6 Ways to Control Your Narrative in a Job Interview

Wondering why a job interview didn’t go as planned? Maybe it’s because you struggled to control your narrative.

In this context, a narrative is the story of your career, achievements and attributes. Research shows that telling your story your way can help control the mind of the listener and inspire positive action.

With that in mind, why not take advantage of the powers of narrative? Here are some of the most effective techniques for driving the narrative in a job interview. 

Craft Your Narrative

What do you want the interviewer to know about you? What makes you unique (and the best person for the job)? Don’t wait to be asked. Control comes from having a story to tell, noted career coach Nance Rosen.

Before the interview, Rosen advised, define the values, personality traits, and two to three points you want to communicate. For instance, were you born to do analytics? Are you a discreet and pragmatic diplomat who can thrive in a highly political work environment? Choose words and messages that will not only reveal your character, but also resonate with the hiring manager.

Next, turn the bullet points into full-bodied answers by addressing the four areas of disclosure: people, places, things and time, explained Maryann Karinch, human behavior expert and co-author of “Control the Conversation.”

For example, an interviewer might ask: “What project are you most proud of?” It’s not enough to say: “Oh, that would be when we migrated our entire data center to the cloud.” Describe the size and scope of the project, who was involved, and how you mediated problems between any sparring team members. That will emphasize attributes you want to convey, such as communication and teamwork.

Create Anxiety

Use suspense and conflict in your narrative to capture the listener’s attention, Rosen said: “Let the interviewer see what you saw.”

Set the stage by describing the difficulties you encountered, the steps you took to rectify the problem, and how your actions made a positive impact on stakeholders and the company. The more crucial your role in the narrative, the better you’ll convey your skills and decision-making process.

Use Shock and Awe

Surprising the interviewer with relevant and shocking statistics is another way to maintain control over the conversation while simultaneously illustrating your value. For instance, to reinforce your worth as a top performer, say something like: “Research shows that the highest-performing engineers write 400 percent less code that runs 900 percent faster. My own projects ran 100 percent faster than the previously established baseline.”

Handle Innuendo and Negative Questions

Don’t let negative interview questions or remarks about your reputation or failures put you on the defensive. Acknowledge the issue, then pivot back to a positive point by citing a compliment from a neutral source. For example, admit that the client was angry when the app your team created kept crashing—but also point out that the CIO praised your team’s resolve in fixing the problem.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is another way to keep the interviewer engaged without seeming like you’re trying to dominate the conversation, Karinch noted. Concentrate on the question being asked, and observe the mood and body language of the hiring manager. Paraphrase or clarify the question to demonstrate understanding, then respond from your own frame of reference as well as the other person’s.

“Active listening helps you figure out the best way to respond,” Karinch pointed out. “It helps you manage and control the flow of information while promoting an interactive discussion.”

Adopt a Motto

What is your personal motto? If you don’t have one, consider creating one or adopting one that illustrates who you are, your philosophy, approach to work and career experiences.

Having a motto or slogan that summarizes the story of your career makes you memorable, Rosen noted. It should embody your brand and tell the interviewer why they should hire you.

One Response to “6 Ways to Control Your Narrative in a Job Interview”

  1. Thomas F. Arnall

    the advice is helpful, but when i come to an interview, i start interviewing the employer. i want to know:

    1. why has he granted the interview, i.e., what need is he trying to fill?

    2. what does his company do?

    As to the interviewer’s questions, I respond by first of all making sure that I understand the question, i.e., if I don’t feel I do, I respond to the question with my own. Then I am very careful in my response to give him the information he has asked for.

    Above all, the morning of the interview, I prepare myself to have some fun. I enjoy learning about what other people are doing to earn their soup. I enjoy talking with others about substantive matters. I enjoy telling others about what I’ve done in the world of work.