It might sound strange, but “storytelling” is an important skill to have when job searching. I have been providing interviewing consultations for the past year and a half, and this is the most important thing that I have learned. Why is it important to be able to tell a story? Ultimately, a good story is memorable and teaches the listener something about the teller. When job searching, the most important thing you need to do well is to be able to paint a picture of yourself for others. Employers want someone with (a) skills to do the job, and (b) ability to fit into their work culture and environment. Your resume will demonstrate your skills. Everyone interviewing for the position probably has the same skills that you do, otherwise they wouldn’t have an interview. So what sets you apart from everyone else? You. You set yourself apart with your personality, values, and goals. All of these things should align with the company or organization and position, for which you are applying. A good story can illustrate this fit.
Now you might be saying to yourself “but I do not have any good stories” or “I am not good at telling stories”. Well never fear! Anyone can become a good storyteller with some preparation and practice. We will start by explaining commonly used method for creating stories. The STAR method:
- S is for situation. Set up your story with the situation. What was happening? For example, “we were working on a project in math class.”
- T is for task. What was your job? “I was assigned to create a formula.”
- A is for action. What did you do? “I did a lot of research to find out what would be the best formula, by utilizing a database.”
- R is for result. End your story by stating what happened as a result of your actions. “I got an A on the assignment and my professor told me it was well researched.”
Now that you know the STAR method, here are some tips on how to create the best stories:
- Research common interview questions. These are easy enough to find via google. Sometimes these questions might not seem as if they are looking for a story, but always tell a story. For example: What are your greatest strengths? You might answer simply by stating “I am hardworking, a great listener, and always positive.” But this is not very impactful or memorable. Instead, start with this statement and then follow it up with a story about a time in which you have demonstrated these traits. The story that you come up with, could probably be applied to other questions, even if they do not ask you this exact one.
- A good story is specific. A generalization is not a good story. For example “I am a great multitasker because I do that at work all the time. I am always having to balance talking to students, answering e-mails, and programming.” A specific version of that might sound more like this “Yes I can multitask. One day at my job with Career Services I was feeling very swamped. I was trying to finish a blog, create some powerpoint presentations, and answer e-mails, all in between my consulting appointments and meetings. So in order to get it all done, I made a list of all my tasks with the due dates next to them. Every time I had a free minute, I focused on the task at hand. I temporarily ignored other things, like e-mail so that I could accomplish the most important ones. I was able to focus enough to get everything done on time and my work was some of my best quality because I was focused.” This version tells you much more about what I do, how I handle those situations, and if way more memorable.
- You can make anything into a story. Think about activities you have been involved with (i.e. school, work, clubs, sports, volunteering, internships, job shadowing, etc.) Which of these activities could contain some stories? Have you ever had a particular experience that has stuck with you? A time when you learned something? If so, great! Use that as a story! If you are having a hard time thinking of a particular story, think of the things that you did on a regular basis and consider turning that into a story. For example: Perhaps you are a student and every term/semester you have to balance school, your part-time job, and time for yourself. Was there a particular term/semester that was hard for you? Think back to that time and think of it as a story.
“One particular term, I was very busy. I had a lot of hard classes and I was swamped at work. I started to get behind in my classes, so I was feeling overwhelmed. So, in order to make sure I was able to do well, I started asking my professors for help during office hours. I also talked to my boss at work so that they understood what was going on and could help by lessening my hours temporarily. I organized my homework on a calendar so that I always knew when the deadlines were. I ended up catching up in my classes and doing great that term. I learned that sometimes in order to do your best you have to ask for help.” This might seem like something everyone does, but putting it in the form of a story, grabs the attention of the listener, and helps them to learn more about you.
- A good story has an end. A common mistake that many people make, is start a great story, but not give it the ending it deserves. I believe this is often due to the fact that they are focused on the tasks and action aspects of the story. These parts are important. But the ending demonstrates the impact of your tasks and actions. For example someone might tell a story like this: “For my science class we were assigned a group project. We were supposed to create a demonstration of a volcano eruption. At first, no one was sure where to start, so I assigned tasks for the group and made sure everyone had something important to do….” And then what? What happened? Always conclude your story with result. How did it go? Did you make the volcano? What grade did you get? Were your group members happy and cooperative? The ending demonstrates that you learned or earned something from the experience.
- A good story is authentic. Do not be afraid to tell a story because you think it might make you look “bad”. Unless you learned nothing from a bad experience (unlikely) you can always make it into a good story. For example, everyone is always afraid of the infamous, “what is your greatest weakness?” question. This means that you must reveal your weakness! But, if you are honest, you know what your weakness is. We all have one. What the interviewer wants to know is that you recognize it and know how to deal with your weakness. So how could you demonstrate that…Oh I know! A STORY! Tell a story about a time when you struggled with something. Maybe you failed a test because you procrastinated, or maybe you forgot to pick up your sister because you were not organized. Whatever, your story is, I am sure you learned something from it and now practice ways to combat making the same mistakes again. Or you caught yourself just in time to fix the problem before it got too big. Sometimes the weakness stories are the best stories. They show growth and ability to solve your own problems, which is very valuable.
Well, those are my most amazing tips for storytelling! Remember, storytelling is all about revealing who you are. That person is amazing! Everyone wants to know that person, including your interviewer or potential employer. Limiting your answers to what you think they might want to hear, only puts a barrier between you and your audience. Storytelling can break that barrier. So go forth and tell stories!
posted by Rebecca Schaffeld, Career Assistant