Interview Preparation Tip: Script Your Stories

interview questions are much easier when you have a script to answer questions

Interview questions get a lot easier if you take time to prepare your lines.

Looking for a job?

Get ready to talk about yourself.

That seems obvious, yet few people I talk to actually seem to plan ahead to prepare the stories that illustrate what they’ve done and the great things they bring to a job.

Lots of people figure they’ll just wing it, and don’t realize that winging it is never a good interview strategy.

In fact, the opposite is true… the best way to prepare by actually scripting your stories.

Stories are what makes your work experience come alive. They give depth and add context to your experience. They make you come alive to an interviewer.

Planning your stories in advance has several advantages:

  • You’ll refresh your memory about the impressive things you’ve done.
  • You can plan how to mold your stories to illustrate different topics.
  • You can work on wording so it creates a positive impression, even when you’re talking about a negative or sensitive situation.
  • You’ll sound smarter and more confident.

Here’s how to create your own toolbox of interview stories:

Find notable moments in your work history that make interesting stories.

Choose five or six situations that involve some challenge or change. Maybe you were part of an acquisition at your company, or you calmed down the world’s angriest customer, or managed the implementation of a new software system.

The more interesting the situation, the more memorable the story will be. Choose situations where your best skills and talents were used.

Script each story using the STARS method.

In interviews, you want to make your point quickly. Scripting will make sure you get the message across with clarity.

The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results) is a popular structure for answering an interview question and lets you tell a brief and focused story. I like to add one more point – Summary – to make specific to the job you’re interviewing for, so I call this method STARS.

Here’s an example of using STARS to create your script.

Let’s say one of your stories is about the time you started a new job and two days later, your boss quit and left you with a major client who was very unhappy, and you saved the day.

Here’s how you might tell that story using the STARS method:

Situation: Tell the situation you were in with some who-what-when-where details.

I had been in my new job for just two weeks when my boss suddenly resigned and I was asked to take over with a huge client who was not happy with our service and angry because we didn’t meet our delivery deadline. If we lost their business, we’d be in trouble.

Task: Say what you were responsible for accomplishing.

I had to get up to speed very quickly about the client’s business and also about how things worked at my own company so I could figure out how to get the problem fixed and the product delivered. I also  wanted to make sure that both our CEO and our big customer knew they could trust me to get the job done.

Action: Say what you did, focusing on your skills and talents as they relate to the job at hand.

What I did was set a meeting with the IT department and our head of customer service to get fully briefed on what had gone wrong. Then I set a meeting with the client, bringing along representatives from our IT team to handle the technical questions. In that meeting, I reassured the client that we were going to fix the problem, and got our IT person to confirm it could be done.

And then I created a schedule for the work that would get the product delivered in thirty day, and every day, I touched base with the teams and monitored that we were on track for that target date.

Results: What was the end result, in terms of numbers or other good stuff?

As a result, we ended up delivering the product in just 28 days, and the customer went from furious to grateful and even wrote the CEO of my company a letter saying that I had been the catalyst for getting things done.

Summary: Bring home the point with a summary that is specific to the situation.

That was a crazy four weeks, but saving that deal was a great way for me to show you can count on me to tackle  problems head on, learn fast, bring people together to create a workable plan and keep everyone on track, and then getting it all done ahead of schedule. That’s part of why I think I would be great in this job for your company. 

List how many things each story can illustrate.

Now think about how many topics your story can be used for.

The example above would be good for showing how well someone works under pressure, manages projects, deals with difficult clients, learns and adapts to new situations, or facilitates work between different departments.

All you need to do is adapt the summary and the same story can work for multiple questions or jobs.

Practice, practice, practice.

Any actor will tell you that memorizing your script is the first step, but the magic happens when you are able to tell it as if the words are just rolling out naturally, and that takes practice.

Write your scripts down on paper and try to memorize them if you can. Practice until it sounds easy and spontaneous. This way, you’ll sound prepared without sounding rehearsed, and you won’t get sidetracked or forget what you wanted to say.

Anticipate which stories to tell for which interview questions.

Sit down with the job description and what you know about the company and make a list of questions you might expect to be asked and key requirements for the job, and next to each item, note which of your stories would work to show you at your best.

Keep building your story repertoire.

Five is a good number to start with for your job search toolbox, but once you get the hang of the STARS method of interview storytelling, you can add more, as long as you keep them interesting and memorable.

Always keep in mind how to adapt each story so it works for a variety of questions and topics and you’ll find yourself with a new level of interview confidence.

If you find yourself feeling stuck or unsure about your interview stories, it can change everything to work with a coach who will help you create your story scripts. Finding the right words to describe situations is one f my superpowers, and I’m a master at figuring out which stories to tell, and how to tell them, so check out my coaching services to see how I might be able to help you, too.

Crafting your stories is also an important thing to do to handle those sticky questions you might hope no one asks about… I call that Walking the Minefield and you can read some of my advice about that here.

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