MBA Monday: Stories Can Help You In Your Interview

by on January 28th, 2013

Today’s article was written by Judy Herbstman, Forté Fellow MBA 2014, Stern School of Business at NYU.

I had one horrible interview. I was thrown off by an early question about my favorite class in college. It was too far back for me to remember clearly and I spent the rest of the interview playing catch up. My mind completely emptied and I couldn’t think of any examples for any of the questions. I ended up sounding hollow and unmotivated.

So, what did I learn? How did I use this experience to shore up my interviewing skills and feel confident going into an interview? I prepared stories. Because I was so worried about blanking again, I prepared examples in advance without associating them with questions. This method allowed me to be more nimble and spend precious thinking time on how to express myself rather than on what to say.

Before each interview, I came up with 5-10 stories from the past week or month, or even last several years that I thought portrayed me in a positive light. They were not all successes or strengths, and they had real complexity. I picked complicated situations because they felt more genuine, but also so that they would be versatile and I could use them to answer any question. The same story could be a response to “have you ever disagreed with your boss,” “tell me about a time you failed,” or “what motivates you.” In addition, you can use them as examples when talking about your goals or accomplishments.

In advance, I considered my role in the stories and also how other participants would judge them. By thinking about the stories from several angles, I was able to be more thoughtful during the interview and more reflective about lessons learned and implications. When the interviewer asked a question, I quickly did a mental scan through my stories and picked the one that was most fitting, and then elaborated and applied it to the question.

To prepare these stories, ask yourself about recent times that you demonstrated leadership, did something difficult, or did something without a clear answer. Develop the stories in your head and if possible, practice telling them to a friend or mentor. Make sure that they ring true to you and that you can tell them without having to hide parts of who you are. These stories will end up being invaluable in your interviews. Good luck!

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