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3 Stories for Your 6-Figure Job Interview
Know exactly what to say at your next interview
Most of us hate interviews, doing them or being interviewed for a job. Interviews make us uncomfortable, put us in the spotlight, and compress years of hard-won experience and expertise into a few minutes.
What if you knew what you would say and had three great stories to tell that highlighted your best skills and work? In this article, we will explore three types of stories you can use in a job interview. The best part is these are all stories about you, your work, priorities, and values. You already know how to do the job, so let's figure out how to show off these skills with a story.
First, we must take a quick detour and look at the world from the interviewer's perspective. When hiring a highly skilled position, you want a person you can trust, do the job, and get the intricacies and nuance of the work. You want an “A-player” who makes your life easier with their skill and competence. When you break it down, there are three questions an employer is looking to answer:
Do I trust you?- The higher the pay, the more trust matters. The interviewer wants to know if you are the type of person they can trust with big decisions.
Can you do the job? - They need someone who knows the skills of the position and how to adapt and learn new skills.
Do you get it? - They need someone who understands the nuance of their role and how their work interacts with the whole company.
In a previous article, we looked at what makes up trust in a business setting. Simply put, trust is a "willingness to take risk" and consists of three parts: integrity, ability, and good intent. In an interview, you want to build trust by showing how you can do the job well, are honest and low drama, and have good intent for the company. All while making yourself unique and memorable.
One way to do this in an interview is to create stories for each aspect of trust. Instead of trying to practice a bunch of answers to interview questions, you instead focus on having three stories you can tell in your interview that show the kind of person you are, your ability to do the work, and your good intentions. When you memorably tell these stories, you fill in many details for the interviewer and make it easier to hire you.
3 Types of Interview Stories
You never know exactly when to use a story in an interview, but by having three stories ready, you can be flexible and use a story that fits. You don't need to hit all three in your interview, but use at least two stories to answer different questions. If you can get all three questions, great, but don't make that the priority. Let's dive into the three categories of story structures.
Creating Your Passion Story
The first category is the Passion Story, where you tell a story about why you do this work and signal the good intent you have. With a Passion Story, you are showing how long you've cared about the field, position, or industry.
There are a few subcategories of Passion Story: the Thread Story, the Overcoming Story, and the Perseverance Story. (Don't worry, later in the article, we will discuss how to think up these stories, and write them, so don't be concerned if your own stories don't come to mind when you read this).
The Thread Story is where you talk about the theme or thread that runs through your career. For example, in my career, I've focused on how to communicate persuasively. It doesn't matter if it was managing campaigns, studying behavioral science in London, or helping write a pitch for a 7-figure donation. In each job, I've focused on how you move people and persuade them to take action. Another example, I helped a friend craft a Thread Story to prepare for an interview where she was switching industries. She was applying to work in the aviation industry and told the story of how flying was her first passion. She then described how she worked and saved to afford flying lessons as a kid and received a pilot's license before being old enough to drive. After telling the story in the interview, two people on the hiring committee also got their pilot's license in high school. Not only did they understand the background, but they saw them as part of their tribe of aviation enthusiasts.
Overcoming Story is another variation of the passion theme. Overcoming story is where you tell how you overcame some difficult circumstances at work to make a project or business successful. The goal of this story is to show how passion drove you to reach inside to find strength and ingenuity or rally the team to get positive results.
Perseverance Story is another story you can tell about how you had a professional failure and overcame it. For example, maybe a product launch failed, you made the wrong call as a leader, or you just messed up. You tell how you subsequently took ownership of the mistake, helped fix the problem, and how it informed how you'd worked ever since. This type of story's key is showing your change and evolution through this crisis or failure.
Creating Your Professional Story
The next category of stories is the Professional Story. This is where you show your ability to do the job and tell a more technical story about the actual work you will be required to do. The goal here is to take the work's complex nature and explain it simply. Three types of stories can help show your ability: The Theory of Work Story, the Make Change Happen Story, and the Process Story. Let's look at each of these.
The Theory of Work Story is where you show your ability to explain the complex nature of the job in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. This is great to use if the job requires a lot of communication or public speaking. Showing your ability to distill the complex and make it understandable will make you stand out. For example, I helped a friend use this tactic when applying for a promotion at his employer. The job required expertise in behavioral science but also working with various teams to get them to build experimentation into their projects. In his story, he described his "Theory of Work" and how it applied to behavioral science. He told how he saw behavioral science as allowing his organization to SEE differently and how it gave them the tools to Solve the different problems, Explain things that were happening, and Experiment to find out what worked. The interviewers liked the model because it was memorable and clarified what they wanted to achieve with the position. A tip for a Theory of Work Story is to break down the work into three steps or parts to give your listener a nice balance of broad yet specific. Then the interviewer can ask you to elaborate after the story to hear more about any part.
Make Change Happen Story is another story where you take the interviewer through the steps of how you made a change and had a positive result. For example, another friend who worked in supply chain management used this story to tell how he'd save his company several million dollars by changes he'd help make in their sourcing process for wire harnesses. This story could seem uninteresting on the surface. He started the story by showing the wire harness and said how he keeps it on his desk to remind him how he can save the company money by the right partnerships with suppliers and understanding each stage of the manufacturing process. Other variations of this story are about how you impact the bottom line through increased sales or how you affect the growth of another business metric.
The Process Story is where you tell the story of a process with work, but you make it enjoyable and help the interviewer understand how the details and having the right person matter. The Process Story can be tricky to tell excitingly and memorably, but one way is to start the story as a mystery and walk them through how you figured out the solution.
Creating Your Personal Story
The Personal Story is how this work has changed you, and what you are highlighting here is your integrity. Integrity is often binary—you either have it or not. We don't think of people as having "some integrity." What you are trying to accomplish with this story is showing times when you showed grit and integrity.
The Team Story is when you tell a story of how you led a team to accomplish something, but you reflect on what you learned from the team and how that experience changes how you lead today. This could be a good experience or a challenging one, but what's key is to show your personal growth, how you acted under pressure, and what you did to rally the team to meet a goal.
Insight Story is where you tried something for work and learned a critical insight. One example of this comes from a friend who told a story about testing behavior change ideas in a large company with corporate offices and many retail stores. He needed to optimize different factors to get people to change behavior, but none of it was working. So finally, he drove down to one of the retail stores to have someone walk through their process. He watched the employees work and realized the computer keyboards were the real issue. The keyboards in all the retail locations differed from what they used at the corporate headquarters. He shared how it is the combination of testing and seeing people behave in real life that you gain real insight into ways to improve a team.
Pushing Through Failure Story can be hard to tell. We usually don't bring up our failures in interviews, but provided the failure was manageable, it can make for a compelling and memorable story. The key to this story is that it needs to have a positive outcome in the end. It must be more nuanced than you screwed up and learned something. Instead, tell the story of a failure that leads you to change how you work now, so the hiring company benefits from what you've learned. For example, I got interested in behavioral science after managing a failed political campaign. During the campaign, I noticed our opponent was using unique tactics to get-out-the-vote. While most on our side dismissed the tactics as "stupid," I thought there had to be a reason, and we needed to understand why. After the election, I did a deep dive into all the academic research on get-out-the-vote and realized the other side had used the most up-to-date research-backed tactics. That led me to write a short book on these tactics to share with my clients, which led to working on a project where we ran experiments in 26 states across America in the next election cycle. All this started with being curious and not dismissive of why something was different.
Building Your Own Stories
With these three categories of story, the passion, the professional, and the personal, you can present a 3-D picture of who you are and how you make decisions and do the work. So, how do you come up with stories like these?
Start by taking 10 minutes and answering the questions below as quickly as possible. Just type some answers and don't worry about being perfect. If you don't have an answer for one, skip it and come back to it later.
Questions for Brainstorming Your Stories
What has always set you apart from your colleagues?
What project made you the proudest?
What makes you proud of this?
What was an event that transformed how you approach to work?
What's a story your coworkers tell about you?
What's another story your coworkers tell about you?
When people describe you, what characteristics do they tell?
When have you pushed through a failure at work?
What has been a transformative experience at work in the last five years?
What is something work-related you've changed your mind on in the last decade?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions, but they should get you thinking about the different personal experiences and projects you have done at work. Then, once you have some ideas, you can think about where they could fit in the three categories. What's interesting as you do this exercise is that you realize how many stories work in different categories depending on how you tell them. It's all about how your frame the story and the perspective.
Tips for Telling Your Stories
Here are some additional tips for creating your stories.
Stories are about change - how this experience changed you. Think about how you will show the change in the story.
Write out your story first with no editing. Just get a crappy draft down on paper and then you can revise and edit it into a great and memorable story. Most stories are too long with too much detail in the first draft, but it's through editing that you pull out the key ideas.
90 seconds to 2.5 minutes max - shoot for stories that are only a couple of minutes long. You want to be able to answer a question quickly and incorporate the story.
Get right to the action' So I…and give just a couple sentences of context and get to the story…."
Most stories need less buildup and backstory than you think. Try cutting the starting details and test it with someone. Are they confused with the details missing?
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end - you are telling a series of events woven together
End with your insight into the experience - make it easy for the listener to understand what you learned from the experience by discussing how it changed the way you thought, acted, or saw the world.
Be honest- don't stretch the truth or make up details. Only tell true stories.
Test your stories out on a friend in a mock interview. Test out how you will transition from a question into your story so you feel comfortable with that switch and you can make it seem effortless.
Practice - once you have your stories, practice telling them until they feel part of you. You don't need them memorized word for word, but you do want to be very familiar with the stories you created
When trying this process, remember you are telling the story of how and why you do the work you do. You are showing what makes you unique, valuable, and the best person for the job. These story tools can help you stand out and highlight the best parts of your work, thinking, and previous experience.
Note- some of the personal details of the examples above have been modified slightly to maintain anonymity.