“…there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story”
An interview is all about selling yourself, so, as we’ve mentioned before, there’s plenty that can be taken from sales and marketing to help you out with your interview skills. According to Seth Godin in his book “All marketers tell stories”, telling tales help us make sense of the world. We identify ourselves with stories, and – when they’re told well – we want to believe they’re true. Stories appeal to our emotional side. Andrew Stanton, the filmmaker behind “Wall E” and “Toy Story”, goes a step further: “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story” (see video below).
So how can you use the idea of storytelling to enhance your interview technique? Let’s look at how to tell a good story (part #1), before applying this to the interviewing world in some examples (part #2).
Part #1: Steps of a good story
1. Use a hook to get your audience’s attention. You need to signal that your story will be worth your listeners’ time.
2. Create a likeable main character (you). A good way to do this is by talking about worries or concerns that everyone can relate to.
3. Although a bit of editing is inevitable, your story must be essentially true and believable. Nothing is more repellent than insincerity, and nothing more compelling than authenticity.
4. Time to build up tension:
> To do this, it’s important to include some conflict: a challenge or enemy. Not only does the introduction of an antagonist create “great suspense”, according to the Harvard Business Review; painting a positive picture alone just “doesn’t ring true”. In an interview, you might like to make this enemy a faceless challenge or situation to avoid sounding too negative.
> Leave your audience hanging to maintain engagement. You don’t need to spell everything out – think the spoken equivalent of “…”. Any questions that arise, you can answer later.
5. Keep it simple, and keep your objective in mind. What is your story demonstrating? What is its message? Do not stray too far from your point: your audience will lose interest if you go into complicated details that they cannot relate to.
6. What you cut in terms of factual information, you can make up in description and vivid language. According to online lifestyle magazine Lifehacker, sensory metaphors actually encourage different parts of your brain to light up.
7. In the end of your story, you’ll need to resolve the conflict you’ve created.
8. Once that’s been done, you should include a final thought – a punchline – that really makes your story memorable. This might be a small joke, or even just repeating and enforcing the wise moral message you were trying to get across.
*Bonus tip* Use eye contact and wide, sweeping body language to animate your story and involve your audience in what you’re saying. Pause for dramatic effect.
Part #2: interview examples
Enough theory, how does this work in practice? Here are some examples of stories you might tell in an interview. We’ve marked where the various steps of telling a story listed above come into play.
…What is your biggest weakness?
“Everyone has weaknesses, and I am clearly no exception (1, 3). Actually, I’ve always found it difficult to speak in public. This might be surprising, as in most situations I’m very confident, but it’s something I’ve genuinely struggled with over the years (2).”
“In my last job, I worked as a university academic, and was often required to give lectures (4). My mouth would go dry, I would freeze up, my hands would sweat (6)… After a while, however, and talking with some of the other lecturers, I realised things were mostly a question of practice. Although it hurt at first (6), once I got used to speaking in public, I was able to let go, unfreeze and even improvise and make the odd joke (7). Speaking in public now isn’t nearly so painful, and people even compliment me on my presentations – something I would never have been able to imagine a few years ago (8).”
…Tell us about a time when you have worked well in a team.
“I once worked in a team that was a complete mix (1). There was a variety of ages, nationalities, upbringings… everything you can think of. Honestly (3), I have to admit I was concerned about my place in this kind of operation, and what we’d achieve together (2).”
“Our manager told us that in order to get our Christmas bonus, every member of the team had to achieve a certain amount of sales (4). But with the team as it was, we didn’t know how to work together. The stronger members went after their own goals, the weaker members fell by the wayside… (4)”
“To help us work together (5), I started taking a real interest in other team members. I greeted my foreign colleagues in their own language, asked the university students how exams were going, spoke to the parents how their kids were. I got the older members of the team telling me about their hip replacements. Little by little (6), the other members of the team opened up and began to follow my example. Our attitudes towards each other changed, we began to help each other out more (7). By the following month, we’d collectively become one of the strongest teams in the company in terms of average sales.”
“That experience taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’d learnt about teamwork: once we started taking an interest in each other as real people, and took the time to understand each others’ different points of view, working together became natural (8).”
Images: Thanks to Whitney Waller.