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Storytelling is Key to Nailing Your Interviews

Published: Tuesday 23rd February 2021

Darren Kanthal - Head of the Kanthal Group

Darren Kanthal is the founder and CEO of The Kanthal Group.

I’ve interviewed for a lot of different jobs. As an executive, leadership, and career coach, in addition to my work in Human Resources, I have worked with thousands of job seekers at all levels as they prepare for interviews. In all instances, interview techniques get brought up constantly, as do the emotions these folks feel about the interview process: concern, stress, uncertainty, and general frustration.  A wealth of questions arise in response to these emotions:

  • How can I best prepare for an interview?
  • How can I anticipate what they’re going to ask?
  • What’s the ‘right’ way to answer questions?
  • Should I take notes?

Let me put you at ease right now. There’s no “right” way to prepare for, or perform, in an interview, but there are definitely things you can do to set yourself apart. Throughout my corporate career, I dabbled in both Human Resources and Talent Acquisition (a fancy word for “recruiting”). In all my years conducting prescreens with candidates, partnering with hiring managers, creating selection criteria, and hiring people into jobs, I’ve come to realize that interviews generally come down to the ability to tell compelling stories, answer questions concisely, and keenly demonstrate your personality, behavior, and capabilities.

Nailing these three points is paramount to a successful interview, so let’s dive into how you can use them to land your dream job.

Story Telling

Two young men sitting in a field

Many of my clients often say they aren’t great storytellers. Rather, they view themselves as long-winded, scatterbrained, having too small a vocabulary, and many other self-proclaimed judgement.  Interestingly enough, though, when it comes to interviewing, you’re the best storyteller for the job, bar none!  Nobody knows you better than you!  The key is less about being a killer storyteller like Stephen King and more about being able to tell a compelling story, concisely and articulately, that paints a picture of who you are! So how do you harness that innate storyteller prowess? Great question…

First, let’s talk about behavioral interviewing.  This interview style is built upon the belief that past behavior, success, and actions are an indicator of future behavior, success, and actions.  Following this logic, your ability to highlight what you’ve accomplished in the past helps your interviewer forecast your success in the future.  Commonly asked behavioral interview questions start with:

  • Tell me a time when….
  • Describe the last time….
  • How have you handled…

So, as you prepare for an interview, make sure you’re well acquainted with the job description and behaviors, and prepare examples of times you’ve exhibited those behaviors in the past. That way, if a question comes up, you won’t be caught off guard.

Second, take a structured approach when answering these types of questions.  In my opinion, the STAR method is the most effective because it empowers you to tell your story in a structured way.  STAR is an acronym that stands for:

Situation: set the stage for your story so your interviewer knows the context. What was your role? Who

 was involved? How did the situation come about?

Task: what were you tasked to do? This further sets the context by providing the clutch event or request that spurred your engagement.

Action: what actions did you take to accomplish the task? This is the meat of your story.  Be very specific in explaining what you did, the challenges you faced, the people you interacted with, and any other details that paint the picture of the event.

Result: what was the result of your actions, or what did you accomplish? This is your grand finale, and often this step is overlooked by interviewees because they’re so busy focusing on the actions they took rather than the outcome they produced. Make sure your interviewer knows the good that came from the situation, or what you learned in the process.

Story Preparation

Young woman looking out a window thinking of how to present her storytelling in her interviews

When I asked people what ‘interview prep’ means, the most common answers were:

  • Researching the company
  • Knowing the interviewers and look them up on LinkedIn

While these are definitely important steps to take, what’s overlooked is how you prepare YOU for the interview.  It’s this lack of preparation that typically becomes obvious when my coaching clients debrief their interviews with me. They weren’t prepared with the stories to tell and as a result, they blabbered, spoke in circles, and generally didn’t answer the question being asked.

As I mentioned earlier, think critically about the job description and behaviors, and have your stories ready. My general rule of thumb is to have five work-based examples prepped for storytelling:

  • Your favorite project
  • A time you failed or fell short of expectations
  • A challenge you faced and overcame
  • A time you took initiative
  • A story that highlights your skills and capabilities

These are just a few seeds for stories you can choose to sow.  Once you identify the story, build it out using the STAR model.  As you prepare, brainstorm and try on different ways to tell your story!  By the time you’re done, you’ll know the content inside and out, and you’ll be comfortable enough to just have a conversation that sounds natural and to-the-point.

If you’re a recent grad or new to your career, you might be thinking “I don’t have enough work examples to come up with 5 stories!”  NONSENSE!!!  Think more broadly of what you’ve accomplished.  Other stories can come from:

  • Summer jobs
  • Camp
  • School projects
  • Family projects
  • Day-to-day challenges and obstacles you worked through

Regardless of the story, you need to be able to answer behavioral questions with specific examples.  This is not the time to answer in generalities.  These behavioral questions and your subsequent answers are how your interviewer will determine if you have the skills and capabilities necessary to do the job well. If you can’t think of stories, contact The Kanthal Group and we can help.

It goes without saying that these days you must be able to answer why you’re looking for a job, why you’re interested in their position, and the always dreaded prompt to identify your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Weaving a great story will not only give you a starting point to identify those why’s and attributes within yourself; it will always provide you a compelling way to demonstrate them.

Personality — if the shoes fits…

Groups of friend sitting on a bridge talking storytelling interviews

Personality matters! I know it’s taboo to say that in Human Resource circles, but it’s true. How many of you have heard “it’s just not a fit?” or “you’re not a cultural fit?”  That’s typically code for “I don’t like you enough.” I know that’s not an easy message to hear because personality is personal – it’s who you are! At work though, the bottom line is that we want to work with people we like. The interview is the opportunity for both sides to evaluate each other and determine if they ‘like’ each other. It’s just as much your opportunity to determine whether you think the company is a good fit for you, as it is your interviewer’s chance to try you on for size. Ask thoughtful questions about the company culture and flow around topics that matter to you! It’ll show your interviewer you’re serious about finding a good fit, and it never hurts to show them you aren’t afraid of asking tough questions.

Go land your dream job!

When you’re preparing for an interview, channel the classic Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley and his tried-and-true tagline, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Remember, if that company or interviewer doesn’t think you’re the right fit, it just means you’ll fit in even better somewhere else. Remember these three main attributes and you’ll write your next interview success story.

Now, go land your dream job!

Need some extra guidance? The Kanthal Group can help you find the right mindset and use all the tools you need to be successful.

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