Use Constructive Storytelling to Succeed in Behavioral Interviews

Nancy Anderson
Posted by in Career Advice

An answer to a behavioral interview question involves a succinct, concrete story that has a beginning, middle and end. Like any good story, your answer should have a lot of action words that show how you resolved a particular situation. Although there are no right or wrong answers with these types of interview questions, you should prepare for behavioral interview questions just as you would any other aspect of the interview.

Why Behavioral Interview Questions Exist

Companies use behavioral interview questions to gauge how your past behavior at work could assist your employer in the future. Questions help interviewers determine skills such as leadership, time management, problem solving, preparation and communication. Prepare for behavioral interview questions by knowing how to tell a story.

STAR or SAR Method

One basic method teaches you how to answer a question with a story. Experts call this the SAR or STAR method. SAR stands for "situation, action, result," while STAR means "situation, task, action, result." Both acronyms show you how to construct a story that tells employers how you handled situations in the past in three or four small sections.


Construct the first part of your story to give interviewers the basic situation. Answer the who, what, where, when and how of the story. For instance, someone might tell you, "Describe how you handled a stressful time at the office." Start by outlining a specific circumstance: "My supervisor was out of the country on vacation when our biggest client tripled the order but maintained the same deadline." Give a few details as to what the order entailed and how much time your team had to complete the client's order.


The second part of the story relates what you had to do and the time frame behind it. "I had to mobilize the team within 30 minutes to develop a strategy to make 3,000 more place mats in just five days. Our normal production rate, over two shifts, is 25 place mats per hour. We had to increase our productivity immediately in order to make 1,000 more place mats beyond our usual capability."


The third aspect of the story explains how you took action. How did you handle things with the boss away? "I immediately called my supervisor's boss, who has dealt with this client before, to tell him about the situation. He authorized overtime for myself and my team, and then he brought in some extra help from other departments. I cleared my schedule for the rest of the evening and had food delivered, and we all brainstormed how to work more efficiently. In a few hours, we increased productivity by 30 percent."


Tell the interviewer about the end result of this stressful situation. What was the result of your extra hours and added efficiency? "My team finished the order one day ahead of the deadline, and the client was extremely pleased with the product. Because we came through in a pinch, the customer ordered another batch two weeks later, and we increased our revenue by 10 percent for that quarter."

Success Stories

This stressful situation had a happy ending. That's the point of constructing these stories. Employers want to hear how you successfully handled particular situations so they know what to expect from your behavior in the future. Make each success story personal, relatable and honest — something you actually encountered on the job.


Do your homework, and study several behavioral interview questions ahead of time. Practice the responses over and over until they sound natural. Consider one example from five major skills, and practice your story. If you get a question that you didn't prepare for ahead of time, your knowledge of other questions should help you craft a story off the top of your head.

Consider writing responses to common behavioral interview questions to commit situations to memory. Each section of the story should end up being three to five sentences long. During your first interview with a company, you may have two or three behavioral interview questions. These types of questions also occur during your second, or follow-up, interview with several people at the employer's office.

Your stories from previous experiences can serve as personal anecdotes that show you are the perfect match for a position. Behavioral interview questions give you the opportunity to show off your soft skills and wow your future supervisor. Take some time to get to know this aspect of your job search.

Photo Courtesy of Franky242 at


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Lavera Wilhite
    Lavera Wilhite


  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I have seen successful behavioral interviews where the applicant mixed up the order of the STAR method. This particular candidate started by telling the hiring manager about the impressive results he got at his last job, and then went on from there, describing the situation, task, and action. I think this method worked for this candidate because his results were pretty amazing!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. I did a real quick search on the STAR method @Jay and got thousands of results. Try just doing a search on the STAR method questions and answers and you will get more than enough. Not everyone is good at weaving a story. Most candidates are extremely nervous during an interview and, if asked to describe a time (weave a constructive story), the candidate can get lost in the details and the telling of the story and just totally blow the interview. Always be prepared for a behavioral interview even if it doesn't happen. Check out some of the Q&As that you will find on the Internet. Maybe the answer does not fit into your world - them come up with a different answer. You can always have the Q&As in front of you as you are interviewing to help keep you on point.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    This advice is very useful, and I think that the STAR method could be a valuable resource. Are there any training courses, either online or in-person, that would teach me more about both the STAR method and assertiveness? If so, how would I go about finding the best courses and registering for them?

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    In a well-rounded behavioral interview, the HR person usually asks questions about situations where you succeeded and struggled. I remember an interview for a bookstore sales position where the interviewer asked me to describe a situation where I couldn't come to an agreement with a client/customer. Sometimes, employers want to know how you frame the story and your process for resolving conflict, even if the end result isn't positive. Do you take responsibility for your part in the conflict or place all the blame on other parties? Do you demonstrate the steps you take to reach a resolution? Do you take the time to ask questions before giving up on the sale?

    This is especially true in industries where the employer expects a high rejection rate or employees are in charge of weeding out unqualified leads. You can't always get the win, but you can always remain professional. Employers want to make sure you can put a positive face forward for the business under stressful conditions.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Sylvia, I agree that a lot of job search articles seem to fit nicely with corporate projects and finance reports. This was not exactly my background either. I think the whole point is to give the interviewer something to go on that demonstrates the SAR principle in your field. e.g. Teachers don't have product deadlines and sales data. But they do have a curriculum to keep up with and test score accountability. So their examples would be based on these benchmarks instead.


    Even when I was younger and didn't really have any work experience, I was still able to use this method to answer behavioral questions. When you don't have recent work experience, answer the questions using experiences in school or in your personal life, as long as it is clear that the behaviors, actions and responses would also translate to the workplace and demonstrate that you are good at problem-solving.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Sylvia you certainly have a point. I have been fortunate to have positions where I could quantify my tasks - at least for the most part. But I have to agree - how do you tell your story if you don't have data to use? I would think that, in that case, you don't use constructive storytelling in your interview. @William that's a great idea to frame it in the guise of your favorite character and see where it goes. Don't be afraid of storytelling. Really we do it all the time. What happens when you meet someone new for the first time? Don't you tell your story? Sure you do because you want to get to know the person and you want them to get to know you. Same in a job interview. Even if you are only with that person for 15 minutes and never see them again, you are still weaving your story starting with your resume and cover letter all the way up to shaking hands and thanking them for their time. @Emma my philosophy has always been honesty first but, sometimes, being a little bit creative can help. Yes I agree that you should plan ahead of time, if you can, so that you don't struggle or stumble should you decide to weave your own story.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    I am curious to know how someone in a field that doesn't lend itself to numbers and data create the story that accompanies a task. For instance, how would a teacher respond to this strategy? Or a psychiatrist? There just aren't the same sorts of time-related situations. Yes, there are deadlines, but it isn't so cut and dry.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    One way to create your own stories includes looking at your favorite novels, movies or television shows. Each method of storytelling follows the same format. Characters go about their normal lives, and then conflict happens that causes characters to take action. By the end of the story, the main characters resolve the plot by getting results. The STAR method is everywhere if you know how to look for it. Just think about how your favorite character would react to a certain situation.

  • Emma Rochekins
    Emma Rochekins

    How does one answer these types of questions if she has limited work experience? Should she admit to the lack of direct experience with the particular question, but speculate as to how she thinks she would have handled the situation? Sometimes knowing how one should handle a situation can be just as important (or even more so) as how one actually handled it.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    This is great advice, and something I definitely need to practice. I love telling stories but mine are much too long for the interview process. It takes some practice to figure out how to get the main points across without too many tangents or unnecessary details!

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I agree with Shannon. When you're nervous and trying to put your best foot forward, it's so easy to put that foot in your mouth instead. The last thing you want to do is to inadvertently put yourself in a bad light in the eyes of the interviewer. It is important to be honest and genuine, but sometimes applicants reveal too much simply by being nervous and trying too hard. Best to keep is simple.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I agree that storytelling can be a powerful strategy during interviews, but it can also lead candidates to take on too informal of an approach. Trying to answer behavioral interview questions that conclude with a happy ending is not always possible. The situation may have ended badly and the example could trap the candidate into revealing something that leaves a bad impression.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey I think it is find to discuss a situation where you weren't supergirl. It is true that we want to build ourselves up and make ourselves look as great as possible during the interview. But honesty is a good policy and I think that the interviewer would welcome hearing a story about a situation that maybe fell apart on us and left us holding the bag and to hear what we learned from the situation other than to never let it happen again. Will it backfire? I guess it depends upon the interviewer. As one who has done their share of interviews, I would say honesty is the best policy.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    Is it ever okay to talk about a situation that didn't go as well as you had hoped, but to talk about what you have gained from the experience? Most people only share about times when they saved the day, and I just have to wonder how many interviewers hear some of the same types of stories over and over, and how many would actually be intrigued by the raw honesty of the tale of a less-than-perfect situation. I understand that this is certainly something that could backfire, but could it actually be useful in some cases?

Jobs to Watch