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How to answer interview questions with a story

If you want to know how to answer interview questions, the key to success in any interview is knowing what your interviewer needs, then pointing out how you, your experience, your education, your enthusiasm, or your skills can help meet those needs.

Next develop 2-3 TRUE stories you want to tell that pull together both lists, your interviewer’s needs and your skills. Write those stories on index cards and practice them until you can tell the stories fluently and convincingly. You might even consider recording yourself on a video camera to see what your interviewer will see. Correct any flaws that jump out at you, then ask a friend, preferably one that will always tell you the truth, to watch your video and critique it. Ask this friend to NOT hold anything back (and don’t get your feelings hurt either). You need this honesty so you can make improvements in your delivery.

Finally, at the interview use whatever questions come along to tell your well rehearsed stories. Always answer the question, but find a natural point to launch one of your stories. If you did your homework, those questions will be aligned with your stories. Weaving them in will seem natural.

Thee common areas you’ll be able to weave in a story could stem from these types of questions:

  1. Tell me about a time that you led a team.
  2. Tell me about a time that you failed.
  3. Tell me about a time that you dealt with an unproductive employee.

People remember stories much better than raw facts. Without some good, memorable stories your candidacy with this position could be just another in a long list of qualified applicants. With a few highly memorable stories about how you solved problems in the past, you stand a much better chance of flipping a switch in your interviewer’s mind that will make you a natural fit while your interview becomes more conversational and less like a traditional interview.

When you’re crafting accounts of your successes, remember use the S.O.N.A.R. method to give them added punch.

S – situation. Briefly explain the situation but don’t spend too much time laying the background. Max time = 15 – 25 seconds.
O – opportunity. Relate to the interviewer what the opportunity was and why it was important. Max time = 10 – 15 seconds.
N – next action. Explain what you did, the actions you took and why you took them. Max time 45 – 60 seconds. <
A – alternatives. Make certain the interviewer knows what alternatives you considered and how you may have adapted to any changes that arose during the process. Max time = 20 – 30 seconds.
R – results. What happened? Make certain you can quantify your results in terms of verifiable, believable numbers. Max time = 10 – 15 seconds.

If you’d like to read more about how to answer interview questions to prepare for your next job interview, check out The Inner View of Your Interview today and read the motivations behind and the best answers to 100 interview questions!


  1. Sustainable PF

    Great post on interviewing techniques. By being prepared for an interview I have discovered that I find my confidence. Interviewing is about preparation, homework and practice/repetition.

    • Tom Drake

      It’s been a few years since I’ve been in an interview, but it seems worthwhile to practice it and have an idea what to expect.

  2. Steve Zussino

    Great strategies.

    I have never heard of that device before.

    It helps connect you with the interviewer.

    • Tom Drake

      Yeah, I’ll definitely be looking to work a story in if I have an interview in the future.

  3. moneyedup

    Stories are key. Telling a story lets the interviewer feel like they have a chance to get to know you which is a huge part of the interview process.

    • Tom Drake

      It’s always good to make the interviewer genuinely like you, not just be impressed with your experience and education.

  4. LifeAndMyFinances

    Great point! I have recently been in a few interviews and it’s tough to know what question their going to throw at you! Having these stories ready to go is a great idea though.

    • Tom Drake

      Exactly, have some prepared stories and work them in naturally.

  5. Joe Plemon

    Who doesn’t love a good story? This post, written by someone who conducts interviews, gives credibility to the concept of preparing stories for an upcoming interview…a concept I had not considered. Great post.

    • Tom Drake

      Ron does have some good ideas. I’ll be reading his ebook if I have an interview coming up!

  6. Towkay

    I like the SONAR method. It is a handy framework that helps me to remember how to respond to the interviewer. I always revise and use such useful tools to prepare myself before each interview as a way to overcome my nervousness.

    • Tom Drake

      Using SONAR might make me over think things a bit, but I guess it’s all about practice.

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