“There are two ways to share knowledge.  You can push information out. You can pull them in with a story.”  Author unknown

“Why did you stop recruiting and start advising executives on career transition and career management?”

That is a question I got a lot during the first year of this rewarding career shift.  After all, I had a successful 25-year career finding executives for clients from Hawaii and Alaska to the United Arab Emirates and a lot of  big cities and small towns here on the mainland, in between.


 The answer is two-fold. First, I still lead executive searches for select clients with whom I have enjoyed a long relationship.  I still take pleasure conducting searches that are interesting, but I do not miss the regular diet of indignities inflicted by airports and the airlines.  Second, and this is the real heart of it, after 25 years of watching executives struggle through interviews I decided I could do more good teaching them how to excel in this very unique and challenging form of communications.  I was frustrated by the fact that some exceptionally qualified and accomplished executives were not selected for positions largely because they failed to communicate their value to the prospective employer in a meaningful and compelling way.

For most of my adult life, I have been interviewing people. First as a newspaper writer, then as a business development executive and, of course, as a recruiter.  Today, I am considered an expert in the art of the job interview. I regularly teach courses and speak at meetings, large and small.  It is one of my passions. 

In a crowded, competitive job market, it is a buyer’s market in many industries, the real challenge for executives is to communicate their value — strengths and accomplishments — in a way that is both clear and focused and memorable.  You see, the best qualified executive only gets the job about 35 percent of the time, according to our observations of hundreds of search assignments over they years.  The applicant who was successful was certainly well qualified but they did the better job connecting their experience and accomplishments with the needs of the prospective employer.  Many recruiters have observed executive searches from afar and, when the result was announced, shook their heads in disbelief that someone else was not selected.  The underlying reason can almost always be traced to the performance of the candidates during the interview process.  

The key to success is the secret sauce.  Those who understand it have the skills to use it effectively to engage — “to pull in” — the governing board or members of the interview team.  Of course there  are no guarantees in life but if you learn how to do this you re much more likely to succeed 

That secret sauce is not so secret, just little used.  It is storytelling.  Not the kind of wonderful but rambling stories your grandpa once shared about life in another era, but a form of communication to set the stage at the start of the interview process and used to communicate information throughout the various interviews, from the telephone to the final meeting.  

On first examination, you may discount this concept for job interviews, but based on my years of experience I will only say, that would be a mistake.  

In the words of a Native American Proverb, “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I will believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”   

That says it all when it comes to describing the power of storytelling.  

John Self to Teach Interview Course at ACHE Congress

Chrishonda Smith

John Self will be joined by Chrishonda Smith, CCDP, SPHR of OhioHealth teaching a course on interviewing skills for senior executives at the American College of Healthcare Executives annual Congress in Chicago, March 23-26 at the Hyatt Regency.  It is the sixth time Mr.Self has been asked to teach this course.   The Course will held on Wednesday afternoon.