From our earliest years, we have been conditioned to respond positively to stories. As parents, we start reading stories to our children as soon as they are old enough to listen. There is a reason that Goodnight Moon has sold over 48 million copies since its original publication. A good story has the power to pull the listener into its orbit, infuse us with passion, and create lasting memories. And those memories can last a very long time.
My 94-year-old mother is in declining health. As the years have advanced, her world has shrunk. Current events, the news of the day, and facts and figures are no longer critical. What does matter to her are stories. She has a rotating library of about ten stories that she will share with any listener. These are not recent stories. The stories are from decades in the past. But when my mother tells one of the stories, her eyes light up and her voice fills with passion. As a listener, you can’t help but focus and pay attention even if you have heard the story 100 times before.
What do these stories have to do with the job search process? Nothing if you want to be dull and unremarkable in a job interview. Everything if you want to be memorable in the interview process and stand out from your competition. Here are a few tips on how to leverage storytelling to power up your job search and land your next job.
How many stories do I need?
The internet is filled with articles about how to prepare for and succeed in an interview. My favorites are the ones that list an astronomical number and say something like “The Top 75 Most Common Interview Questions and Answers.” How can one person possibly learn and memorize 75 questions and answers? If you do somehow retain all that information, you will look and sound like a robot in the interview. And who wants to hire a robot.
Instead, develop a library of 15 stories that you can use in almost every interview. Here is what that story library can look like as you do your interview preparation.
Identify the top five requirements, duties, and responsibilities for the target position. Develop one story for each requirement that demonstrates how you excelled at that duty or responsibility in your previous career or life experiences. Total Stories = 5.
Analyze the top three soft skills required for the target position. Develop one story for each soft skill that illustrates how you have mastered that skill in your previous career or life experiences. Total Stories = 3.
Examine the top 2 hard skills required for the target position. Develop one story for each hard skill that illustrates how you have mastered that skill in your previous career or life experiences. Total Stories = 2.
Study the organizational culture and values of the team you are considering for the target position. Develop a story that validates how that culture and values align well with your experience and future career aspirations. Total Stories = 1.
Develop a story around your greatest weakness. Make it a story about a real weakness, and that proves you have self-awareness and a path to improvement on the gap in your skillset. Total Stories = 1.
Craft two stories that highlight your greatest strengths and how each strength aligns with the target position and will drive a positive return on investment for the decision to extend you a job offer. Total Stories = 2.
Master one story that gets to the essence of your value proposition. This answer is more than a story. It is your elevator pitch and it should be customized to the target position and organization where you will be interviewing. Total Stories = 1.
Now you have a library of 15 compelling stories in your back pocket for the interview. When a successful politician is asked a question by a reporter or in a debate, does he or she ever answer the exact question? Not likely. The politician spins the question slightly and delivers the desired answer. You can do the same in each interview. Listen to the question asked then pivot your answer slightly to align with one of your stories. “That is an excellent question. It relates directly to the time when…insert your story.” With practice, you can learn to excel at this subtle story and conversational technique in every interview.
What makes for a good story structure?
You are in an interview. You are not sitting around a campfire telling stories where you have nothing, but time and the only requirements are the need to put another log on the fire and replenish your beer. Structure matters for the stories you tell in an interview. Clarity and a dose of brevity are your friends. I work best with a roadmap, so I like the STAR story structure. If you worked at Xerox for any length of time as I did, you learned to love acronyms. So here is the STAR acronym explained:
S = Situation. What was the situation you were facing?
T = Task. What was the task you had to take on the address the situation?
A = Action. What action did you take to complete the task and resolve the situation?
R = Result. What was the quantifiable result (with metrics) from your action?
Here is a real-world example of how to frame a STAR story to address a job posting requirement.
Job Posting Requirement: Develop and implement platform-specific strategies to grow clients’ presence across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as any emerging social media sites, with a focus on follower growth, engagement, and click-through.
Situation: The prospect engagement with our company's social media presence on major platforms had flattened with no growth for the past 12 months.
Task: We needed to create a strategic approach to attract new followers and increase engagement with solution-specific content.
Action: I collaborated with the Product Marketing team to determine what issues resonated currently with the target audience. Then I produced a new content library focused on today’s most critical challenges. Finally, I leveraged the MeetEdgar social media solution to automate daily postings from the content library on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn platforms.
Result: The results were impressive. Over the next 12 months, we averaged a 10% increase in net new followers across all four platforms and drove a 15% increase in engagement as measured by click-throughs to the hosted content.
Should I tell my story in a loud voice?
That is a rhetorical question. Volume does not matter. Of course, you want to make yourself heard. You want to speak with confidence. You want to tell your story with passion. Most importantly, you want to speak with your authentic voice. Put a little of yourself into every story. If you follow my blog, read my articles, or have seen any of my posts, you will recognize that I usually start with a personal story or observation.
Take this article as an example. I don’t just dive immediately into a bullet list of how to frame and tell stories in the job interview. I share a few of my feelings about storytelling and then a personal story about my family that relates to the topic of the article. That is my authentic voice. I want to open myself up to the reader, let you know that I am a real person and that I am confident in my skin.
My authentic voice works for me, and if you find your voice, it will work to your advantage in the job interview. We don’t want to hire and work with actors. We want to work with real people. If offered the job, you will spend a lot of time with the team and your hiring manager. They need to see and hear from you. I am assuming that you are a kind and decent person with a passion for the work you do and the organization that you join. Let that voices and personality come through loud and clear in the stories that you tell in every interview. This article has some valuable tips on how the world’s best public speakers develop and refine their authentic voices.
I could keep writing, but time is short. I need to call my mother to check in with her. I think she has a story to tell me and I can’t wait to hear it…again.
If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.
Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.