7 Classic Story Plots for Your Interview

People have told stories since the earliest days of the oral tradition, passing on wisdom to their tribes and loved ones. Certain story plots have stood the test of time.

These seven classic plots could serve as the basis for many of your interview stories. They are so deeply woven into the human psyche that any interviewer will subconsciously recognise their power. Which stories you tell will depend on the nature of the role and your corresponding experience, but I am confident that you can come up with dozens of examples along the lines of these seven plots:

Overcoming the Monster.

“The character sets out to beat the villain who is threatening them or their homeland.” (Star Wars, Jaws, James Bond, Dracula, Theseus, Beowulf)

Whether it is an economic downturn or a competitor who has moved into your market, there are many monsters to contend with in the workplace. Dealing with adversity and eventually coming through will bring the hiring manager onto your side. Battling the demons within us can also make for a great career tale – when you tell a personal story about overcoming a monster, you never know when an interviewer might be able to relate.

Rags to Riches.

“A poor character gains money, power or love – loses it, then gains it back – on a journey of growth.” (Aladdin, Cinderella, Great Expectations, The Ugly Duckling, Pursuit of Happyness)

No career path is smooth, and many of us will have experienced lean times for one reason or another. Sharing that you have experienced the rollercoaster of success and failure a few times will demonstrate that you have the resilience to keep pushing, no matter what is going on around you. The Pursuit of Happyness is my favourite film – we have all fought hard for a better life at specific points in our careers.

The Quest.

“The character and friends set out for a destination or to acquire an object, facing trials along the way.” (Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, The Iliad, Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Some career goals are so lofty that we may never hit them, but whether we get there or not, it is the tests that we experience along the way that will help us to grow and develop. Sharing your best example of when you achieved an ambitious goal (and struggled to get there) will impress any employer. They will have plenty of quests awaiting the successful applicant, so demonstrate that you are up to the challenge.

Voyage and Return.

“The character travels to a strange land, learns about themselves and returns a changed person.” (The Hobbit, Peter Pan, Gulliver’s Travels, The Lion King, Back to the Future)

Each job is a voyage of discovery with uncharted seas, mysterious islands, unpredictable weather, and various travelling companions with different motives. Not being scared to set off on a journey where the destination is not entirely clear is crucial in many roles – you often need to change course as priorities change, convince others that you are going the right way and have an open mind to learn new things when you get there.

Comedy.

“Humorous character who enjoys a cheerful triumph over confusing and often adverse circumstances.” (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Austin Powers) 

You don’t want to come across as a clown, but some of the most compelling interviews include a few light-hearted moments where your sense of humour comes to the fore. Sharing a story where not everything went to plan shows that you don’t take yourself too seriously – comedy moments happen all the time in the workplace, so it would be strange if you only shared sensible stories for the entirety of the interview.

Tragedy.

“The main character with a major personal flaw that proves their ultimate undoing – the fall of a decent person.” (Macbeth, Citizen Kane, Anna Karenina, Romeo & Juliet, Hamilton)

This is one story category that might not be such suitable material for a job interview, but I include it as a cautionary tale. You will have likely had a few tragic “fails” with no redeeming features during your career, but an interview is not a place to talk about them. Do not think that talking about personal flaws is a show of humility – it is simply foolish. Naturally, we all have our faults, but choose to focus your stories on other things.

Rebirth.

“An external event forces the character to change their ways and become a better individual.” (A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, Groundhog Day)

There are moments in our lives when we choose to reinvent ourselves and start on a different path. This is a great story to tell if you are embarking on a new career path (you have done it before, so you know what it takes), but it might scare other employers if they see you as an unstable maverick who jumps from one goal to another. Take care to tell only one or two career rebirth stories – more frequent change will be frowned upon.