Humans have told stories since the first Neanderthals described, and probably exaggerated, their hunting prowess around a fire. Not only was it important to be an excellent hunter, but it was also important to get the whole clan to believe you were. Otherwise, your days as a leader would be 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 sabre-toothed tigers. But definitely, we use words 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 storytelling impact interview success?
The stories you tell and how you tell them about yourself and your experience reinforce your personal brand. These stories can help you establish yourself 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.
Make sure that these 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—tell a prospective employer you’re not just the right person for the job. You’re the only person that's a good fit 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 align with the job description and company requirements. But acing it? That depends on what happens when you’re asked questions during the interview process.
Questions such as: “Tell me about a time you….” or “What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?”.
Your communication skills and body language reflect how you function and cope with situations and experiences. They also show how you deal with 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? Do you feel confident?
That’s when you must pull a few good stories out of your hat.
You don’t need to be the next Ernest Hemingway. Your greatest strength doesn't need to be a natural storyteller. You just have to acquire a few skills. However, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.
How you recount your experiences and answer questions 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 during 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:
prepare your tale
This is important because everyone—even the most seasoned storyteller—gets nervous in interview situations.
Make sure you know the highlights of your resume. Make sure that you research the company you’re interviewing for and work on common interview questions and answers. You want them to see you as the solution to their problem.
In situational interview questions, be brief and to the point. Don't keep talking in circles once you’ve had the hiring manager listening. 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 members, or in a mirror. Do this 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.
create a structure
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, challenges, trials, and 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 it later). Here are some crucial stages to remember:
- 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
tell your story
- listen carefully in the interview to respond correctly to the appropriate question.
- show excitement in real life when you’re telling stories—you’re cueing people on how they should respond to you.
- be flexible—interview questions come in different shapes and sizes.
- be positive—even if the question is negative.
- 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
Remember, you’ll get better at storytelling 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 the project manager, I was responsible for delegating, creating spreadsheets, setting delivery dates and managing 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 to assemble what we needed before we lost our key players to the holidays. I held several phone meetings over different time zones to 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, but we delivered a successful submission two days early. The company has subsequently been identified as a Vendor of Record for this client, with a 33% increase in billings.
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 my story is connected?
You already know when people are locked into your conversations or when they’re not. The hiring manager either maintains eye contact or looks away. You'll notice that they sit still or they shift restlessly. Or maybe they’re making notes or doodling in the margins.
When you’ve told stories that resonate and have an impact, they—and you—will be remembered. And hired, hopefully achieving your career goals.