This is the third and last blog in 3-part series titled “Stop Giving Me Answers and Start Telling Me Stories,” which discusses storytelling in the interview. The first blog on Tell Me About Yourself can be found here. The second, on “What is Your Greatest Strength/Weakness,” is here.

As you likely know, Behavioral Questions are interview questions usually starting with:

  • “Tell me about a time when you succeeded as part of team/used Excel to resolve an issue/fill in the blank” or
  • “Give me an example of a time when you dealt with a difficult client/overcame a huge obstacle at work/fill in the blank.”

Some interviews are filled with only these questions, while others mix these questions in with general getting-to-know-you questions (i.e. Tell Me About Yourself and What is Your Greatest Strength/Weakness). These questions are asked because interviewers want to hear how you behaved in the past, as it usually is an indication (at least to them) of how you’ll act in the future. And since we, as human beings, tend to be creatures of habit and therefore have difficulty changing our behaviors or habits, the way we behaved then is the way we would likely behave in the future. Even if you have the capability to change, there is an assumption change doesn’t come easily to you, so interviewers want to know if you will act the “proper” way in a work situation (that is, their place of employment) as you may have done previously.

The benefit of the Behavioral Question is it is already set up to answer with a story. This is particularly true when using the STAR method, a strategy recommended by many interview experts since what appears to be the dawn on of time.

The STAR method is an acronym that stands for the following:

  • S – The Situation – Think of the 5 W’s you might have learned in journalism class, the who, what, when, where, why. This is your set up to explain what you were trying to accomplish.
  • T – Your Task– what role did you take on? Were you appointed? Did you take the lead?
  • A – What Actions You Took – This is the how. Once you set things up, you explain how it was accomplished here.
  • R – The Result – What happened when all was said and done?

You can also think of revealing your answer much as the components of a story. There are five components of all stories.

  1. Who are the Characters?
  2. Where is the Setting?
  3. What is the Plot?
  4. What is the Conflict?
  5. What is the Resolution?

Whether using the STAR method or the 5 components of a story (or even the PAR method, which is Problem, Action, and Result), either strategy is a great set up for how to engage the listener/interviewer. In fact, behavioral questions may be popular because, if answered correctly, it keeps the interviewer engaged—since he or she has to conduct upwards of 15 interviews a day, they probably want to hear these stories to prevent pure exhaustion and boredom.

The mistake most people make is not giving enough details. Most interviewees are so focused on time frames (“all the books tell me to keep the answer to two-minutes”), they lose sight of the power of a good story. If you have more than two minutes of material and it’s interesting, I will keep on listening.

Where details (and the meat of the plot) is mostly lacking is in the last two steps in this method. In mock interview after mock interview, I continuously hear people rush through the action steps they took to complete their goal. Furthermore, most people neglect to describe what happened after finishing all that work, and if they mention results, they keep it vague without quantifiable results. Yet this is exactly where a majority of the story is—you will find characters and setting in the Situation and Task, but Plot, Conflict and Resolution all takes place in the Actions and Result(s).

So if you want to have a more powerful and intriguing answer to a Behavioral Question, spend time fleshing out the “AR” of “STAR.” Consider including everything in the story from your internal AND external dialogue at the time to each step you took along the way and the new challenges/joys it created to what you experienced in terms of emotions throughout. These are all powerful because you are bringing the listener into your world, your way of thinking, and your way of resolving issues towards accomplishment and success. When people relate to this, they relate to you. The more people relate, the more you have them hooked. The more you have them hooked, the more you feel like this…