One of the biggest mistakes candidates make during an interview is that they answer the interviewer’s questions with facts and details. Or, they talk about the intellectual way they would solve a problem.

Successful presenters, public speakers, salespeople and politicians have mastered the art of storytelling, and as a jobseeker, you should, too. In sales, there is a saying: “Facts tell, stories sell.” From a psychological perspective, this is true because we tend to remember stories longer and better than facts.

Since I deal with so many different professionals on a monthly basis, I tend to forget each individual’s exact experience or education; however, I always remember their stories.

Once, in California, I interviewed with a public company. While I thought the interview went well, I didn’t hear back for quite some time and assumed they selected another candidate. Forty-five days later, I got a call from HR that I was selected among the 60 candidates they had interviewed. I asked them why it took so long to make a decision, and they said their policy required them to interview candidates who scored high in their applicant tracking system.

When I asked how they remembered me among the 60 candidates, the hiring manager said that I told great stories. When they interviewed candidate after candidate, the answers all started to sound the same, and it was very hard for them to differentiate, or even remember, what each candidate had said. The candidates who answered the interviewer’s questions through stories were remembered long after the interview and therefore scored higher.

Storytelling is a skill that can be learned. Here are some tips:

Details make the story memorable. Great stories include sufficient details (think about how an engaging novel describes the environment in such a way that you can picture yourself right there in the action). Details create a memorable story and help the interviewer visualize what you’re trying to illustrate.

For example, instead of saying:

“As a program manager, I was responsible for managing the global sourcing operations.”

Instead, include vivid details about the job:

“As a program manager, my job was to figure out how to build relationships with our new vendors in China and India, while learning the cross-cultural barriers. I also had to manage internal morale and the fear that local employees might lose their jobs as a result of our outsourcing initiatives.”

In this example, the hiring manager has several opportunities to relate to the challenges you faced, making your answer much more memorable.

Drama sells. The most memorable movies and novels have content that is either out of the ordinary or contains drama. In my interviewing seminar, I ask the participants, “How many of you recall the car parked next to you?” A few raise their hands. I then follow with, “How many of you recall the third car parked from you?” and everyone drops their hands. They don’t recall the third car because it’s not important and the information doesn’t contain drama. I then ask, “How many of you would recall the third car parked from you if it was hot pink or on fire?” Everyone raises their hands. Our brain remembers drama or anything that stimulates it.

So, instead of saying the mundane:

“I would handle the development cycle by facilitating communication among team members.”

Try building drama into your answer:

“At Microsoft, we were head-to-head with another team competing for the same resources. The team that got the demo in the general manager’s hands the fastest would win the budget to build the full-scale project. Since our developers were stressed and communication was poor, we were performing much slower than anticipated. I saved the project and our team by facilitating team-building and enhancing rapport and communication so we could get back on track and increase our output, therefore winning the project.”

While you’ve still communicated your solution to a problem, you’ve done so in a way that will engage the interviewer with the drama of almost losing the resources and the team.

While several books can (and have) been written on how to craft great stories, these two tips should enhance your ability to present more powerfully and memorably in your next interview. My hope is that you don’t have to wait 45 days to get an offer.

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2 Responses to Want the job? Learn how to become a great storyteller

  1. Frank Austad says:

    The article is great, just like your class. I am in process of recreating stories from my life to use in interviews. Still working on this. Thanks.

  2. […] This is covered in detail in a former column I wrote, “Want the job? Learn how to become a great storyteller.” […]