Use These Five Steps to Turn Your Answer into a Story

Nancy Anderson
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One common phrase you may hear during a job interview is "Tell me about a time when" followed by a hypothetical scenario that you encountered in your professional experience. This is the time for you to step up and tell a story about your weaknesses, the successful implementation of a plan or the time you dealt with an argument at work.

These scenarios are behavioral interview questions designed to gauge your attitude, integrity or problem-solving skills. The most important thing to do while preparing for the job interview is to practice responses to common questions. Take into account these five elements of each response while you rehearse what to say.

1. Give a One-Sentence Response

Begin to tell a story by summarizing your response in one sentence. Then you get to elaborate with more details in the following 90 seconds. Giving a quick answer and then more details shows you thought about the answer and you had a response at the ready. If you think about your entire response first, without giving a summary, interviewers may perceive you as unable to think on your feet.

After the summary, use the fabled STAR method to enhance the story. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. Each of your answers to a job interview question should follow this basic format.

2. Provide Background to the Situation

When you start your story, you need to give the background of what's happening. Set up the situation by answering who was involved, what happened, and where and when the story occurred. Then you get into how you solved a problem.

3. Tell Your Role

How did you handle the situation? Interviewers want to know how your experiences, abilities and skills solved the problem. Explain your role in the story and how that helped bring about a resolution to the task. This step also includes the action you took in the context of your story.

4. Wrap It Up

Share the results of your story when you wrap it up during a job interview. How did the story end? Did your actions improve some aspect of the company in a quantifiable way? How did your manager react to what you did? What happened to you because of your actions?

5. Clarify the Lesson

The takeaway from the story is that you learned a lesson that is apropos to the job interview. The situation you just described clearly had a lasting impact on your professional life, so now you have to explain why that story is relevant. The overall goal is to show how that lesson applies to your new job. Because this tale is unique to you, it serves as a way to stand out from other candidates while explaining how the situation prepared you for this opportunity.

A personal example of your professional experience is a standard question during a job interview. Once you get the format and the types of questions down, you should alleviate your nerves after a few hours of practice. Rehearsing makes you a more confident candidate who knows how to handle interesting questions.

Photo courtesy of franky242 at



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