Mastering The Art Of Story Telling
by Tom Washington

Aloof as they may seem, employers want you to get them excited. Show that you can make or save them money, solve their operational problems, or ease their workloads, and they'll be thrilled to hire you. Merely saying you can increase productivity or get staff members to work as a team isn't enough. You must support your claims with vivid examples.

People remember best those things that are stored in their minds as pictures. In fact, some brain research indicates that memories are stored as holograms. This means that if words pass from your mouth and do not create any images or emotions in the minds of employers, those words will literally pass through one ear and out the other – there will be no impact or long-term memory.

Consider what happens when a person is asked to describe herself. She may declare that she is hard working, energetic, a true leader, and a person who can successfully juggle multiple tasks. The problem here is that she is trying to sell too many things at once and doesn't do a good job with any of them. Because she doesn't back up any of the claims with examples, none of the points will be remembered after she leaves the interview.

Telling stories has become so important that an entire form of interviewing has been built around it known as behavior-based interviewing. In this rapidly growing style of interview, each question actually demands the sharing of a specific experience.  Questions might include, "Give me an example of a time when you solved a difficult problem," or "Describe an experience where you had to deal with an angry customer." The interviewer will not allow you to go on to the next question until a specific example has been provided.

Employers Will Remember You For Weeks

Using anecdotes to describe job skills is a highly effective interview technique. In less than three minutes you can tell a powerful story that will cause interviewers to remember you favorably for weeks. Since employers know that the best predictor of future success is past success, tell stories which vividly describe your successes.

Stories Have Impact

Stories are important because they can say so much about you in a concentrated way. Paul Green, the founder of a firm which teaches corporations how to utilize behavior-based interviewing, gives an excellent example of how telling stories in an interview can make a difference. While conducting an interview he asked the candidate for an example that would demonstrate a strong commitment to completing tasks.

The candidate described a time when he had had his appendix removed on Thursday and was back in the office on Monday – to the dismay of his coworkers. His explanation was that work was piling up and he might as well do everything he could, even though he was only able to work a few hours each day for the first week.

The story provided strong evidence that he was a driven, hard-working person. The memory he provided was that he was "the appendix guy." To this day, when Paul Green thinks about this person, all he has to say to himself is, "the appendix guy," and a flood of memories and emotions return. The beauty of stories is that they can evoke a recollection of many skills, qualities, abilities, and characteristics.

How To Tell A Story

When telling stories, provide all of the key information. Describe the situation and the challenges you faced. Then describe your analysis and the recommendations you made. Next, describe what you implemented and the results you obtained. Complete the story by describing how your work benefited the organization. As you end the story, remind the interviewer of the skills you demonstrated.

Even though many questions do not invite stories, you need to be prepared so that when an opportunity to tell a story presents itself, you'll be ready with your best example. To tell effective stories:

+ Provide all of the key information
+ Describe the situation as you came into it – problems and challenges included
+ Describe your analysis and recommendations
+ Describe what you implemented and the results you obtained
+ Create vivid images
+ Provide interesting details, but keep the story concise
+ Make the story interesting

Telling Stories Is Important To Interviewing Success

Today's interviewers are demanding examples and not just generalities. Behavior-based interviewing, while growing rapidly, is practiced by perhaps only 10% of all interviewers. Its effectiveness in enabling employers to choose the best candidate, however, has caused perhaps 30% of all interviewers to sprinkle their interviews with questions requiring examples.

A smart interviewee is prepared. Telling effective stories definitely requires practice. You must take time recalling many of your past experiences, particularly your accomplishments, before you enter the interview room. Without that previous recall, you will be unlikely to remember the experience during the tremendous pressure of an interview.

Not only should you tell stories when the question demands it, but you should look for opportunities to share examples because that is the best way to really impact employers. Effective story telling will yield more job offers.

For more on telling stories

Selling Yourself Through Accomplishments:

Master the Art of Story Telling:

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