Storytelling has existed since the beginnings of the human race, helping people not only entertain one another, but also pass along vital information. A spoken narrative is a superb way to communicate values, or bend a community’s opinion. It is, in short, a powerful tool in a wide variety of circumstances, including job interviews.
While a typical hiring manager doesn’t expect you to recite the Iliad as part of your next interview, you should prepare a few stories about your career. Such stories will allow you to more effectively imprint yourself in the mind of anyone you’re trying to impress.
Before you walk into an interview, develop an idea of which stories you want to tell that put your career in the best possible light. Vadim Bichutskiy, chief data scientist and CEO of Angel Technology Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting company, wants to hear stories that illustrate a candidate’s personal and professional forward movement. “From a technical point of view, I’d like to know how the candidate grew from his previous experience and employment,” he said. “What challenges did they overcome? What technologies did they learn?”
When asked a question that gives you the opportunity to express yourself, you don’t need to plunge immediately into a narrative. First, use a simple “setup” phrase such as, “I’ve got a story about that very thing.” That will buy you a few seconds while you collect your thoughts. Next, set the stage with a few sentences of background, e.g.: “I was working for a large health insurance company in Milwaukee as part of a legacy software team of ten when…”
“There are beats to telling story,” said Stephanie Hubbard, a documentary filmmaker and editor, who suggests that you prepare by breaking your account into parts:
- Identify the goal
- Describe the obstacle that got in the way
- Explain the decision that turned the tide
- Illustrate the ultimate result of your decision
The right narrative arc will show off your problem-solving abilities. “It’s you triumphing over a problem,” Hubbard continued, “while showing compassion for the people who may have caused it, or it’s you showing a nuanced understanding of the elements that stood in your way. You don’t need to make yourself out to be the hero. The story should demonstrate a lot positive aspects of your character like problem solving, being a team player, flexibility, etc.”
If you’re able to tell the right story at the right point in the interview, there’s a good chance that the interviewer will gravitate towards you over other candidates. But before you walk into that interview, consider practicing your storytelling with a friend. Make sure the beats are all in the right place, and keep things brief and lively.