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Hey Interviewers: What Is Your Story?

23 November 2021

Photo by Etienne Girardet

Interviewing is an undervalued storytelling opportunity. Many interviewers prioritize the limited amount of time they have with candidates trying to extract as much data as they can about if and how well they will be able to perform the duties and functions of their job. And I get it: hiring is critically important to the success of the organization and culture of the team. However, we’ve all heard the old adage that candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. So, how do you strike the balance between allowing candidates to tell their story, and the opportunity to tell your own?

Let’s start by focusing on why you, as an interviewer, should tell your story. The most obvious example is because you’re in “sell mode.” But you’re not just selling a role. You’re selling an experience, growth opportunities, and interpersonal relationships. From the moment you get in a room (or a Zoom) with a candidate, you begin investing in their success. Similarly, they are investing in you; candidates recognize the magnitude of the decision they are contemplating, and it is your responsibility as the interviewer to help that candidate make the most informed decision possible.

Your story is not a scripted narrative to recite to candidates who are coming through. It is something you’ve created after deliberate thought and reflection, with the knowledge that what you personally learn from this introspection can be incorporated into your time with candidates. As a storyteller, you represent three distinct protagonists: yourself, the team, and the company. It is your job to paint the picture of how these three stories intersect and converge.

Your reflection can start with a few prompts that, for this exercise, we can bucket into those three protagonists you represent — although you may find the answers blur the boundaries significantly.

You

  • What prompted you to join?

  • Where were you before this?

  • What were you looking to do next?

  • What was important to you when you were making a decision?

  • What is keeping you at the company?

The Team

  • What makes the team awesome?

  • What are the biggest growth areas or gaps on the team?

  • How do any of the team’s gaps affect you personally?

  • What’s the culture of this team like, and what makes it unique?

  • Who are the members of the immediate team who truly embody the culture you want to foster? What about the “extended” team?

The Company

  • What are the company’s values, and how do you find yourself incorporating them?

  • Do you have any tangible examples personally or within the team where you’ve seen these values show up?

  • How has the organization supported you on your own personal or professional journey?

  • What’s the company's story? Where did it start, where is it now, and where is it going in the future? What’s your role in that growth and ongoing transformation?

Some candidates may come straight out and ask these questions directly (and in fact, there are many great resources for candidates advising to ask these types of questions). These are the types of questions whose answers you don’t want to improvise and neither should you try to come up with the ideal responses you believe the candidates want to hear. It is your responsibility to bring your true, authentic self to the interview, and you should not settle for anything less than what you truly believe. 

As you answer these questions, you may also start to think about how others on the interview panel would answer them. The idea of coming together to discuss these stories with your fellow interviewers can be a double-edged sword. It can be a fantastic opportunity to share your experiences and perspectives with your peers that can help shape a collective perspective on what you’re looking for in your ideal next hire. However, you must be careful that your story doesn’t become the panel’s story. A curious over-alignment between panelists or obvious duplication can result in the conversations you  lead with candidates being inauthentic.


If you enter interviews with potential team members with the mindset of grilling them, you’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity for storytelling. While learning about job candidates’ capabilities is certainly important, so, too, is providing them with a glimpse into who you are, as well as what it’s like to be a member of the team and what the company is all about. This style of communication, based on authenticity, is apt to be a boon to your hiring efforts.

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