The Importance of Preparing Stories During an Interview

You perfected your resume, reached out to employers and now you landed the interview!

In the days leading up to your interview, you may stop to consider your top strengths and weaknesses or a time you worked in a team, or maybe you just plan to “wing” the interview.

Everyone approaches interviews in their own way, but to maximize your success come interview day, we think it is best to prepare stories.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Why are stories so important?

Stories improve memory.

Jennifer Aaker, professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone.  Stories help us associate facts with emotions and improve our memories.

Stories help us connect.

Stories activate mirror neurons to communicate emotions. Mirror neurons fire both when an animal acts and when an animal observes the action from another.

So, when you tell a story the sentiment echoes in the listener’s right hemisphere and causes them to feel the same emotion. This brings you two to the same level and allows you to connect, according to glassdoor.

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash
Stories build emotional rapport.

Rapport is the act of building relationships with others in which both parties feel supported and understood, according to Indeed.com.

Building this helps you connect with your interviewers, which can help you feel calmer and help employers better understand whether you would be a good fit for the position.

How do I prepare my stories?

You have learned that stories are important to your interview success, but where do you start?

Study the job description.

Look for clues as to the types of questions the interviewer could ask. Specifically, look for the pain points of the job and specific qualifications that they may be looking for.

Here is an example.

The image above is a real Geico job description from LinkedIn. I studied the job description for the unique aspects of this role.

For example—notice that they use PeopleSoft Cash as their accounting software. If you are interviewing for this position, it’s likely that you could be asked about your experience with PeopleSoft.

The job description also talks about the fact that this candidate would be responsible for responding to Field Representative inquiries. They will likely focus on customer service and communication skills during the behavioral portion of the interview.

Research.

Do your normal research about the company and understand its core values, mission and vision. Think about how you align with that and how you would be able to contribute. Research the culture and think about how you will fit well within it.

Find out what’s new; most companies have a page on their website dedicated to press releases and events. Then do a Google search to find any recent news.

Next, research its people — especially the people you may possibly meet when you interview. 

Use the research to prepare your stories.

Identify 10 to 15 examples of how you solved problems or demonstrated key behaviors that your research has indicated your target employer seeks. Try to list recent examples whenever possible.

Then flesh out each example, giving each one a title and putting it into story format. One might be “Handle Change.” Another might be “Difficult Communication Situation.” 

Although you don’t want to memorize your stories, writing them down will definitely help you organize your thoughts. (And keep you from later thinking, “Oh shoot. Why didn’t I talk about the time I…”)

Then practice answering behavioral interview questions with a friend or a job search coach prior to the real interview.

Follow the SAR Format

Answers to behavioral-based interview questions should be structured as Situation, Action, Result: What was happening, what you did in response, and how things turned out. 

Not only is that a clean way to answer questions; it also allows you to highlight your accomplishments — and since you’re telling a story, to do so in a memorable way.

And even if you stray from the SAR format, make sure your stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with the result serving as the climax of the story.

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