Hello, I am John Self and welcome to SelfPerspective, a weekly podcast with information and insight to help you manage your career.
Today, our big idea is an intriguing emerging concept in interviewing, a technique that could help you break through the noise and competition from dozens of other candidates to win that job you have always wanted.
Storytelling is an art, but in today’s hyper competitive executive job market, where 40, 5o, or more candidates are seeking the same position, it is also an essential skill.
Here is why: Facts and related information are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story, according to researchers.
Here is another way to look at it, career coaches say: Many students hate history with its requirement to remember all those names and dates until they have a teacher who is a good storyteller, and then most fall in love with the subject.
So, when you are trying to be memorable in an interview, you have to communicate information in a compelling way, otherwise, by the end of the day, the recruiter will probably struggle to distinguish your accomplishments from those of the three other candidates she interviewed earlier. Or the five or six others she will interview over the next several days.
I know plenty of capable executives in a variety of industries who are today on the sidelines because they have not been able to break through in the interviewing process to get the job. Some eventually will make it but so many others may, grudgingly, begin early retirement. More than once I have sat and listened to an exasperated executive who was in the midst of a job transition say that they never dreamed being out of work was how their career would end, and retirement would begin. No gala retirement party, no accolades for a job well done. No gold watch; just a bland statement about it being time to go in a different direction.
Then there are the executives on the rise who have never experienced the pain and embarrassment of being laid off, or losing a job until one day it suddenly happens. Like their Baby Boomer counterparts in the job market, they, too, face the challenge of overcoming the setback and finding another position, hopefully without losing forward momentum in their career.
More and more, career counselors and outplacement consultants are using the term “effective storytelling” as they attempt to help job candidates find ways to differentiate themselves from their job competitors.
One executive coach I know, Dr. Johnny Parker, aptly said that stories explain where we have been and they point to where we are going.
In an environment where behavior and values interviews are the norm, the use of interview storytelling to communicate success in a memorable way could be the key to success.
But this is not your every day type of storytelling, what I call Once Upon a Time Communication. Launching into some 5 or 6 minute story about a valuable lesson from a parent or trusted mentor will probably frustrate the interviewer, if not put them to sleep. Misusing this concept is similar to a candidate who does their homework on an organization for an interview but then misuses it — the business intel was out of date or they misunderstood the context. The results are the same: elimination from the search.
Storytelling for the interview is more like a tweet or a 30-45 second Internet ad. You have to ruthlessly edit what you need to say about an event or success, which is to say you cannot just show up without an enormous amount of thoughtful consideration of what you want to highlight and then try to make your points with an edited traditional storytelling format.
Let me give you an example. One candidate I coached was asked to tell the board something about their father or mother that would describe their leadership style.
Here was her story:
My father ran a very successful large international steel fabricating company. In an industry and an area of the country known for its unions, my father’s company was non-union and his employees loved and trusted him. He was frequently invited to their weddings and other special events. That is the kind of leader I try to be and I think my references will confirm that.
Twenty seconds and it conveyed an important message that was imbedded with key leadership qualities like integrity, honor and respect.
As a recruiter who has heard more than one long rambling response to that kind of question, I want to assure you that this mini story was much more memorable and exceedingly more effective.
Here is another example. I was once asked to explain a memorable event in my career and what made it stand out.
It was in 1976 and I was a new executive at a large Houston hospital. One day, as I was walking to a meeting, I passed my boss, the CEO, who was engaged in a lively meeting with a physician leader in the hallway. The subject of a big special project, Life Flight, a proposed hospital-based ambulance service came up. Just as I was passing them the doctor demanded to know who was going to be responsible for this new program, my boss said: John Self and he will sink with it or swim with it. Now, that 15 seconds literally changed my life and my career trajectory.
That story took less than 30 seconds. What really makes this answer so impactful is that Life Flight at Hermann Hospital was only the second such program in the country and today it continues to enjoy an incredible reputation throughout the industry.
But it got better. From my resume the interviewer saw that my success at Hermann with Life Flight led me to a job as the national marketing manager for the aircraft company where I helped coordinate the implementation of the next 13 programs nationally for hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon to Jacksonville, Florida. This led to several followup questions which gave me the opportunity to incorporate information on my business development successes and the value of the relationships I made with some of the best known healthcare leaders of that era.
Neither of these examples happened because the candidates just pulled them out of their hats on the spot — an extemporaneous stroke of luck. No, they were thoughtful responses planned ahead based on the job specs that the prospective employers provided and were delivered with a maximum of self-awareness.
This is not an easy process to master. Not everyone is equipped with exceptional communications skills. To be effective it takes research, preparation and rehearsal because those are the big three elements for this type of interviewing.
It is not easy but the rewards can be gratifying.
Now, here are couple of other items to watch for:
Tomorrow’s blog post will focus on another aspect of storytelling. We will explore the importance of developing your own story, one that reflects who you are, what you believe in and what people will say about you when you are no longer in the room. That story is central to defining a career brand that will attract recruiters and prospective employers.
On Saturday morning don’t forget to check out our weekly career management video. We are getting good feedback so I hope you look in and share your thoughts and ideas on subjects you would like us to cover.