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Want The Job? Learn To Tell Great Stories, Starting With Your Interview

Companies need stories to build their brands. Individuals need them, too. And your job interview is the place to begin the tale.

A theme has emerged as we've stalked how the tech elite hire: that, perhaps liberatingly, they give less of a damn about what school you went to or what brain teasers you can solve than the work you have done, how you did it, and what work you can do for them.

What they want, essentially, are your stories.

This makes sense: Big companies know storytelling is the secret weapon to "branding." Why? Because people don't fall in love with data dumps and PowerPoint slides—they are moved by emotions, or so scholars say. In the same way the organizations need stories to build their brands, we individuals need them too.

So we'd do well to prepare.

Writing for U.S. News, Rebecca Thorman helps us to do that: Rather than filing through our career histories for 50 answers to 50 possible interview questions—which would make sense of an interview as a standardized test like you had back in school—we should have a few anecdotes in our pocket that we can rely on, which will impress in the weirdly date-like setting of the job interview.

To match that matchmaking, Thorman says, rifle through your resume and cover letter to find three times where you felt unstoppable—anecdotes that "illustrate your relevant skills, experience, and lessons learned."

To know what that might look like, she supplies an example for us to chew on:

Q: Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.

A: We set monthly goals for new user acquisition, and at the beginning of each month, I systematically built and executed strategic plans to reach those goals. For instance, part of my plan included advertising online, and I tested different types of advertising each week to find the lowest cost option. This resulted in my company exceeding our goals for three months straight.

Good story, right? The implicit suggestion, then, is to vigilantly look for responsibilities at our current gigs that could turn into these can-do tales—that we can be rigorous about evolving our careers.

Hat tip: U.S. News & World Report

[Image: Flickr user Martin Fisch]

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  • JK Seattle

    Make note that the stories told in interviews isn't a lot about what you've done. Sound surprised? You should be. That's because each 'tell me about a time' question targets a specific behavior that you are not told about upfront. That means you don't know the behavior the interviewer is seeking. And because you don't know the behavior ahead of's like part of the question is missing a piece. And that means your answer might be totally off and thus ill-received by the interviewer. Sneaky, huh?! And what's worse is that much of what you say is then written down and often not as accurate to what you said. That's usually because the bozo you are talking to doesn't have a clue what you're talking about. They have a script to follow and will pass on what they wrote, which might not be what you said, to the guy that thinks or does know something about the job. So what does this mean...the whole thing is a bit of a crap shoot with you at the mercy of their process and interpretive skills. You see when you tell stories you usually aren't faced with a behavioral process. You get to tell them the way you want to and you don't really care about what the response will be. But in the storytelling job have to talk like an Orbit commercial or a diplomat at an idiot's embassy. You aren't telling the same kind of stories like you would with buddies at lunchtime. Thus you have to learn to tell stories in a sterile manner that targets certain 'unknown' behaviors. And let's face one simple fact...not all of us are great storytellers, but we are really good at our jobs.

  • JK Seattle

    Here's the deal kids...most storytelling interviews are timed
    interviews. You typically get 15 to 20 'tell me about a time' questions
    to answer in less than 30 minutes in a fashion that no one uses anywhere
    else where stories are told. It's totally unnatural storytelling and
    it's something you will never do when you work day to day and thus will
    never practice till you are faced with interviewing again. For example,
    you will never hear an engineering manager asking for stories at a
    design review meeting. Nor will you have to tell stories at your next
    sales meeting. Nor will you tell stories at your business communications
    meeting. And you won't be telling stories at your review.