In this article we compare the role of formulations in the construction of narratives in two institutional settings: police interrogations and job interviews. The data, 20 police interrogations (22. h) and 20 job interviews (14. h), are analyzed from a conversation analytic perspective (e.g. Heritage and Clayman, 2010). Formulations have been studied in various institutional settings, as this special issue also demonstrates, but comparative studies are still rare (but see Drew, 2003; Sliedrecht 2013). This study shows how the interactional and sequential embedding of one kind of formulation, the challenging formulations (ChallFs), differs depending on the setting, and that its function is directly related to the institutional tasks of the police officer (to find the truth) and the recruiter (to assess the applicant). In these two settings formulations are part of the process in which the professional, together with the layperson, transforms the layperson's story to fit the institutional requirements. The sequential analysis of ChallFs in two different settings illustrates how a comparative research design reveals specific interactional patterns that are related to the institutional setting in which they are used. Consequently, these findings are relevant for the conversational practice of the respective professionals working in those settings.