From cave wall art to Greek mythology, storytelling is an ancient art form. And it goes beyond creative expression. From an evolutionary standpoint, our brains are programmed to respond to stories as they may contain critical information for our survival. So why not use the most effective storytelling tactics to ace your next interview?
A job interview is the perfect setting to integrate a riveting anecdote about your background or get your interviewers sharing their own stories in a way that leaves them feeling positive about your interaction. Inject a dose of humor and, in combination with showcasing your valuable skills and experience, you’ve got a powerful combo.
We’ve asked two storytelling experts — Mark Franklin, MEd PEng CMF, career expert and co-founder of OneLifeTools, an organization that offers narrative assessment tools and trainings for professionals, as well as Marc Angelo Coppola, storytelling expert and founder of Superhero Academy, a mentorship platform for creatives and entrepreneurs — to share their best insights on using the power of storytelling to crush job interviews.
Here are seven storytelling-based levers you can rely on in the high-pressure context of meeting potential employers.
The art of “story listening”
“There are two sides of stories: storytelling, and ‘story listening.’ We’ve been working to popularize this special approach to listening to people’s stories,” says Franklin. “The best thing to know about storytelling is how to listen to them; how to draw people out. When people tell you stories about their work and lives, they feel good.”
He recommends asking your interviewers about an experience they’ve had: a job, a volunteer gig, an educational program or a trip, and then asking follow-up questions such as “What did you like about it? “What skills or knowledge did you gain?” “How would people have described you?” “Who else played a role in this story?”
Observe and adapt
Coppola says that the more prepared you are and the more you know about your potential employer, the more equipped you’ll be to masterfully integrate stories in the conversation. Pay attention to your surroundings to gather even more insights — observation skills are key.
“Context and being observant can go an incredibly long way,” he says. “Take a second to really look around and notice any picture frames, artwork, or signs that allow you some insight into who is in front of you.” Because who knows, that piece of art may turn out to be the perfect icebreaker to reveal common ground and get a meaningful conversation off the ground.
The STAR tactic
Franklin recommends the use of the STAR tactic whenever you are asked about your experiences or prompted to give an example of your skills in action:
“For any question about a skill or an item in your resume, use the well-known STAR storytelling tactic. S for Situation: What’s the name of this story? When did it happen? T for Task: What was your role? A for Actions: What did you do? What happened next? R for Results: What happened as a result of this story?”
Turn convo gaps into gems
That awkward silence is an opportunity. “Know when to use humor to break down any awkwardness or build rapport with the person in front of you,” says Coppola, who believes letting your authentic self shine through your use of storytelling can differentiate you as a candidate.
“They want to know if they can work alongside you or will fit well in the team or organization. Being colorful without being overly talkative or outside of your actual character isn’t advised. I would just say you want to be the best version of you — not try to be anybody else or live up to specific expectations or questions,” he says.
Ask emotion-first questions
One of Franklin’s favorite tactics is to ask questions but lead by asking about the emotional quality of the story you are trying to draw out. “I use this all the time in the Career Buzz podcast and radio broadcast show that I host,” he says. “‘What do you like about your career?’ is a better question than ‘What do you do?’ because it immediately engages your conversation partner in the positive quality of their experience. They often smile and tell you a lot about what they like, which is fun for them.”
To adapt this method to pre- or post-interview conversation settings, which tend to be a bit more informal, he suggests asking things like “What did you like about your weekend activities?” or “What do you like about interviewing?”
Integrate story arcs in your answers
“Any good story has clear story arcs and outcomes,” says Coppola. And you want to think of your interview answers like story arcs with inciting incidents, obstacles to overcome, climaxes and resolutions.“If you can navigate questions with a unique flavor and still get to an answer, you can evoke really powerful stories about how you got to where you are and learned the skills needed for the job you’re applying for, as well as communicate your passion for your work and craft.”
Turn potential negatives around with mindful narratives
Once you’ve done your research about a potential employer and role, you can align your narrative with the narrative of the company. “If you are telling stories about how you want to be a digital nomad or eventually transition to your art career once you have enough cash saved up, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Be sure to keep your stories consistent with the lifestyle the job offers,” says Coppola.