Human beings have been telling stories since the first Neanderthals described (and probably exaggerated) their hunting prowess around a fire. Not only was it imperative to be an excellent hunter, it was even more important to get the whole clan believing you were, otherwise your days as clan leader were limited. Your very existence depended on your ability to grunt your story in the most engaging, compelling way.
Not words we would normally associate with hunting saber-toothed tigers. But definitely words we use when we talk about selling ourselves and getting others – particularly people in hiring power – to listen to, and engage with us. And ideally to offer us the position we’re after, the career we’ve trained for or the raise we’ve earned.
How does telling stories impact my success in an interview?
The stories you tell and how you tell them about yourself and your experience reinforce your personal brand and establish you as a three-dimensional representation of the person you are in your resume.
It’s important to understand we’re not talking about storytelling as an exercise in fiction. The opposite is true. You’re taking facts and creating connections and links so your work history, education, behaviour and personality all come together cohesively to convince an interviewer of the unique value you bring to the job. Your narrative connects the dots - the details of your working life - that tell a prospective employer you’re not just the right person for the job, you’re the only person for the job.
You’re the hero of your own story. The ability to create a compelling narrative has that kind of power.
You get the opportunity to interview because your skills and experience line up with the job and company requirements. But acing it? That depends on what happens during the interview when you’re asked questions like: “Tell me about a time you….”, or “What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?”. Your answers speak to how you function and cope with situations, experiences or projects similar to those you might encounter in the new position. Do you step up or fold? Do you lead or disappear into the woodwork? Can you communicate clearly? That’s when you need to pull a few good stories out of your hat.
You don’t have to be a natural storyteller; you just have to acquire a few skills. And the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. How you recount your experiences will depend on your personality and personal style. Don’t fake it – let your storytelling style reflect the best parts of your personality.
Imagine the impact you’ll have in meetings, presentations, networking situations, and with your co-workers, not to mention the confidence you’ll develop. And who couldn’t use more confidence on the job?
Here are some tips to help you become the most sought-after storyteller in the cave:
This is important because everyone – even the most seasoned storyteller – gets nervous in interview situations.
- Make sure you know the highlights of your resume, research the company you’re interviewing for, and work on connecting your experience with the role. You want them to see you as the solution to their problem.
- Be brief and to the point. Once you’ve got ‘em, don’t lose ‘em by wandering. Your story should take no more than three minutes to tell.
- When you’ve got a list, practice – out loud, in front of friends or family, or a mirror – until you can create a speech pattern and pace that you’re comfortable with. The importance of hearing your own voice out loud can’t be overstated. This is how you learn to think on your feet.
Every good story, book, script or screenplay has a beginning, middle and end, conflict and resolution. Maybe not in that order, but they’re there. It’s called a narrative arc. In the Story of You, you’re the hero who goes through a journey of discovery through challenges and trials, to resolution. And the stories you tell should show your development and progress. The higher the stakes, the more riveting your story will be.
Write your story outline in four or five sentences (you can embellish later):
- an intro that sets the scene – location, setting, time, the characters
- introduction of conflict – a problem that requires action, what’s at stake
- build to a climax – increasing challenge, how the problem was resolved
- the resolution – resolving tension created by the conflict
- the end – the theme or moral, reinforces the point of the story, what you want the listener to take away from the story
Telling the Story
- Listen carefully in the interview so you’re giving the correct response to the appropriate question.
- Show excitement when you’re telling stories. You’re cuing people as to how they should respond to you.
- Be flexible. Interview questions come in different shapes and sizes.
- Be positive. Even if the question is negative. It’s your job to turn it around, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
- Let your personality shine through. Remember, they’re also assessing whether or not you’re someone they want to work with.
Easier said than done.
Perhaps, in the beginning. But remember, we said you’ll get better at it the more you do it.
Here’s how those elements might come together in a job interview situation:
“I was the project manager in a marketing team of four. One of our company’s largest client targets issued a massive RFQ with a quick turnaround just before Christmas. This was really important to our organization and it was a matter of pride for us that we’d never missed a deadline.
As project manager, it was my responsibility to delegate, create spreadsheets, set delivery dates and manage the process and participants. That was especially challenging as several of our key knowledge experts had already either left on vacation or were planning to.
I pulled some all-nighters on that project so I could assemble what we needed before we lost our key players to holidays. I held several phone meetings over different time zones so I could build the response.
My team said I inspired them - we did several 12 – 14 hour days. We wrote the sections of the RFQ as I’d designated, created appropriate graphics and sent the document to our VP of marketing, who proofed it from his cruise deck chair.
We not only met our deadline, we delivered a successful submission two days early. The company has subsequently been identified as a Vendor of Record for this client, with an increase in billings of 33%.
What I learned from this was that I manage teams successfully. I inspire those around me to perform optimally. I will bring my organizational skills and my ability to motivate and inspire your team as your new marketing manager.”
How will I know if I’ve connected?
You already know when people are locked in to your conversations or when they’re not. They either maintain eye contact or they look away. They sit still or they shift restlessly. They’re making notes or they’re doodling in the margins. They ask questions or they change the subject. Or worse, check their cell phones.
When you’ve told stories that resonate and have impact, they – and you – will be remembered. And hired.