Today is National Tell A Story Day, and who doesn’t love a good story?
The first written story appeared in 700 BC, and storytelling has played a huge role ever since in terms of how we communicate, pass down lessons and history, and share the experience of our lives.
Writing a compelling cover letter and building rapport and performing well in a job interview depend on effective storytelling. It’s also useful when having a promising conversation with a new connection or even chatting with family members as you try to explain what change you’re seeking now and why.
A good story will be relatable and easy to follow, and it will connect with both the identity and the heart of the listener. Think of your professional narrative like the string that connects all the pearls of your career — your education, jobs, decisions, accomplishments and actions – and provides the essential framework with which you can convey who you are, where you've been and where you're heading.
Most of us don’t take the time to put this story together because we’re so close to it, and we’re just busy living our lives. In fact, we may not think we even have a story; we might feel like our decisions haven’t been particularly strategic along the way, but it’s so beneficial to take some time to reflect on what our true narrative is.
Storytelling In A Job Interview
Let's consider the job interview setting. Here are two examples of the story a candidate could tell; the first with the story thought out carefully, and the other not so much:
“My wonderfully witty and wise Brooklyn-born father always said, ‘Ya gotta have a plan.’ I didn't realize the full significance of this guidance until I was in my early 30s — and I’m really glad I got it then — because it helped me become better prepared skill-wise and gain total clarity on my purpose.
I discovered my mission in life is to use my strengths in writing, strategic planning and teaching to help individuals, animals and communities thrive. I‘ve realized this commitment by … ”
This lead-in to explain the candidate's career path tells the listener a lot: it conveys many personal traits (she values family, appreciates wisdom and humor, has maturity and self-awareness, is thoughtful, is willing to show a little vulnerability) as well as professional traits (she’s nimble, has transferable skills, is mission-driven, has developed a way to use her strengths to address issues of interest and provide value, has a sense of purpose and perspective).
Clearly this candidate could build from this story and weave in other examples throughout the interview, touching back on points from this first story.
People want to feel a connection with you. They want to see if they can imagine you fitting in to the organization. They want understand who you are and what drives you.
Compare that story to this version:
“My dad always said I need a plan, but I had no clue what I wanted to do after college so I got a job in corporate for like a year but it was so stifling then tried working for a nonprofit instead then did my own thing before working for government and then a small business. I guess I enjoy using different skills and helping so I tend to change jobs and even careers every few years.”
This may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not far off from many responses I’ve heard from candidates over the years. Clearly, this is not a good story. The candidate rambles, lacks commitment to a position, seems a little flaky, lacks self-awareness and isn’t driven by any solid purpose beyond enjoying helping and using different skills.
Taking the time to craft your story can help you get out in front of any twists and turns that may not make sense to the job interviewer, who will be trying to get a sense of the type of employee you’d make and the value you’d bring to the role. A good story is also memorable, intriguing and shows creativity, organization and quick thinking (even if you’ve prepared it ahead of time).
When we take the time to map out our professional life, it’s not just good practice for an interview. It’s really helpful to ourselves. It’s much easier to see what drove our decisions, where we might have veered off course or where we should have spent more quality time. It can give us insights we never realized before. It can inspire us in ways we never imagined. We can also use it to make more creative choices in the future as we consider a new job or career.
So, take the time to consider your story, and envision how you can tell it in an authentic, captivating way that will convey your likability and capability and will light up the emotions of the listener. You’ll get better at it the more you practice, but it’s your unique story, so no one else can tell it better!
P.S. You probably have dozens and dozens of stories you could tell; ones that illustrate how you solved a problem in an innovative way, how you pulled a team together to further a project, how you learned about patience and kindness from your dog ... start telling your wonderful stories today.
Trie Angeleva is a mindful career strategist who writes about mindful living
and career transformation. Follow her on instagram at @reimaginemonday for tips and strategies on how to love what you do and lead a mindful life.