How to Master Effective Storytelling in Interviews

Published: Aug 02, 2017

 Career Readiness       Education       Grad School       Interviewing       Job Search       MBA       

You feel nervous about your career stories, and the fact that you have to tell stories in interviews drives you bananas. You're not sure whether your stories are even any good. You don't know if what you did was even that special.

For example: "What's your GREATEST career accomplishment?" That's a BIG question!

You think, "How am I supposed to answer that? How do I know for sure what my greatest career accomplishment is?"

Then you spend a lot of time mulling over which story would be best to tell, not believing that any of them are going to be as good as the stories the other candidates might have anyway.

You're not alone, and in this post, I'll break down a simple framework by which you can remember your story, along with some quick and dirty example stories to give you inspiration.

Use the formula:

To tell a good story, keep it short but interesting, and include the necessary details for the story to make sense. Stories are the best way to form a human connection. Stats show that hiring managers are hesitant to bring someone on board who is so polished and professional that it's difficult to connect with them on a human level.

You want to be able to loosen up a bit in your stories, let some of your personality shine through, and let them see who you truly are. Being professional is great, but hiring managers want to hire humans, not robots or drones, so let them see what's different about you with each story that you tell.

You can use the SARI formula to develop your storytelling strategy. SARI stands for:

  • Situation (or task)
  • Action
  • Result
  • Interesting features (bonus!)

Here's an example:

"Tell me about a time you showed creativity at work."


"I was asked to do a presentation on behalf of the marketing department."


"I saw this as an opportunity to think outside the box with the presentation, so I used different tools to keep the audience engaged: audience participation, funny video clips and photos, and hard data to make my points. While the rest of the departments were doing 'death-by-Powerpoint' presentations, I chose to get creative and actively engage the audience."


"We received the highest score amongst all other departments, and we were asked to do the same presentation (with some tweaks) for some of our clients at the next user conference."

Interesting Features: (Things you learned or fun highlights you can share quickly)

"Engagement is something you can actively work into a presentation. Too often, I see people zoning out on their phones, and that's something I successfully changed with this creative endeavor."

Be specific:

Being specific is so much more effective than being vague when getting to know someone, which is your goal in an interview so don't waste it!

Take these three sentences, for example:

  • We discussed it over lunch.
  • We discussed it over sandwiches.
  • We discussed it over soggy tuna sandwiches.

What a difference right? The first one is vague, the middle one is a little more descriptive, and the last one paints a totally different picture.

You want your story to tell something about you that's cool and appealing. Don't just recount events, but paint a unique narrative about you that shows off your badass you-ness.

Take full advantage of this opportunity to connect:

To take advantage of this opportunity fully, you need to be a little bit vulnerable in some of your stories. If they ask you to tell them about a time you made a mistake at work or a time you disagreed with a coworker or boss, you want to tell a story that shows you're human and can own up to lessons learned. We all don't know what we don't know, so it's common to make mistakes regularly, and it's what we learn from them that is more important than the errors themselves. 

For example, say you forgot to do something. You can say how you felt and share your plan as to how you will never let that same mistake happen again. I.E. "Now I set multiple reminders and ask others to hold me accountable." 

A sign of a strong candidate is one that can admit their mistakes and share what they learned freely. 

A sign of a weak candidate is one that will blame others for their mistake instead at looking at what they could have done differently. 

Unless the mistake is that you killed someone or did something illegal, then share your mistakes and lessons freely. You may think it makes you look bad, but in fact, most people aren't willing to be that vulnerable, and anyone human can relate. 

I've put together some example stories in a resource for you called The Ultimate Guide to Situational Based Interviewing. In it, I include 10 examples of compelling stories that use the SARI formula. The guide includes fill-in-the-blank templates for you to fill in your own stories, as well as 25 questions you can ask yourself to help you find the stories you want to tell in your next interview. 

You can get a copy of that here.

Thanks so much for reading. I'll see you in the next post!