Advice from a recruiter: How to wow your interviewer with storytelling
Accenture Talent Acquisition Specialist, Nivi, is always confused why so many jobseekers revert to ‘corporate speak’ in interviews. As humans, stories are how we have communicated historically. Bringing colour and emotion into the conversation helps you stand out. These are her tips for how to ace your next interview.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Everyone loves a good story – and interviewers are no exception. For job seekers, storytelling is a powerful tool to get your message across in a way that resonates with the interviewer and makes them remember you.
What to tell stories about
Your interviewer wants to know three things:
- Who are you? What’s your personality like? Are you going to be a cultural fit?
- What do you want? Are you here for a job or for a career?
- Can we count on you? Do you have the skills and experience to do the job? Will you step up beyond what you’re expected to do?
Look for relevant personal stories that allow you to answer these questions and tie into the job description.
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Where to include stories in your interview
In almost every interview, there’ll be a moment near the beginning where your interviewer will say: “Tell me something about yourself.” At that point, most people talk about their resume. The problem is that your interviewer already knows what’s in your resume – it’s sitting there in front of them!
Instead, use a story to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Think about yourself outside of work – what motivates you and made you the person you are today? Here are some formats to consider:
- Journey – Briefly talk about your path to this interview in big picture terms.
For example, “Growing up, I swam competitively at school. It required dedication to trainings, commitment to my squad, and focus while travelling a lot. It was hard to maintain discipline as a kid, but it taught me a lot and I was surprised how much of my experience translated into the workforce. Nowadays I only do laps on weekends and between juggling my family commitments, but the skills I learnt from being an athlete have stayed with me.”
- Anecdote – Tell a quick story to illustrate what you’re passionate about.
For example, “When I was 9, my mum got so sick of me trying to take her laptop apart, she bought me an old computer and said, ‘it doesn’t matter how many times you break this one’. Ever since, I’ve spent my life trying to figure out how technology works – and how to make it work better.”
- Explainer – If your resume has gaps or some of your experience looks a bit random, tackle the issue head on by telling a story explaining what happened and what you learnt.
For example, "In 2015, I took six months off to travel across South America. My father had passed away, and I needed time to grieve. I learnt another language and came back resilient, with a plan for my career. It was the best thing I could have done."
- Values – Relate a moment that formed your values.
For example, “When I was at uni, I started volunteering at a non-profit. It made me realise that, whatever I ended up doing for a living, it had to be meaningful. I don’t just want to help a big company make money for its shareholders, I want to make a real-world impact.”
With my two daughters
Near the end of your interview, you’ll likely be asked about your strengths and weaknesses. This question lends itself to be answered with a story. Rather than listing your strengths or weaknesses (telling), share a story that illustrates them (showing). Use a clear structure: situation, problem, solution, results.
Volunteering at North Head Wildlife Sanctuary
How to prepare
- Do your research – Find out about the company’s culture and look up your interviewer on LinkedIn. What do you have in common? What will resonate with this interviewer? Your story must relate to the information this interview wants to know.
- Practice – Prepare your story in front of the mirror. Keep going until you can get all the way through without stumbling or saying “umm”. Work on keeping your story as short as possible.
- Keep it real – Your stories don’t need a heroic ending. They should demonstrate your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Interviewers are looking for real people so ensure what you’re saying is authentic.
- Make it interesting – Use imagery or locations. Include emotion. Interviewers don’t just want to know what you did. How did it make you feel? How did the experience change your view of the world or what you value?
As humans we are natural story tellers. Before we had writing, stories were the only way to transfer information. In our modern world, you can still use their power to answer interview questions in a compelling and memorable way.