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How to Win Your Job Interview with Storytelling

Three business professionals meeting in a brightly lit office

“Tell me about a time when…”

“Explain a time when…”

“Describe a time when…”

“Walk me through a time when…”

The above prompts, referred to as “TED-W” – tell, explain, describe, walk — are now the most prevalent way to conduct job interviews. They form the backbone of a technique called “behavioral interviewing,” and how you respond to them can make the difference between getting the job you want and missing out by a slim margin.

The theory behind this technique is that past behavior predicts future behavior, so finding out how a candidate has acted in past positions is the best way for employers to judge who’s a good fit for any given job.

They want to hear stories.

To find out how to tell the right stories the right way, we talked to Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Matt Wiehe. Wiehe has seven years of experience as a professional recruiter, during which he has helped prepare countless job hunters for interviews.

Why is storytelling important in a job interview?

You may think that the experience and skill outlined in your resume speaks for itself. That’s far from the case.

“Resumes can kind of blend into one another and look pretty similar,” says Wiehe. “Many candidates have the same degrees, the same amount of experience and have worked on the same projects.”

In other words, the education, past experience, skills and projects listed on your resume are what earned you the interview in the first place. What you say next is what wins the interview. Wiehe adds, “Companies really want to get inside the interviewee's head and see how they handled their past experiences, in order to decide if this person is the best fit for their culture.”

It all comes down to stories.

What kinds of stories will you be asked to tell in a job interview?

As much fun as it would be, it’s very unlikely that your potential employer will ask you to tell a story from your personal life. Instead, you’ll be asked to tell stories that illustrate your approach to certain work-related situations.

Which situations, specifically?

Wiehe says, “Every employer is going to ask questions about how you motivate yourself, how you motivate others, what kind of passion you have, how you make decisions and how you applied the specific skills they’re looking for.”

Before entering a job interview, you should be prepared to answer those questions with example stories from your recent job history. You may also be asked to explain how you handled failure or a mistake.

For more tips on answering tricky questions, check out a previous article “Ask Aerotek: Job Interview ‘Gotcha’ Questions.”

What’s the best way to tell a story in a job interview?

Every good story has a beginning, middle and an end, and the stories you tell in a job interview are no different.

Be prepared to include the following in any story you tell about a past work experience:

  1. What was the situation?
  2. What happened?
  3. What was the result?

Nailing the basic structure of a story is helpful, but how you move the story from point A to point B can be even more important.

“The biggest thing is just being very detail oriented,” explains Wiehe. “They want to know about specific instances, so you should avoid making general statements such as ‘Oh, that always happened, and I always figured it out.’”

In addition to detailed explanations of the situation, action and result, you can also show off a team-player mentality with the words you use to tell a story. “While an interview is your chance to shine and show off why you're the best person for the job,” says Wiehe, “I'm also a big fan of changing the verbiage and terminology from ‘I and me’ to ‘we and us’ to make it feel more team-oriented.”

How should I prepare the right stories?

Look back over your job history, starting with the most recent position you’ve held, and try to remember one story each that demonstrates the following:

  • How you motivate yourself
  • How you motivate others
  • What kind of passion you have for the job
  • How you make decisions
  • How you applied specific skills

If you can’t think of a particular story or instance from your most recent position that demonstrates one of these, go back further.

“When a hiring manager asks you about a time when something happened in Company A, but it never happened in Company A,” says Wiehe, “it’s always impressive to say, ‘Hey, you know what, Mr. Manager, that's a great question. Fortunately, that never happened in company A, but it did happen in Company B. Let me tell you about that.’”

If you’ve prepared yourself to tell a handful of the right stories, you’ll be in good shape to win that next crucial job interview. And if you’d like a little additional coaching, Aerotek recruiters like Matt Wiehe are available to give expert advice one-on-one.

Reach out to an Aerotek recruiter to explore your options for your next position. Creating a career account is free, and experts are ready to help you.