June 20, 2011
Facts tell, stories sell
Late last year, I wrote a column called "Want the job? Learn how to become a great storyteller." Telling stories during interviews can mean the difference between a job offer and "we'll get back to you."
It's extremely difficult for a hiring manager to remember a series of facts about a particular candidate, especially when he or she is interviewing dozens of applicants. It's much easier to remember stories.
Good stories relate to not only logic, but also emotion; they can create a positive feeling about a candidate. If you can tell good stories, rather than just recite facts and figures about your experience, you'll have the opportunity to make an emotional connection with the hiring manager.
In my earlier column, I offered some storytelling tips. Here, I'd like to focus on structure. A good story tends to fall into this outline:
Problem or situation. Before you talk about your achievements, it's important to mention the problem. Go into detail and build the drama. This will make the interviewer curious to see what happened.
Action or task. Now that you've established the problem and generated curiosity, describe what you did to turn things around, eliminate the problem and improve the situation. When you're in this step, be sure to understand the audience you're talking to: Speak engineering with engineers, program management with program managers and business actions with executives.
Results or outcome. What was the outcome of your actions? Put your results in perspective. For example, saving $2,500 might be minuscule for a large company, but it's significant for a startup. Also, quantify your results as much as possible. "Improved productivity" isn't as sexy as "improved productivity by 53 percent." If you don't have numbers, try to get them from someone at your former employer or make an honest estimate.
To remember these steps when constructing stories, think of the acronym PAR (problem, action, result). Using drama, details and quantifiable outcome will help the interviewer understand and remember you.
I worked with a former Starbucks project manager last year. While I don't recall most of our private coaching, I remember one point clearly. She helped get Starbucks' logo on those blue freeway signs, dramatically improving revenue and awareness of their locations. I remember this because she told an effective story, using emotion and results I could relate to.
Want to be remembered in an interview? Practice this principle: Facts tell, stories sell.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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