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The great career of the storyteller

Dr. Conrad Pramböck - 13 grudnia 2013

Those who have a story to tell always get the best jobs. Always.

Imagine you are a recruiter and there are two candidates to present. They are equally qualified. One tells vivid stories to illustrate his skills and achievements. The other, by contrast, is a colorless nondescript sort of person. Who do you think is more likely to get the job? Well, at the end of the day, the candidate who has managed to summon up the most powerful images in the recruiter's mind will always stand out.

Storytellers are neither fabulists nor liars. They are people who have come to understand that stories are the high-quality packaging for their know-how. Good stories are no substitute for professional knowledge and skills, but they can add value to them. Stories are like the elegant dress that beautiful woman is wearing. They are the rose flowers and the candlelight at the dinner for two. They are the fine box housing the ring she is given by the man opposite her.

Have you been visualizing the scene? See, it works. It is not the words you use but the images you conjure up that will stick in the minds of your business partners.

Becoming a good storyteller is relatively easy. Here are a few tips on how to create stories that enthrall interviewers.

1. Alternate between episodic and reflective storytelling

For each vacancy, there is a personality profile that the successful candidate is expected to meet. For example, a job advertisement may read: "We are looking for an innovative and flexible individual who is an excellent team player." The recruiter's job during the interview is to make sure, among other things, that the interviewee meets these criteria. So when he asks: "Are you innovative?" there is only one right answer: "Yes, I am". But is that all there is to say? No, for now is the time to tell a great story. The trick in doing this is to switch back and forth between reflective and episodic storytelling.

  • Reflective means you assess yourself, e.g. I am innovative.
  • Episodic means you recount an episode, i.e. tell a story, offering evidence to substantiate your assertion.

How does this work in practice? The recruiter asks the interviewee questions about every single personality trait that the successful candidate will need to have, putting his finger on the sore spot, as it were, and digging deeper. For instance, he may ask: "What was your most recent major innovation?" You should prepare for your interview by putting together a short and exciting story from your life for each of the personality traits of interest. When answering a question, you first make a reflective assertion and then provide episodic proof. Preparing your stories allows you to collect evidence that you are the ideal candidate. During the interview, you present one piece of evidence after another as if you were in an American courtroom trying to convince the jury of the merits of your arguments.

Let me give you some examples:

  • "Are you innovative?" "Yes, I am. Let me briefly tell you about my most recent major innovation: At my previous employer, I had an idea about how to reorganize sales processes, thereby improving a situation that nobody had been entirely satisfied with..."
  • "We are looking for a team player." "I love working as part of a team. Recently, we were in a meeting, and I discussed the future allocation of responsibilities with my Romanian colleagues..."
  • "Your new job will require you to be flexible." "I have to smile because this reminds me of the situation I found myself in when, some weeks ago, our CEO texted me 5 minutes before the start of a major conference, saying he urgently needed to leave for the airport and asking me to give a presentation before an audience of 100 on his behalf..."

2. Use the STAR method

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recommends using the STAR method for storytelling.

  • Situation: What was the situation?
  • Task: What task did you need to accomplish?
  • Action: What action did you take?
  • Result: What results did you achieve?

You can also talk about the task first and then outline the situation, e.g.: "Company XY brought me on board to build up business line ABC (task), which had not previously existed there (situation). Together with my team, I launched product xyz (action), thereby increasing the company's overall turnover by x% within a year (result)."

Extra tip: Give a description of how you felt, e.g. "I was so proud of our team when, after three weeks, I held the first finished prototype in my hands."

Another extra tip: Highlight the story's impact on your life and why it has shaped you, e.g. "It was at this moment that I first realized that working in international sales was just what I wanted to do for a living."

If you take these tips to heart, you and your vis-à-vis can enjoy many varied and intellectually stimulating job interviews that everybody will remember for a long time.

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Dr. Conrad Pramböck

Head of Compensation Consulting
Pedersen & Partners

cp@conradpramboeck.com
www.conradpramboeck.com

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