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“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”
~ Ira Glass, host, This American Life

Good storytellers know there are three keys to success: content, preparation, and timing. To be effective, you can’t just show up at the interview, wing it and hope to reap the powerful benefits that good storytelling offers.

Storytelling is a special art form, especially in the interview. You must have compelling content and it must be relevant. You must be prepared. Good stories are rarely created on the fly. Good storytellers are purposeful in crafting their yarn, they are relentless in writing and rewriting to maximize the benefit. Timing is also critical. You must have a sense of when to use a story and when to fall back on a straight forward response to an inquiry.

So why go to the trouble? I’m repeating a point often made in this space and it was a theme in last Wednesday’s podcast. People are six times more likely to remember facts or specific events when they are wrapped up in a story well told. It is a differentiator. Candidates want to be remembered and stories can accomplish that goal.

That said, there are some limitations to this potentially powerful tool. First, not all interview questions are “storytelling qualified.” – using a story-based answer when a straight forward response would have more impact. But there are some commonly asked questions in which a a story-based answer will have special impact.

Some of these include:

  • Tell me about your biggest mistake. What happened and what lessons did you learn — A well prepared candidate can afford to be honest if they have a great story that engages the interviewer. Everyone, and I mean everyone, makes mistakes. Make yours interesting and end it on a positive, enthusiastic explanation of lessons learned.
  • Who was the most influential person in your life? This is a variation of the question about your early life and one where it is essential for you to connect with the interviewer. Everyone has a good story about the impact that their mother or father had in the their lives. Make yours memorable.
  • Tell me about an event in your career that changed the trajectory of your career. This is another common question that most candidates drop the ball answering and it is another emotional connector. I will specifically address this one in Wednesday’s podcast.
  • Give me an example of your leadership style. So many candidates rely on the hackneyed cliches even though this question opens the door for a quick illustration.
  • Why do you want this job. This is a deal closer and your answer needs to strike the right balance with an authentic explanation, however, you can integrate that with a quick vision story about making the difference for your neighbors and fellow citizens.
  • What do you do when someone commits a serious, costly mistake? I have a seen candidates so intent on proving their no-nonsense leadership style that they blew through the caution light. Think about a positive, teaching mindset and then craft an answer that balances the importance of employee effectiveness/accountability with the emotional side of the scale of being a teacher/coach leader who, while sympathetic to the needs of the employee, must also fulfill the organization’s mission by being fiscally responsible.

Producer’s Note: In tomorrow’s podcast I will give you some examples how a story can be used.

Self, Dismukes Speakers for ACHE Congress

For information and insight on becoming an effective interviewee, join John Self and Dianne Dismukes at the Congress of the American College of healthcare executives in Chicago on Wednesday March 28 at the Hyatt Regency.