Interview Questions and the Stories You Must Tell the Hiring Manager

By Scot Herrick

If your answers to interview questions don’t tell a story, the hiring manager will most likely not remember you as well as those who tell compelling stories about their work. Stories, not facts, are what people remember. Stories help you connect with the hiring manager in a shared experience that helps begin a working relationship. And hiring managers want to hire people where they can envision a working relationship happening.

What does a compelling story say? It isn’t as hard as you might think – and they are all based on the results of your work.

Stories Provide Context

Context is an important underlying issue during an interview. What you think is a huge project that required extraordinary effort could simply be another day at the office for the person in the position you are applying for to work.

Thus, you can start to answer many interview questions with the context of the work you were doing. "Tell me about a time where you needed to overcome obstacles in the workplace," the hiring manager asks.

You reply with context, so that you can set up your obstacles and how you overcame them. "I was working on this project with a $2 million budget. Of course, it needed to happen right away. Three days into the project, we discovered there was no documentation about how the current system worked. All of us were frustrated because we were to make big changes to something where we had no idea where all the moving parts were in the system."

Our hero sets off on the journey to project success and gets stopped cold right at the start. That’s context.

Stories Help Show the Actions You Took

Once you have the context, you can now describe the actions you took to bring about a later result. You can’t say "I documented the as-is system for the project" as something you overcame unless you had the context of having no documentation in the first place.

The second part of the story, then, is the actions you took to overcome the problems. This is the part where you are the hero, slaying dragons as they show up on your journey to success.

"Once we discovered there was no documentation for the system we were going to change, I suggested instead of one person documenting the system and having it take three months, that we have five people document the parts of the system and then come together to ensure the flow of information was correct by using test cases."

Those are actions. You suggested, you laid out a process, you had a plan for getting the work done and you had a way of measuring the quality of your work.

Stories Explain Results You Achieved

The foundation has now been laid to show the results of your actions. You set up this big problem to be solved through the context of your work. You carefully explain the action steps you took to slay the dragons along the way. Now you get to the results part of the story where you explain the benefits of your actions for the business.

"We ended up doing more test cases on the as-is system than we thought, but instead of the process taking three months to figure out, it took us only three weeks and saved about $100k in costs to document the system. And then we were able to confidently make the changes to the system which provided a 15 percent improvement in cycle time for the business."

People Remember Stories, Not Facts

The poor hiring manager has interviewed fifteen candidates for they job. All are qualified. All could work in the department. When the hiring manager’s boss asks who the best candidate is, the hiring manager will say you. When asked "Why?" by the hiring manager’s boss, you can bet part of the answer will be something like, "He told me about this time when he started working on a project and there wasn’t any documentation. Sound familiar?"

Yup. Stories help you get hired. What stories must you tell about your work?

Scot Herrick is the author of I’ve Landed My Dream Job -Now What? and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. provides online career management training for workers who typically work in a corporate cubicle. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.

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