Tell Your Story for Interview Success

By Wim Dodson


You sit in a small, nondescript conference room at a cheap, round conference table topped with egg-shell white Formica. The table seats two with some elbow room; three, if each of you don’t open out your notepads. Your palms are sweaty, as much from the lack of oxygen in the room as from nervousness.


The interviewer peppers you with questions. You dutifully answer without detail. You don’t dare elaborate about how suitable you are for the job at hand, how you’ve made major contributions to teams, to entire organizations.


At the end of the airless hour the interviewer thanks you for your time and shows you the door.


For days — if not weeks — afterward you agonize whether you answered the interviewers questions correctly.


Doesn’t matter, really. You were lost when you answered yes or no to her first question. With that first knee-jerk, oh-so-natural response, you became anonymous. Indistinguishable from any other candidate, whatever their race, creed or color.


You have to understand at least two things about the interview process (though there are many moving parts): the interviewer has likely interviewed at least a dozen or so bright individuals like yourself; and the interviewer has never been trained to interview.


“Great!” You’re probably thinking. And then add to the lousy odds and the ignorance that you’re likely a woman and/or a person of color, and you figure you’re screwed for life. Doomed to politically correct anonymity.


One of the most effective ways to at least become memorable — if not actually hired — is to tell stories. It’s how our minds have been wired over thousands of years of storytelling and mythologizing. It is the sum of the stories we tell ourselves and others that define us.


Our unique stories distinguish us from others, and reinforce if and how others remember us.


In an interview, though, you cannot tell long, meandering stories. Interviews are short periods with a specific objective: to figure out if you should pass through to the next organizational gate.


So, when asked a question like: Are you able to travel at least 50% of the time for the job? You can answer something like, My last project was plagued by a lot of miscommunication that slowed decision-making. I decided I needed to meet team members face-to face for key decisions, which required a lot of travel. We were all amazed by how much more got done in-person compared to virtual meetings!


You don’t need a lot of words to tell a story. About three sentences will do. Within three sentences you need to: 1) frame the challenge presented you in a professional context; 2) illustrate the actions you took to resolve the issue; and 3) show how your actions improved the condition of the business or resolved the challenge at hand.


In three short sentences you were able to emphasize your insights into project dynamics, your commitment to do what needed to get done to make the project a success, and highlight your own track record.


Told with energy, a bit of suspense and some humor, interviewers will have no choice but to reference you through the interesting stories you share.