Use Storytelling to Build Your Case During the Job Interview

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin, renowned marketing expert, author

(Flickr, Matthew Hurst, Interview Questions)

Recently, a close friend shared with me an experience he had interviewing a recent college graduate for an entry-level position at a hotel he manages.  He expressed his frustration that this candidate was not able to effectively answer any of his questions, especially the behavioral or situational interviewing questions (i.e. Tell me about a time when…).  The overriding theme from his story about this interview is that the candidate spoke in generalities and wasn’t able to incorporate his successes (or failures) and experiences to offer more insight about his value proposition.

I’ve heard my friend tell numerous stories about his experiences during the hiring process including many about candidate interviews.  I’ve conducted many interview skills training sessions and mock interviews as a career coach, but his stories are impactful to me primarily because they come from the hiring manager perspective.

Most interview candidates, especially recent college graduates, fail to offer any real details during interviews.  Generally, their answers are exceptionally brief, not specific, and fall well short of convincing the interviewer that they can do the job for which they are interviewing.  It is the detail supported by well-told stories that will help advance the candidate’s cause with the prospective employer.

To illustrate, below is representative of an initial mock interview with a student who speaks in generalities and doesn’t offer details and supporting stories:

<Hiring Manager>:  “Tell me about a time when you attempted to deliver customer service excellence, but failed. What did you do to try to resolve the issue?”

<Student>:  “Uh, well, when I worked at Company A I had a few customers that I tried my best to help, but they weren’t satisfied.”

<Hiring Manager>:  “Please tell me a bit more about a specific interaction with a customer that didn’t work out…try to paint the picture for me.”

<Student>:  “Hmmm, there was a time at Company A that a customer was very rude even though I offered a smile and pleasant welcome at the games.  I followed our standard greeting, but I just thought they were having a bad day.”

You’ll likely agree that the student didn’t offer much detail or insight into how they attempted to solve a customer issue or what they learned through the experience.  The interviewer is probably most interested in hearing the steps the candidate took to uncover the customer issue or maybe what they did to at least attempt to remedy the problem.   And, in this case, the candidate didn’t do either of these things.

One way that the student could build a better answer to this question is to incorporate storytelling.

Geoffrey Berwind, Storytelling Consultant and Trainer, says, “Stories powerfully connect us to our listeners. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others our audiences feel that they get to know us as authentic people – people who have lives outside the corporate setting, people who have struggled with problems and who have figured out how to overcome them.”1

In addition, stories allow the candidate to “be specific” by offering examples of successes (or failures) along with their direct experiences.  The goal of the stories during these interview is two-fold.  They can help the interview candidate connect with the interviewer and highlight the candidate’s value proposition along with insight of how they can solve the prospective employer’s problems.

As you start crafting your various interview stories based on your specific experiences and successes, remember:

Stories are about people.  Make sure your story includes the focus of real-life characters (people) as people connect with other people.

Stories should entertain as people get bored easily.  Get the audience engaged so that they wonder about what happens next.  Your story should include the obstacles or barriers that the characters run into during the journey.

Stories stir up emotions.  Stories can elicit feelings, which help break through all the other information out there to get your audience to listen and become invested.

Stories don’t just tell, they show.  As the storyteller, you’ll want to craft your story to see the picture to become more involved in your story.

Strategies for developing your interview story

There are several acronyms that can provide the framework for your story including the S.T.A.R. method.  I believe this is an effective way to craft a story that is simple enough to remember, especially for a recent college graduate with limited interviewing experience.

S.T.A.R. stands for (S)ituation, (T)ask, (A)ction, (R)esult.  This will allow you to offer more detail by including specifics that interviewers are looking for and can help the interview candidate highlight the skills (and successes) relevant to the job they are targeting.

Let’s rework the story about using the S.T.A.R method:

<Hiring Manager>:  “Tell me about a time when you attempted to deliver customer service excellence, but failed. What did you do to try to resolve the issue?”

<Student>:  “The goal is to deliver total customer satisfaction 100% of the time.  One of my most memorable experiences occurred while I was a Group Ticket Sales Representative at Company A.  Here was the situation.   It was a busy game night with strong pre-sales and over 20 groups in attendance.  We were anticipating a sell-out as our team had been in the news along with an aggressive marketing effort the week of this game.  I was the point person for 15 of the 20 groups of 20 or more fans attending on this night.  One of my groups was a local Boy Scout group with 50 in attendance.  I developed a strong rapport with the group’s assigned leader as I had an initial meeting, explained the process and worked with her throughout the ordering process including ticket delivery.  We set a cutoff date one day prior to the game to honor the ticket discount and this was clearly indicated on all literature, flyers and other information provided to the group.  The night of the game, I received a message via walkie-talkie that a fan wanted to see me.  I reported quickly to meet the fan and was immediately greeted in a confrontational way by this fan.  He said, “Are you Bill?”.  I responded, “Yes.”.  He said, “Well, I have a problem with you” using a very gruff, loud tone – picture Yosemite Sam, except much taller…around 6’5”.  First, I took the fan to a more private location, I said, “Your concern is important to me and I’d like to learn more…let’s move over here to talk.”  He seemed to relax a bit after we moved to this location so I asked him to detail the issue.  I learned that he didn’t get the discount offered through the Boy Scout group as he missed the deadline.  Simply put, he wanted me to provide him with the ticket discount on the spot.  I wasn’t able to provide the discount to him the night of the game and quickly explained why I couldn’t.  On game nights, I had lots of responsibilities so I had some time limitations.  After explaining why I couldn’t honor the discount on game night, I asked him how I COULD satisfy his concern.  And, by the way, I offered to give him and his family free tickets to a future game, and more.  He got in my face, inches away, and loudly said, “I only want the discount tonight.” And, as a reference point, our top ticket price was $8.  We gave their group $2 off the face value so their adult price was $6.  I explained again that I couldn’t provide the discount, but would be glad to provide tickets to a future game – and his choice of game.  He said he didn’t want the free tickets by letting me know while using a colorful expletive.  I then handed my business card to him and said that I needed to wrap up the conversation, but please call me to discuss further and let me know if you’d like free tickets to a future game.  The result:  he stormed away and I never heard from him again.  I believe I offered a fair solution to his issue.  But, I didn’t meet his satisfaction.  Here’s what I learned though.  It is important to listen carefully without interrupting or prejudging the client or customer.  Take them to a more private area for discussion so as to not impact other fans’ experience at the game.  Attempt to determine the problem and its causes.  Think of possible solutions, then offer them to the customer explaining that their business is important to us and we want them to be satisfied.   It was an interesting experience to be sure.

Telling a great story using the S.T.A.R. method can help you offer more detail, highlight relevant skills and successes using these skills.  All of this can go a long way to alleviating doubt in the interviewer’s mind.  So, review your resume and recall all the great successes, experiences, and in some cases, failures that you can share on an interview to move towards the job offer.

Here’s to your success!


1 Duncan, Rodger Dean. (2014, January 4). Tap the Power of Storytelling. Retrieved from:

Photo Credit:

Flickr, Matthew Hurst, Interview Questions

About the author:

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career.

He holds a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University, bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional.

Contact Bob Nealon via e-mail at  Follow him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “Use Storytelling to Build Your Case During the Job Interview

  • Does it say something about the candidate if they simply can’t remember the details of those interactions and would therefore have to make up a fake scenario in order to follow that method?

    Maybe Hiring managers need to use some common sense. They can either be fed fake, rehearses stories from the majority of candidates with a few actually able to recall something or they can actually have someone be honest with them. Their standards are wacky.

    • Thanks for your comment, Debra. Yes, it will take work from the candidate side to reflect on experiences and successes (and failures) to develop stories that can be included in an interview. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many targeting employment opportunity don’t spend much time preparing and practicing for interviews. Maybe it is because they can’t recall details, but I believe it is because most don’t invest time in interview preparation.

      While I agree that a candidate can make up details of a story about a success or experience to utilize during an interview, I believe developing a strong story based in facts can be very powerful in making the candidate memorable to the hiring manager to highlight the candidate’s value proposition. Good stories can illustrate the candidate’s analytical ability, show that they are self-aware, while making them more memorable to the interviewer. People like stories so good ones included to answer interview questions that highlight a candidate’s value relative to an employer’s specific needs can work favorably for the candidate.

      I appreciate you reading the post and taking time to comment. I am grateful for your feedback and opinion. Enjoy your day!

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