Guest blog by Indiana Briar
When employers spend hours and hours talking to multiple applicants with similar qualifications, it’s hard for you to stand out. After all, rehearsed answers may be impressive, but they aren’t memorable.
When it comes to making an impact, your biggest asset as a job hunter is the stories you tell.
Storytelling breaks the monotony and transactional atmosphere of an interview. It’s personal and gives insights into your character. But more importantly, it’s the most effective way to capture your potential employer’s attention. A study from Northwestern University shows that stories can heighten the impact of facts, so when it comes to convincing your employers of your qualifications, storytelling can do the trick.
How storytelling makes your interview more effective
This NPR article on the science of storytelling discusses how, among different methods of delivering information, storytelling has a particular influence on attitudes and behaviours on a neurological level. So although your CV/resume already summarises your credentials, telling stories in an interview is your chance to show your character and convince the interviewer of your value.
Whether your meeting is online or offline, tips on mastering an interview from LHH emphasise the need to connect personally to make yourself stand out as a unique individual. Sharing appropriate stories in an interview helps to create that connection, making you more memorable and attractive to potential employers.
How to tell your professional story using the stories-that-sell recipe
Have your stories ready
Before stepping into an interview, be familiar with the stories that you have in your arsenal. Try to recall personal as well as professional experiences, and reflect on how they demonstrate your strengths. Being prepared ensures that you’re not caught off guard, and that you have options to choose from once the interview starts.
Choose a theme and work with it
Knowing what would benefit your potential employer and team helps you choose the right stories to tell. Choose the qualities and skills you want to highlight, and structure your stories around those. Remember that the same story can have different angles. How your audience perceives it depends on which details you focus on.
Give the right details
Use your interviewer’s time wisely. When telling a story, stick only to the fundamental details that will get your point across: where it happened, who was involved, what your role was, and your result. Back it up with facts, like numbers or outcomes, so that your employer can get a sense of how effectively you perform.
Use your challenges as an asset
Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows how narrative storytelling can capture excitement for technical information. Your results might look good on paper, but they’re elevated when you accompany them with the proper narrative. Talk about your challenges, how you got over them, and who helped, to convince your employer of your capacity to learn, your resourcefulness, and how well you can work in a team.
Persuade with a takeaway
You don’t want to leave your interviewer hanging, so you need to provide them with a conclusion that satisfies their initial question. This is your opportunity to tell them why your story proves they should hire you. Research published on NIH suggests that positive stories have a higher chance of improving interpersonal closeness, so framing your stories positively can have a big impact on your interviewer.
Drive your story home by telling them how this experience helped you, and how those lessons have influenced your behaviour moving forward.
Common Interview Questions
Tell me about yourself?
Interviewers ask this open-ended question because they want to know what you consider significant about yourself. Applicants commonly answer this question by outlining their qualifications, but an alternative approach is to use this opportunity to build rapport with your interviewer.
Instead of repeating what you’ve already mentioned on your resume, give them a quick story that may be unrelated to the job you’re applying for and tie that into how it reflects on your character. For instance, you can talk about hobbies or interests you got into recently and how your engagement with them demonstrates or enhances your strengths.
Try the Trust me, I'm an Expert tactic to help you show your character and values in action.
Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge at work?
When employers ask this, they want to know how resourceful you are and how well you perform under pressure. It’s best to go with a challenging situation applicable to the position you’re applying for, and the concrete actions you took to address it. When telling your story, highlight points that demonstrate qualities beneficial to employees such as working well with a team or delivering outputs on time.
Try the Man in a Hole tactic to help you turn your struggle story into a compelling hook.
How do you deal with stressful situations?
This question gauges how well you understand your response to stress, and if you cope with it well. It’s a tricky one – you don’t want your employers thinking that you are incapacitated by stress. But when it comes to choosing your story, the key here is growth.
Your storytelling skills will be put to the test as you’ll need to frame your stress positively. It seems contradictory, but fundamentally it’s all down to how you process the mental strain you felt at the time. Talk about how you felt and acted, what you learned, and how it shaped your approach to stress moving forward.
The Emotional Dashboard tactic can help you identify the right story to tell for this situation.
Tell me about a time you succeeded as part of a team
Employers want to hire someone that they know will fit in well with their existing team. When telling this story, make sure you exhibit reflexivity by expressing your understanding of your team’s needs and how you fit into the dynamic. You will have to outline a challenge that you faced with the team, but make sure that you acknowledge everyone’s efforts and how they helped you. Rather than portraying yourself as the sole hero, talk about how the people around you influenced your own performance.
Give the Rags to Riches tactic a go for this one - it'll help you identify your 'rise to success' story.
Other Interview Tips
Use storytelling appropriately
Sometimes, storytelling isn’t the most appropriate way to respond. Make sure that you use the technique only when the situation calls for it. If the interviewer asks a question that merits a quick response, go ahead and give it. This will heighten the impact of your stories when you tell them.
Everyone is a storyteller – you do it every day when talking to friends and family. But mastering storytelling in a way that captivates your audience and sells your story takes practise. This is a skill that you'll need through the course of your career, when you network professionally, and even when you’re just hanging out with your loved ones. Pip Deck's Storyteller Tactics cards provides you with storytelling frameworks, prompts and exercises that help you improve your storytelling skills to captivate your audience.
Interviewers are people too. No matter how well you think you can assess your performance based on their responses, the reality is that you can’t be sure until you get the call. So don’t get too caught up in how well (or badly) you did post-interview. If nothing else, it might just make for a good story next time.
For more tips and tactics on learning how to craft stories for business (or pleasure!), check out more posts on the Storytelling blog, where Storyteller Tactics author Steve Rawling guides you through how to get started with his card deck.