The importance of Storytelling during an interview.

19th Aug 2019
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The following is an extract from “The Career Doctor” a book by our Managing Director Eoghan McDermott.

It’s crucial to take the initiative in an interview and move it away from an examination. If you illustrate your skills and abilities properly, they should be evocative and memorable to your interviewer. At the end of a day’s interviewing when the panel are asking themselves, ‘Who was good at management?’ you want them saying, ‘Pat was. His example of managing and motivating that team in Halifax was superb.’

You cannot overstate the importance of examples and anecdotes in the job interview or, indeed, in any communication.

Every culture, race or religion uses stories, examples and anecdotes in their communication. If you look at the parables, for example, you will realise that, despite having been created over two thousand years ago, they are still referenced today. The people who came up with the parables had important concepts to communicate to different audiences. But they did not outline the concept. Instead, what they did was to use anecdotes each audience could identify with, so that they could make the concept interesting, understandable and memorable. They did it well. They created good stories with a moral punch. The end result is that, to this day, people will describe someone as a ‘good Samaritan’ or a ‘prodigal son’.

In any job interview, you are required to put a concept into the heads of the interviewers. That concept is the idea that you can do the job and do it better than anyone else.

However, simply stating that concept in conceptual language won’t work. The only way you can make it stick is by illustrating your claimed ability by using past examples. Because those examples are true, actually happened and are unique to you, they’ll be interesting. Because you’re showing the interviewer what you did in the past, you’re creating the understanding that you can do it again in the future. If you cast your experience in the form of a story – because anecdote is a memorable communication structure – and present them with concrete examples, making sure those examples are relevant to them, they’ll remember them. And they’ll remember you.

Good examples must spring to mind when you are under pressure and they will not do this unless you work on them in advance. Outline each example in as few words as possible on individual cards. Now, shuffle the cards. Pick the first one to offer itself. Expand on that skill and give examples by going through the levels, seeking to make it desperately interesting. Shuffle again and talk about the next one that offers itself. Do this often enough and you will become comfortably familiar with the content of each block and its logical flow.

You cannot prepare for every question but you can prepare yourself to have the mindset that your job is to meet the employer’s needs. More to the point, if you prepare a series of interesting and relevant inputs, any incoming question will allow you to select from within a wealth of good material, rather than creating a ‘How do I answer this?’ confusion in your mind.

It’s important to stress that preparing in the way I have outlined radically changes the entire interview. Instead of an interrogation which you’re secretly convinced is setting out to identify your weaknesses, the interview becomes an opportunity, for you to enumerate your strengths and expand on them.