Expanding Your Examples of Compelling Interview Stories

The Hero Technique

Has there ever been a time in your life when you saved the day? "Hero" stories almost always make compelling interview answers. Was there a time when you put in the above-and-beyond effort? Or maybe a time when you did something that dramatically changed the course of events (for the positive, of course). Or perhaps even a time when you were a true hero, by saving someone's life or an act of great bravery? If so, work the story into your collection of compelling stories.

The difficulty with true hero stories can be in finding a successful bridge to the story. But with careful foresight and advanced planning, you will often find ample opportunities.

A recent interviewee told of the time when he literally saved someone from drowning in a lake, while cutting his feet on sharp objects on the lake bottom in the process of carrying out the drowning victim. This story came after a question about reaching goals in his life. Not sure how he got there? His bridge (after telling about his career goal of working for our company) was to say that he was very strong at keeping focused on the goal and not letting side issues deter him from achieving the objective. And he then went on to tell the story of how he saved the drowning victim, in spite of injuring himself in the process. He only realized he had cut his feet after he had carried the girl out of the lake. Thus, his focus is confirmed and the story is now ingrained in the interviewer. And likely passed along to others after the interview.

Another interviewee told of the time that she was given a surprise party by a customer of the company for which she worked. They were all so appreciative of the hard work that she put in that they gave her a going-away party when she went back to school. This story was given as a follow-on response to a question about how well she worked with others.

Another interviewee told of the time he hit the game-winning RBI in the final game of a softball tournament. He told the story in response to a question about teamwork and did it in a way to show that all the members of the team had contributed to the final outcome, even though he was the one carried off the field by his teammates. He used it as an example to show how he valued the bonding of the team and how each member was able to perform at a much higher level than would have been possible individually.

And finally, another interviewee told the story of sinking the 8-foot putt for victory on the first hole of sudden-death playoff in a golf tournament. He was asked a question about his ability to handle pressure, and he used the story to show that he performed at his peak while under pressure.

Hero stories play well in the minds of interviewers. They do not have to be work related (although work heroism is always the highest form, at least for the interview) and can include all aspects of life. We all love to hear a good story and hero stories are often some of the best. Think about the times in your life when you were the hero. And begin to weave your hero story (or stories) into your interviewing answer repertoire.

The Quotable Quotes Technique

If you want to add credibility to what you say about yourself, tell the interviewer what other people have said about you. The best quotes are not words that others have said to you, but about you to others. The best way to provide this information is to quote the other person, referring to yourself in the third person:

"My boss always said that if something needs to get done, give it to Jane and you know it will not only be done right away, it will also be done right."

"My professor once told my academic advisor, 'Tim is the one person I can continuously count on to give a 110 percent effort in every class.'"

"My coach called me 'The Dave' and coined the phrase, 'Give it to The Dave' when he had a game that needed saving. Even now, after I'm no longer on the team, he still uses 'Give it to The Dave' as his way of saying that it's time to put in the closer to win the game."

When you can quote what others have said about you, you have elevated the view of who you are to the shoulders of others. From that vantage point, your value increases substantially. Take note of what others say about you. And be ready to quote the quotables. Ideally, if you have a letter of recommendation which includes the quote, that will provide you with a concrete reference and leave behind to solidify the example.

The Experience of a Lifetime Technique

One of the most difficult questions at the entry level can be the "experience" question. If you have applicable work experience in your chosen occupation, great! Make the most of it and capitalize on this area to differentiate yourself from your competition.

But what if you don't? What if your experience consists primarily of flipping burgers at McDonald's? Don't answer apologetically, as many do, that you really don't have any real experience. Instead, use the Experience of a Lifetime Technique to solidify your background and confirm your ability to do the job:

"Thank you for asking me about my experience. I understand the need to review my past experience to determine whether or not I'm able to accomplish the tasks necessary for this job. I have, in fact, had a lifetime of experience that is directly related to this job. For example, I've learned…"

Then go on to relate life experiences and what those have taught you or how they have prepared you for this job. These responses can include the generic, which would apply to any position ("I've learned the ethics of hard work and seeing a job through to completion, whatever the cost, during my summers working for my uncle on his farm. One summer, my uncle broke his leg, and the entire family counted on me to…"), to the specific ("I've learned through my classes how to utilize object-oriented development tools to efficiently develop modular systems that can be used across a series of platforms. In fact, in the capstone project in my final year…").

Then close by detailing your personal attributes: "I've learned that for a company to succeed, it needs people who are ready and willing to put forth their very best effort. People who aren't afraid to work hard. People who are dependable. That is the experience that I bring to you and your company."

Modify the above to suit your own needs, but please don't regress to the "I really don't have any experience line." The interview is as good as over if that is your response.

Read more:

How to Effectively Reframe Interview Questions