Journal of Business and Psychology

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 593–604 | Cite as

Storytelling in the Selection Interview? How Applicants Respond to Past Behavior Questions

  • Adrian BangerterEmail author
  • Paloma Corvalan
  • Charlotte Cavin



Increased use of past behavior questions makes it important to understand applicants’ responses. Past behavior questions are designed to elicit stories from applicants. Four research questions were addressed: How do applicants respond to past behavior questions, in particular, how frequent are stories? When applicants produce stories, what narrative elements do they contain? Is story production related to applicants’ characteristics? Do responses affect interview outcomes?


Using a database of 62 real job interviews, the prevalence of five types of applicants’ response to past behavior questions were analyzed: story, pseudo-story, exemplification, value/opinion, and self-description. We also coded the narrative content of stories, distinguishing between situations, tasks/actions, and results. We analyzed relations between applicant characteristics (gender, age, personality, self-reported communication and persuasion skills, general mental ability) and response type. We used hierarchical multiple regression to predict hiring recommendations from response type.


Stories were only produced 23 % of the time. Stories featured more narrative elements related to situations than tasks, actions, or results. General mental ability and conscientiousness affected response types, and men produced more stories than women. There were differences in the storytelling rate according to the type of competency. Stories and pseudo-stories increased hiring recommendations, and self-descriptions decreased them.


Behavioral interviews may not be conducive to storytelling. Recruiters respond positively to narrative responses. More research is needed on storytelling in the selection interview, and recruiters and applicants might need training on how to encourage and tell accurate and representative stories.


Selection interview Storytelling Communication Narrative Behavioral questions 



Research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Sinergia project Interactional Competences in Institutional Practices: Young People between School and the Workplace, CRSII1_136291). The data were obtained from another Swiss National Science Foundation Sinergia project, SONVB, FNCRSII2-127542/1. We thank Dr. Daniel Gatica-Perez, IDIAP; Dr. Marianne Schmid Mast, University of Neuchatel; and Dr. Tanzeem Choudhury, Cornell University, for granting us access to their data. We thank Franciska Krings and Franziska Tschan for advice on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian Bangerter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paloma Corvalan
    • 1
  • Charlotte Cavin
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Work and Organizational PsychologyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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