Right Interview Story for Any Question

by THEA kelley | December 17, 2020

To succeed in job interviews–especially when the process involves multiple meetings–you need plenty of interview stories, and you need to remember the right one at the right time.

In last week’s post I offered three methods for developing a list of at least a dozen effective stories, and this week I’m giving you two more ways to grow that list. I’ll also tell you how to put “handles” and “tags” on your stories, so you can quickly grab the best story to address whatever question you’ve just been asked.

Two more ways to build your stories list:

Method Four: Key Selling Points

One of the best assets you can have in a job search is an awareness of the top three to six things about you that make you stand out. I call these your Key Selling Points. Sometimes I call them REV Points because they work best if they’re Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable.

For example, your REV Points might be (1) a strong history of earning promotions, (2) a relevant advanced degree and (3) a history of turning around troubled projects.

Ask yourself what examples you can share to prove these points. For example, what did you do that led to those promotions? What have you accomplished with the knowledge you gained from that advanced degree? How did you get those projects back on track?

Ask yourself questions like these, give titles to any stories that come to mind, and immediately add them to your list.

The great thing about this method is that these stories will emphasize the best of your brand.

Method Five: Stories within Stories

Do you have some fairly large, complex accomplishments? Big events you managed? Accomplishments that took place over a period of weeks or months? Chances are, these big stories have mini-stories hiding within them: problems you skillfully solved along the way, enhancements you made, relationships you built or saved. Give those mini-stories their own titles and add them to your list.

Tip: If you’ve already used the larger, over-arching story to answer a question, and now you want to use some part of it, that’s fine. Just start by referring back to the full story.

“Remember the story I told earlier about the transformation initiative? Well, one issue that came up was a disagreement between two teams over how to handle product updates. To address that, I…”

Between these methods and the three methods I offered last week, you’ll soon put together your “dynamic dozen” interview stories!

“Handles” and “tags” to help you bring the right story to mind when you need it:

Give each story its own handle: You’ll notice I keep reminding you to title your stories. Make sure each title is so specific that it can’t apply to any other story. So, not “Disagreement between Teams,” but “Disagreement between Chicago & L.A. re: Product Updates.”

One way to memorize your stories list is to read all of the titles a few times a day. And of course you’ll also want to make time to practice them–saying them out loud, maybe recording your answers, timing yourself to make sure you can tell them concisely. (Most stories should be under a minute long.)

Then, give each story “meta tags” in the database of your mind. Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? But all I mean is this: for each story on your list, jot down the skills and strengths you demonstrated in the story. Include both technical skills, like project management or Excel, and soft skills, such as conflict resolution or succeeding under pressure.

Then, when an interviewer says, “Tell me about a project you managed” or “a time when you resolved a conflict,” you’ll think:

“Aha! I have a story for that.”

Now that you have lots of interview stories and know how to tell the right story for any behavioral interview question, make sure you’re also ready the most important question: “Tell me about yourself.”

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