Good storytelling is an art. A story well told engages the listener, or the reader, and helps them connect with an idea, a vision or a goal.
That is why some of the best leaders are also good storytellers. This rule applies to job seekers as well.
In my 20 plus years of executive search, tracking the most common characteristics shared by successful candidates, I have learned that, aside from the core competencies, the skill of storytelling — effectively communicating ideas, a vision and/or values — is a defining factor. The qualified candidates who did the best job communicating their value proposition and how that would benefit the employer, were more likely to be hired over the better qualified individual who were not as effective as a communicator.
This begs the question, how does one become an effective storyteller, not a BS artist who plays fast and loose with the truth, but a good communicator.
First, a little personal perspective. One of the compliments that I value the most is when people say that I am a great storyteller. True, I have a lot of stories, but the size of the “catalog” is not as important as how and when the stories are told. This rule certainly applies to job seekers.
Most executives are brimming with experience, successes, failures and important lessons learned. Unfortunately, too many candidates fail to take advantage of these experiences to weave a compelling reason to be the person who is hired.
Being an effective storyteller begins with being self-aware — to be cognizant of your strengths and weaknesses and then to be able to think how those categories can be leveraged to emphasize the good things, and to show how those not so good qualities and missteps are also part of who you are — important elements of your character and maturity as an effective leader.
To deny you have professional shortcomings is to keep you from becoming a confident, self-aware communicator.
Storytelling in the job search begins with your self assessment. It is supported by the Value Proposition, your resume, and is all about developing a positive story by providing successes with quantifiable proof that you are, in fact, that good. However, too often candidates just write bland words/sentences about their experience without communicating their real power of their accomplishments. They fail to mention that their current and/or previous employers were recognized for performance, innovation or for market leadership, for example. Their scope of responsibility descriptions associated with their job title often fail to capture the magnitude of their responsibility and their achievements.
In interviews, they tend to speak in the language of this is where I worked, this is what I was responsible for, but even when they talk about accomplishments they mirror the resume — very few provide focused evidence-based examples. By the way, using percentages without a baseline number to frame the value is not helpful.
There are times when I feel the candidates waited for our interview to begin before giving any thought to the need for being prepared.
As a recruiter you sense there are some nuggets of success buried in their explanations but they frequently fall short. If only the candidate would seize the moment.
Writers and storytellers will attest that a good story rarely flows extemporaneously. For every one that does, there are nine that do not. It takes research and preparation. A lot of preparation.
The research includes baking in the information that your references provide. As I wrote on Monday, references can be an invaluable resource for strengthening your story. But this process also requires that you think purposefully about the needs of the prospective employer — their challenges and performance expectations — and having well planned examples for experience and performance to reinforce that you are the right person for the job.
So many candidates fall short. Sometimes, as I listen, I can’t help thinking of Clint Eastwood’s grant line in one of the Dirty Harry movies: Make my day.
Recruiters are looking for a reason to hire you. Become a better storyteller.
Join John for a weekend edition of his podcast, SelfPerspective, on Saturday. You can listen here, or subscribe via iTunes. John will share information about several books he feels can be helpful in strengthening your leadership skills, bolstering your career management knowledge and a few other reading recommendations.
© 2020 John Gregory Self