How To Answer Interview Questions With a Story

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One type of question you may have to answer during a job interview is an anecdotal question. These questions are specifically designed to gather supporting information about your qualifications for a job.

One of the best ways to respond is with a story that shows the interviewer that you have the skills required to be successful on the job. The story doesn’t need to be lengthy. You can share a description of what you did and how you achieved a positive outcome.

Discover why interviewers ask anecdotal interview questions along with the best ways to respond. 

What the Interviewer Wants To Know 

By asking anecdotal questions, the interviewer is seeking details about how your experience qualifies you for the role at hand. 

Like other behavioral interview questions, anecdotal questions are designed to get you to share examples from your previous work experiences. 

The best way to answer this type of question is with a short story about how you handled a situation or dealt with an issue at work.

By asking you to provide examples or furnish anecdotal information, interviewers can get a real sense of whether you possess the key qualifications necessary for success on the job. 

Examples of Anecdotal Interview Questions

Some potential anecdotal interview questions interviewers may ask include the following: 

  • Tell me about a time when you terminated an underperforming employee. 
  • How were you able to close a deal with a major client?
  • Share an example of how you have overcome a major disappointment on the job.
  • Describe a situation in which you utilized your leadership abilities to move a project forward.
  • Describe how you have planned a major event.

How To Answer Interview Questions With a Story

You should view virtually every interview question as an opportunity to provide concrete evidence that you have experience applying critical skills to real-world situations. Answering with a story is an excellent way to respond to interview questions like these. 

Here’s what you need to know about answering a question with a story: 

Telling compelling stories is typically the best approach to convince employers that you possess the right strengths to get the job done. Sharing a concrete example of what you accomplished shows the employer what you could do for the organization if you were to be hired.

Careful preparation prior to your interviews is essential for furnishing effective responses to anecdotal questions. Otherwise, your answers may lack the detail required to support your assertions. If you’re not well prepared, you may rush your answers or leave out crucial details due to nerves. But that’s okay—you can formulate the best answers ahead of time and practice telling stories about your work experience. That way you’ll be more relaxed and confident during the actual job interview.

Start by analyzing the requirements for the job, and make a list of your qualifications that correspond to those requirements. Then reflect on your work, internship, and academic and volunteer experiences and identify scenarios in which you have tapped each strength or skill the employer is seeking. This is crucial information you’ll need to formulate your answers.

Construct stories featuring each key asset. Describe situations, actions that you took, and any positive outcomes that you helped generate. Then practice telling each story out loud. Find a friend or colleague and have them listen to your stories.

Keep your stories short. Remember that you’re telling a short story—not writing a novel. Keep your response brief, including a description of the situation, how you handled it, and how it was resolved. 

Practice sharing these anecdotes until you can deliver them naturally and without rambling.

Review an Example of Telling a Story

For example, you might be asked, "Can you describe a time when you went beyond what was required to get the job done?"

Example Answer

I have always been willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, but one time does stand out in my mind. Our team was preparing a major proposal for a prospective client. Our technology team leader was ill and out of work. I jumped in to learn how to construct some complex macros in Excel to showcase some key data, and I took the lead in creating presentation slides for our pitch.

I needed to work several evenings until midnight to get the work done in time while I was performing my regular duties during the day. The client ended up accepting our proposal and cited the quality of our presentation exhibits as a key reason they went with us.

Why It Works: This response is succinct and interesting, and it describes how the candidate handled a particular situation. Use this example as a basic framework but, of course, tailor it to your specific experience.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

  • Share examples. Interviewers want a story, so give them what they want. 
  • Keep it relevant. Your anecdote should be related to the question at hand. 
  • Showcase your skills. Along with telling a relevant anecdote, aim to highlight any qualifications and experience that would be needed in the role. 

What Not To Say

  • Don't ramble. As you tell your story, keep it clear and succinct. Don't ramble on, since interviewers will get bored. 
  • Don't be boring. Pay attention to the interviewer's body language. If it seems like they're losing focus, wrap it up. 

Key Takeaways

  • Interviewers ask anecdotal interview questions with the goal of finding out how candidates handle certain situations and whether they have the necessary qualifications to succeed in the role at hand. 
  • By preparing before the interview, you'll know what skills to emphasize in your anecdote. 
  • Make sure to tell a good story. It should be compelling, brief, and relevant to both the question and the job.

Article Sources

  1. CareerOneStop. “Common Interview Questions.”