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Job Interviews are probably the most important aspect of the employment process and yet this is where many candidates struggle. 

Today on Self-Perspective we are going to talk about how to integrate your life’s stories into your answers to questions from prospective employers.

Based on experience and research, I can tell you that the people who excel in interviews are good storytellers, which is to say they can weave personal values, experiences, and beliefs on issues like leadership, corporate integrity and employee engagement, with a funny story or a poignant interaction with a parent, relative, boss or friend as they answer the employer’s questions.

One of the most popular questions in a behavior and values interview is this:  Tell me about your growing up years — your mom and dad, brothers and sisters.  What experiences did you have, what lessons did you learn that define who you are today as a leader?  

When you get that question, your stories can be a huge asset in crafting a memorable response.

Here are the three organizing steps to help you merge your experiences and your stories into your answers.

First, take an inventory.  Most candidates I have met are a treasure trove of great anecdotes that they never use in an interview because they haven’t taken the time to think about those life experiences and to document them.  They are so close to the forest that they cannot see the trees that are loaded with wonderful tales and experiences.  Begin by thinking about your life in terms of lessons and experiences from your growing up years when your parents were trying to instill in you some of life’s important guidelines.  If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents alive, then interview THEM about your growing up years, reminisce about your experiences and listen carefully for ideas or stories that you can use to make a point in an interview.

I was once asked in an interview at what age did I discover my knack and passion for connecting and communicating with people

In my early years, like today, I loved meeting people.  I had the curiosity of a newspaper reporter which one day I would become.  I loved to go out and meet people in our Houston neighborhood.  The only problem was that I was 4 years old.  

To say that I frustrated my sainted Mother would be an understatement.  One day, on the verge of dealing capital punishment, she put me out to play on the large screened back porch.  She latched the door to the backyard with the old-fashioned hook and eye lock and left me with my toys, thinking she had finally corralled me for the afternoon – I was too small to reach the lock.

After about 30 minutes I felt the call of the streets.  I just knew there had to be people to meet out there waiting for me. I grabbed a broom and using the broom stick I  pushed up on the hook, popped it out of the eye and made my escape.  

She found me three streets over visiting with people working in their yards and enjoying a glass of iced tea on their front porch.  The neighbors were amused.  They knew of my roaming reputation. My mother was not.  I think my love of people sealed my career trajectory beginning in 1954.

You have your own stories, your own experiences.  They are there but you have to take the time and dig for those nuggets of wonder

After thinking through your early life, think about your earliest jobs — were there any funny or life-changing lessons?  What about your college years — was there a professor or academic or social     accomplishment that made a lasting impression on you?  Think about your bosses, mentors and your earlier experiences — think about those ideas or events that can be used to explain a strength or to tout a remarkable success, or to disclose a weakness in a way that doesn’t seem so negative. You want to engage the interviewer so that your time together will be MEMORABLE.  

When the odds are 40 candidates to one against you, being memorable should be an important interview strategy.

Second, write down the these experiences and reminisces. Do not trust them to memory because that is not a lasting storage bin. Reduce this information  — your stories and memorable events —to paper. Categorized them by subject matter.  Yes, most of our experiences fit into categories like leadership, building trust, personal integrity, developing people, strengths, weaknesses, major successes, or worst failures…you get the point.  Connect your stories to these events.  The beauty of using a story to discuss something like a weakness or a decision failure is that you frequently make it more of a positive discussion, particularly if your voice is upbeat and there its a smile on your face.

Align your stories with your brand statement. Now comes the hard part.  Think carefully about your career brand statement and look for ways you can use your engaging stories to make your selling points stronger.  If you do not have a career brand statement, now is past the time to complete that most important career management exercise.  

Candidates have revealed stories or events in interviews that they didn’t think were that important but were actually brilliant if you connected it with their answer on leadership style, mentoring, or any number of human capital subject matter questions.

I had one executive say that he didn’t have anything interesting from his life to share.   I was, to say the least, skeptical, so I spent some time interviewing him.  I was able to pull out of him some amazing memories and a brilliantly funny story.

So please don’t sell yourself short. Do not downplay the importance of these important tidbits in helping you win the job you most want.

These are important concepts that can help you differentiate yourself from your competitors for a job.

If you need help getting started email me at CareerTransitions@JohngSelf.Com  We can give you that starter support you need.


If you are an executive in transition, or if you are concerned that a layoff is possible, call me.  We can help you get ready for a very competitive job market. 

I hope this information helps.  If you have questions, you can reach me at AsktheRecruiter@JohnGSelf.com.

Thanks for listening.  I will see you Saturday morning for our weekly video podcast when we will be talking about the use of videos in your job search.  

SelfPerspective is a production of JohnGSelf Partners in collaboration with Liberation Syndication. You can subscribe at JohnGSelf.Com or iTunes.