How to choose stories for your interviews
Holly Watson, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Amazon Web ServicesPublished: February 23, 2022
By this point in your interview preparation, you have probably Googled “top behavioral questions asked in an interview” to only be met with thousands of different examples all with slightly different flavors. Questions like:
- “Tell me about a time you worked under pressure….”
- “Give an example of a goal you’ve reached…”
- “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you fixed it….”
- “How do you handle challenges?”
Now you might be questioning whether you have enough experience to answer all these questions let alone time to prepare before your interview. Stop. Take a breath. The old adage, “work smarter, not harder”, is going to pull you through this phase.
When preparing for behavioral interviews, know that you’re pulling from your own treasure trove of career experiences and talking about a subject you know most intimately – yourself. Through conducting and coaching several interviewees through mock interviews, a common mistake I see made during interview prep is the act of downloading an overwhelming amount of questions and spending a painstaking amount of time answering each question, over and over again. The time spent here is an exercise in self torture and by no means are you getting the confidence you need to walk – or Zoom – into your interview well prepared. If this is you, it’s ok, but there is a better, smarter approach. Instead of scrolling through an endless list of example questions and preparing for each, flip this approach, and start with the stories and projects you know you want to share. I call this developing your Story Library.
The story library
A Story Library is a bank of your own projects, experiences, achievements, failures, wins and losses told during your interview. These stories should highlight your best skills that demonstrate your expertise, leadership qualities, passion, and self-awareness. By building out your Story Library, you are strategically preparing yourself to answer any behavioral question thrown your way. Follow these four steps to build your Story Library:
1. Create your highlight reel (Top)
First, write down 10-15 of your top career highlights. These highlights should be just that: little mental reminders of your project and a simple sentence with a few words that help jog your memory. Think about the time you accelerated a deal through your sales or marketing pipeline; the time you took on an ambiguous project with little direction from your manager; or when you led the first social media campaign with no budget. Try not to limit yourself or dismiss a project because “it’s too small”. At this stage, it doesn’t matter, you’re looking to get your thoughts on paper.
2. Mine for details (Top)
Second, review your list of stories, and ask yourself if any of your projects are too broad and would require you to spend more than five minutes explaining the situation and revealing your impact. This is crucial – especially as you think about how those shorter interviews can be as quick as thirty minutes. Spending too much time on one question can leave the interviewer unsure of your qualifications simply because you ran out of time. If you have a story that is too broad, work to be more specific with that story. For example, instead of saying you led the product launch of Acme solution, break this story into smaller, digestible chunks. For example you could say, “While leading the product launch for Acme, I recognized there was a knowledge gap amongst the Sales team. To fill this gap I developed a training module before launch that included XYZ details and resulted in ABC more qualified deals.” Breaking bigger stories down helps you get more specific, show impact, cover more of your skills, and address the interviewer’s additional questions.
3. Think outside the normal 9-5 (Top)
Third, ask yourself what experiences outside of your career are relevant and worth adding to your Story Library. Employers today are interested in hiring the right talent based both on skills and culture fit. Some organizations are adopting a “hiring the whole person” approach where diversity and inclusivity is part of the interview loop. Add projects and experiences that showcase your personality and demonstrate your personal interests. Have you shown leadership skills at a volunteer organization? Did you take on more responsibility to support a family member, friend, or neighbor during the pandemic? Do you participate in a virtual community group relevant to your industry? Add these stories to your growing library so you’re prepared to draw from them when asked.
4. Assign order (Top)
Finally, review your list of stories again. This time rank order your stories with the ones you are most proud of, or especially show-off your skills, at the top. This list is now the list you can quickly pull from during your interview. More on how to use your Story Library in the “Positioning” section of this guide.
5. Mirror your resume (Top)
This step is a bonus. If you’ve already submitted your resume to your future employer – no worries. However, the stories you tell in the interview should reflect the person you showcase on your resume. To do this, take a minute to review the bullets you have on your resume, and compare those to the Story Library you’ve just created. Are there overlapping stories? Did you miss a few projects? Is there a logical order to both the way you present yourself on paper and how you plan to present yourself in the interview? The goal here is to create a seamless connection between yourself on paper and how you present yourself live. Even during the interview, can you reference your resume to clearly draw the connection for your interviewer? For example, could you say, “Sure, I’d love to tell you about a time I worked with cross-functional stakeholders. If you see under my last job, bullet point 2, you’ll see I…”. Drawing these connections between your stories and your resume makes the job of the interviewer easy, and it makes you a memorable candidate.
The list you’ve just developed should not only be your greatest hits, but also is, by far, shorter than the never-ending list of behavioral questions you can find online. This is a good thing – possibly even motivating, as it’s much more approachable. In fact, you know all the answers already.
In the next section, we’ll cover how you can structure your stories in a logical manner so that your story is easy to follow and showcases why you deserve to be given an offer.