The one caution these participants had about the storied responses was to make them as concise as possible and not too wordy. Participants wanted details “ but not too many. “Although one does not want to go overboard when talking about [oneself],” one participant said, “it is important to incorporate the needs of the employer with the qualities of person being interviewed.”
Typically, career experts advise candidates to respond to behavioral-interview questions with stories. “Your examples are best told through a story format,” writes Carole Martin in Boost Your Interview I.Q. “The more interesting and relevant the story is, the more the interviewer will want to hear further examples.”
“Evidence shows that behavioral description questions require respondents to tell stories and that storytelling is now critical to applicants’ success in employment interviews,” write scholars Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant, whose research in Business Communication Quarterly (2003) of other academic studies of storytelling in behavioral interviewing suggests that stories told in interviews garner attention, serve as a way to make the applicant memorable, and describe past behavior in an appealing way.
Not Just Stories, but Stories Well Told With storytelling well established as a way of responding to behavior-based questions, the scholarly study by Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant focuses on how to measure and improve the quality of stories told in the interview. The authors present a set of criteria for an effective story to be used in a job interview:
- Internal consistency: Is the story cohesive? Does it avoid confusion and disjunction? Is the narrative consistent with the skills, abilities, and values the job-seeker wants to portray?
- Consistency with facts the listener knows to be true: Does the story conform to what the interviewer is likely to have experienced or knows about the environment the job-seeker is describing? Is it familiar and believable?
- Relevance to question asked and claim being made: In essence, does the story answer the question being asked? Does it provide appropriate evidence to support the skill, ability, knowledge, or characteristic the job-seeker is claiming?
- Univocality: Is the story unambiguous? Does it lead to just a single conclusion or interpretation?
- Detail that supports the claim being made: Is the story revealing? Does it, in the words of Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant, “provide telling details of plot, characterization, and action that enable listeners to see for themselves what the point is?”
- Reflection of the job-seeker’s values, beliefs, sense of self/others, or emotional outlook: Does the job-seeker tell the story with sufficient passion so that it conveys a real sense of the applicant and how he or she might fit in with the employer’s organization?