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“The worst crime you can commit as a screenwriter is telling the audience something they already know.”

That from Aaron Sorkin, an award-winning screenwriter and playwright who, I believe, knows a thing or two about the telling of compelling stories.  MSNBC’s  Hardball  host Chris Matthews  ends each show by asking his panel to “tell me something I don’t know.”

If you think about it, there is wisdom for job candidates in those quotes.

Over the last 20 years of conducting hundreds of executive interviews there is a certain consistency to a search engagement – most of the interviews are pretty much alike, candidates answering questions,  mostly providing information that is outlined on their resumes. That is, by itself, not bad but it is not an approach from which  differentiation is born.  

This week one of my outplacement clients, a Chief Compliance Officer, said he began his answer to the first question to an interview — “tell us a something about yourself” — by saying that his resume outlines what he does and provides some insight into how he does it, “but let me tell you why I love compliance as a career choice.”  His unorthodox approach, providing the prospective employer some insight  into his outlook and passion that was not on his resume, seemed to capture the attention of the interviewing panel. “ People were leaning in” and after the interview he said, “They complimented me on my answer. I think it was instrumental in capturing their attention.”  

When candidates are summoned for an interview, that is an important indicator that the employer is interested.  But here is the underlying rationale that far too few candidates recognize or take advantage of:  at this stage in the recruitment process employers are looking — seriously looking — for a reason to hire a candidate.  They are hoping mightily that a candidate will emerge from the panel of  finalists and give them a reason to hire them.   

Expressing an interest in the job is not enough.   Every job applicant who knows anything about anything, knows to do that, so telling the employer you want the job does not differentiate you from the four or five other candidates they are focusing on.  You have to share something that will capture their imagination and guide their decision-making process.

I have written about this particular approach several times in recent weeks but I wanted to share this  candidate’s testimony because I think it points to the benefits of storytelling in an interview.

He has not yet won the job yet but he is very much in the running.


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