How to Answer Anecdotal Interview Questions With a Story

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What’s an anecdotal interview question and why would an interviewer ask one? Essentially, it’s a specific type of question you may have to answer during a job interview. What's the best way to respond when you answer one of these questions?

Anecdotal interview questions are questions asked during a job interview that are specifically designed to gather supporting information about your qualifications for a job. The interviewer is seeking details on how your experience qualifies you for the role for which you’re interviewing.

Like other related behavioral interview questions, these types of questions are designed to get job applicants to share examples from their previous experiences. When you respond, the best way to answer is with a short story about how you handled a situation or dealt with an issue at work.

Why Employers Ask for Anecdotal Information

Employers will often ask you to provide examples or furnish anecdotal information to prove that you possess the key qualifications necessary for success on the job. For example, interviewers will ask questions like these:

  • Tell me about a time when you terminated an under-performing 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 when you utilized your leadership abilities to move a project forward.
  • Describe how you have planned a major event.

Tell a Story When You Respond

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 will often 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 assets that correspond to those requirements. Then reflect on your work, internship, academic, and volunteer experiences and identify scenarios when 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 and actions that you took, as well as positive outcomes which you helped generate. Then practice telling each story out loud. Find a friend or colleague and have him or her listen to your stories.

Keep your stories short. Remember 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.

Review an Example of Telling a Story

For example, you might be asked, "Describe a time when you went beyond what was required to get the job done?" Here’s one way to answer this question:

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 took the lead with 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 daytime. The client ended up accepting our proposal and cited the quality of our presentation exhibits as a key reason they went with us.

An answer, such as the example above, is succinct, interesting, and describes how you handled a particular situation. Use this example as a basic framework but, of course, tailor it to your specific experience.