At its essence, a successful job interview involves telling an extended story. In most interviews, you will be asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, talk about a time when you solved a problem, and explain what makes you stand out from other candidates. Each of these questions (and others) is an opportunity to tell a story about yourself. The key to telling an effective story during an interview is to be ready to share an impactful narrative that connects with the position you’re seeking.

Remember that telling a story during your interview is different than telling a story to friends or family. Depending on your audience, you may need to tweak details of your narrative. You’ll also want to have several stories on hand to illustrate different aspects of your work lifeand you’ll want to practice your stories in advance to ensure you sound confident in the moment.

During your interview preparation, keep the following guidelines in mind: 

Answer the question

Whether you’re asked a question such as “Tell me about a time you had to work collaboratively” or “Share a lesson you learned by making a mistake,” be sure to start with a clear and concise statement that addresses the question before sharing further details. 

Offer some background

Once you have opened with a strong answer, you can elaborate, providing more details on the background and context of that particular situation or problem. The goal is to offer enough information that the interviewer understands what happened without going off on tangents that aren’t relevant.

Explain your part

Now that you have directly answered the initial question and shared further explanation, you need to indicate how you played a role in the given situation. Remember to be specific about your role, even if you are telling a story about a challenge or problem. Own your part in the outcome. Don’t blame or congratulate someone else for an outcome you created. 

Share the outcome

Now, explain the end result of the situation. How did you solve the problem or issue? What did you do that succeeded or failed? How did your coworkers or the customer view the outcome?

Identify the lesson

Finally, your story needs to recognize the lessons you learned from the experience. Even if the interviewer has asked you to share a negative from your career history, think of a storytelling answer in advance that allows you to put a positive spin on the mistake. Remember to always emphasize what you’ve learned in your career from each experience that you share.