The Power of Storytelling in Job Search and Career

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Makes little sense unless you read the Speaker's Notes. Audio version to come. Adaptation of a presentation I gave to a group of career counselors who work with executive MBA students. Tells why storytelling is effective in the job search; gives examples of carrying the same story across resume, cover letter, and interview response; describes a hands-on activity, and briefly touches on storytelling in networking, personal branding, and career portfolios.

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  • This presentation will make a lot more sense if you read the speaker's notes. You can also request the handout from me at kathy@astoriedcareer.com. Version with audi track is in the works.
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  • Delighted to be here to share what I know about using storytelling in the job search.Although I’ve always been drawn to stories, I got interested in storytelling during my doctoral program when I took an organizational behavior class that exposed me to a discipline I’d never heard of – organizational storytelling. I immediately knew I wanted to integrate storytelling into my dissertation topic. It made sense to weave together storytelling with career management, the field in which I had worked for a dozen or so years. My dissertation research included focus groups of hiring decision-makers who showed their preferences for storied forms of job-search communication. I worked on a book for the general public at the same time I was writing up my findings in scholarly form in my dissertation. I was fortunate that the book was published – Tell Me About Yourself.
  • I would like to start with a couple of quick role-plays that show two ways of responding to the same interview question. I’ll play the part of the interviewer, and I’d like to get 2 volunteers to play job-seekers. Don’t worry, you don’t have to ad lib; you’ll have a script.Thanks. Let’s give them a a hand. [Ask their names.]
  • [_______], are you goal-oriented?Yes, I am extremely goal-oriented. I like to set goals for myself and be organized in the work I do. If I don’t have goals, I find it hard to strive for anything in my job and even in my life. At my current employer, goals are even more important than ever. I have set goals to find innovative ways to have a positive impact on our sales-team productivity. I plan on doing this by going to the team members and working with them and provide them with training while they work.[_______], are you goal-oriented?Absolutely. One of my recent goals as sales manager was to get an underperforming account executive who had been with the company for 6 months to start performing better and start nearing or exceeding goals. During his 6-month performance evaluation, we confronted the numbers head-on and discussed ways to increase sales. I encouraged the employee’s feedback and had him participate in generating ideas on how to boost sales, such as maximizing calls, territory management, and any training issues. As a result, this salesperson hit his goals two of the last three months of the year and was close the third month. I think this was a big accomplishment as a manager because developing team members so they are successful is probably one of the most important goals a manager can have.Wonderful, thanks. Let’s give them another hand.
  • So, let’s talk about these 2 responses.How would you characterize the first response? The second?What did you like about each response?Did you find yourself more engaged in one than the other?Did one seem more memorable than the other?If you put yourself into the mind of an employer, do you feel you’d be more drawn to one response over the other?
  • I want to tell you five reasons that the story approach was more effective than the list of facts. I could give you twice as many reasons – and you’ll see twice as many on your handout – but I want to focus on the five that I think are the most important.No. 1: Stories make the candidate memorable. Because our brains are wired to think in story form, it is always easier to remember material when it’s presented as a story. We remember people who tell stories because stories form the basis of how we think, organize, and remember information.[Was the storied response to the role-play more memorable than the other response?]No. 2: Stories establish an emotional connection between storyteller and listener and inspire the listener’s investment in the storyteller’s success. When stories convey moving content and are told with feeling, the listener feels an emotional bond with the storyteller. That bond instantly enables the listener to root for the storyteller and be on his or her side.  Often the listener can empathize or relate the story to an aspect of his or her own life. [There wasn’t a lot of emotional content in the role-play stories response, but many interviewers would probably be able to empathize with the challenge of trying to coax a better performance out of a subordinate].In my book and in my own interviewing experience, I often tell the story of how terrible I was as a teacher in my first semester. I stood in front of the class and read my notes. I don’t like doing things I’m not good at and was tempted quit since I was so terrible. As awful as I was, one student, named Ted, saw something in me. Ted’s belief in me encouraged me to keep going. Inspired by Ted’s faith in me, I improved every semester, learned the name of every one of my students, and made myself available to them. Eventually I was well-liked and respected among students and earned excellent evaluations. [With that story, I might inspire empathy in an interviewer by exposing the vulnerability of my terrible early performance.] No. 3: Stories help the candidate stand out. Consider that many job-seekers or co-workers vying for the same position probably have similar qualifications.  But will they all be describing those qualifications to employers in an evocative story form? Probably not.  The candidate who does will distinguish himself or herself from those who seek to sell themselves to employers in less engaging ways.[Would the storied role-play story stand out more than the other one?]No. 4: Stories told well help you portray the candidate as a strong communicator. Effectively using stories in job-seeking venues demonstrates communication skills, which is significant because most employers seek candidates who communicate well. Now, let’s see if this final reason that storytelling works in the job search blows your mind as much as it blew mine: Brain-scan research reported in 2010 shows an astonishing phenomenon: When a person tells a story and another person actively listens, their brains actually begin to synchronize. Imagine the implications of this finding in a job interview. Let’s say that instead of a dry recitation of facts in response to an interviewer’s questions, the candidate responds to each question with a story about your skills, strengths, or accomplishments. If the interviewer’s brain is becoming virtually synchronous with the interviewee’s, just think of the impression he or she is likely to make on the interviewer.
  • Let’s look at how the same storied content might be portrayed across various job-search communications – a resume, cover letter, and an interview response.First, as you might imagine, the resume is the most difficult venue in which to tell stories, simply because we are accustomed to clipped bullet points that the hiring decision-maker will probably spend no more than about 20 seconds looking at.In the job-seeker’s mind, these bullet points are all chapters in the same story, but of course, the bullet points on this slide probably don’t seem much like stories. …
  • Before I explain the story aspect of those bullet points, let’s look at a story structure you are probably very familiar with:Situation  Action  Result, sometimes expressed as Challenge  Action  Result or Problem  Action  Result.My contention is that since a hiring decision-maker reads your resume so quickly, you need to tell the story backwards.You need to grab the reader’s attention by giving away the ending first.So, instead of Situation  Action  Result, I recommend that resume bullet points be told as Result  Action  Situation.Let’s go back and look at the previous slide.
  • Each bullet, as you can see, kicks off with the result and then tells the action that brought about the result.You’ll notice that none of these bullets even includes the Situation. That’s because writing is so abbreviated in a resume and space so limited, that you often don’t have space for the situation. Sometimes, it will be important to include the situation to show how dramatic the result is.Let’s look at another way to tell stories in a resume …
  • In this case, the resume writer chose to construct the job-seeker’s entire Experience section as Challenge  Action  Result stories.Although I still think the result is key, with this format, the reader has the choice to focus immediately on the Result if he or she wishes to because it’s clearly labeled.Now let’s have a quick reminder of the original set of resume bullet points we looked at …
  • And now let’s look at how the job-seeker could tell the same stories in a cover letter …
  • Here, the same stories are told with more details and more of a narrative flow. The parts of the story that were broken into separate bullet points in the resume are now brought together as one cohesive story.Finally, let’s listen to the same story as an interview response, told in a more conversational style. Let’s say the interviewer has asked the question, “Tell me about your greatest success as a project manager? …
  • My company was struggling with scheduling employees, monitoring their time and attendance, as well as tying these elements into payroll. We needed a system, preferably online, that would make these tasks more efficient, save time, and reduce errors. When management decided to go with an outside vendor for the new system, they chose me to head up the project team. We were on a tight, two-month deadline, but I led the team to surpass not only the deadline, but the expected results. Under my guidance, we got the vendor’s system online so successfully that we reduced payroll discrepancies by 25 percent. Since we’ve operationalized it, the company has saved time in scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues; in fact, these processes take half the time they used to. By customizing reports to track labor and benefits allocation, we also cut time spent on reports by a quarter. We did such a great job and made the functions so much more efficient that the vendor recognized us with its Certificate for Management’s Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.
  • Now I’d like to do a story-development exercise that you can also do with your clients. In your handout, you’ll find a sheet that looks like this…You’ll also find 2 sets of instructions; one is the set that says “Participant Instructions” that we’ll we’ll use right now. The other says “Instructions for Instructors, Workshop Leaders” at the top under the Three Success Stories headline; you can use that if you try this exercise with your clients.You’ll notice references to page numbers in my book. If you don’t have my book and don’t want to buy it, you’ll also find links in your handout for accessing an earlier version online. The earlier version isn’t very different from the current.You’ll see that left column is for skills. I’ll be asking you to come up with 3 success stories tied to 3 skills relevant to your profession. When you do this exercise with clients, they may find that skills might come from job postings the job-seeker is interested in or from their resume.
  • This is an attempt to compress this exercise into a shorter period than I normally would allow, as you’ll see in the Workshop Leader instructions.It’s possible, though, that coming up with your stories will take less time; if it looks like everyone is finished earlier than 15 minutes, we’ll move on sooner.
  • Thanks. Let’s give them a hand. What are your names?What I want to do now is reality-test the success stories.I’m sure you are all familiar with behavioral-interview questions, based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.One of the best uses of storytelling in the job search is in response to behavioral-interview questions.I want to ask each of you a behavioral-interview question to see if you can draw on your set of 3 Success Stories to respond to the questions. You may have to do a bit of mental juggling to adapt a story you developed to illustrate a particular skill so that it fits the question being asked.You are allowed to “pass” once if you feel you can’t easily respond to the question, but if you pass again, we go on to the next person. Of course, in a real interview, you would not be able to pass.You may find that your response will not even come from the 3 stories you developed.Questions:Tell me about a major problem you recently handled. Were you successful in resolving it?What have you accomplished that shows your initiative?Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.Give me an example of an important goal you’ve set and tell me about your success in reaching it.Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented, or carried out successfully, primarily because of your efforts.Give me a specific example of something you did that helped build enthusiasm in others.Tell me about a difficult situation when it was desirable for you to keep a positive attitude.What is the most significant contribution you made to an employer during a past or current job?Debrief: Did your responses come from the stories you prepared?Audience: as you heard the questions, did you find that you could have drawn on stories on your list to respond?Can you see the potential for responding to interview questions if you develop more of these – say 10-20? Thanks, let’s give them another hand!
  • I want to briefly touch on 3 more areas of the job search in which job-seekers can use stories.Your handout lists links for more information from my book about these aspects of the job search.1stis networking: The idea in networking is to start a conversation with a network contact with a “hook,” some kind of provocative statement that arouses curiosity. For example, I recently heard a career coach in a webinar say he tells people that he’s a “purpose finder.” His contacts naturally ask what a purpose-finder is, and he then tells a story about how he helps people find their purpose in their careers.Next, is personal branding: The idea is to use stories to help develop and support your personal brand.Finally, career portfolios: Candidates can take a portfolio to interviews that shows their skills and accomplishments. Let’s say the interviewer asks “How experienced are you with giving presentations?” The candidate can show an artifact from a presentation – a set of slides – for example, and tell a story about that experience.
  • What questions do you have?
  • The Power of Storytelling in Job Search and Career

    1. 1. The Power of Storytelling in Job Search and Career<br />Kathy Hansen, PhD<br />
    2. 2. Comparing two ways of responding to the <br />same interview question<br />
    3. 3. Are you goal-oriented?<br />
    4. 4. #1<br />#2<br />
    5. 5. Why <br />Storytelling<br />Works<br />
    6. 6. <ul><li>Beat two-month deadline for operationalizing online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll system by overseeing fast-track implementation from outside vendor.
    7. 7. Reduced payroll discrepancies 25 percent and time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues by 50 percent.
    8. 8. Decreased time spent on reports by 25 percent by customizing reports to track labor/benefits allocation.
    9. 9. Earned vendor’s Certificate for Management’s Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.</li></li></ul><li>Situation<br />Action<br />Result<br /><br /><br />Resume<br />Result<br />Action<br />Situation<br /><br /><br />
    10. 10. <ul><li>Beat two-month deadline for operationalizing online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll system by overseeing fast-track implementation from outside vendor.
    11. 11. Reduced payroll discrepancies 25 percent and time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues by 50 percent.
    12. 12. Decreased time spent on reports by 25 percent by customizing reports to track labor/benefits allocation.
    13. 13. Earned vendor’s Certificate for Management’s Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.</li></li></ul><li>
    14. 14. <ul><li>Beat two-month deadline for operationalizing online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll system by overseeing fast-track implementation from outside vendor.
    15. 15. Reduced payroll discrepancies 25 percent and time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues by 50 percent.
    16. 16. Decreased time spent on reports by 25 percent by customizing reports to track labor/benefits allocation.
    17. 17. Earned vendor’s Certificate for Management’s Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.</li></li></ul><li>I demonstrated my strong project-management skills when I led a project team in exceeding all expectations while implementing an outside vendor’s system for online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll. Not only did we crush our two-month deadline, but we also reduced payroll discrepancies. <br />We then slashed in half the time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues, and cut time devoted to reports. The icing on the cake was earning a special certificate from the vendor for improving efficiency.<br />
    18. 18. “ ”<br />
    19. 19.
    20. 20. How to Do 3 Success Stories Exercise<br />
    21. 21. Brainstorming<br />Reality Test w/Behavioral Qs<br />Debrief<br />
    22. 22.
    23. 23. Contact kathy@astoriedcareer.com<br />

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