In a recent networking event, I started facilitating it by having the members introduce themselves with their elevator pitch. All of them talked about their professional experience. Most of them were well-rehearsed in delivering their value statement.
When it was my time to deliver my pitch, instead I began by saying, “When I was a child….” This immediately grabbed their attention. I proceeded to tell the networkers a two-minute story about a hard lesson I learned from my dad.
Then I broke them up into groups of four and had them each tell two stories. (Because it was an odd number, I participated…again.) They could select from telling a story about a:
- tough life lesson they learned;
- rewarding life experience;
- failure experienced in work; and
- success they achieved in work.
After each networker told their group two stories, I asked for volunteers to tell the whole group their favorite story. As it turned out, the members had told their individual group a story that addressed each topic. I must say all the stories were extremely good.
Finally I asked the members if their stories were related to networking. Yes. I followed by explaining how stories, no matter what the topic, have to be relevant to their audience. They must include the following principles:
What meaning does your story have? The exercise I had my networkers perform required them to address the aforementioned topics. I gave them specific instructions, which they adhered to.
The purpose of the exercise was not only to teach them the importance of storytelling; it was also to illustrate that networking is more than delivering your elevator pitch. For example, you might have the opportunity at a networking event to tell a brief story about your vacation in northern Italy.
The same principle applies to interviews. When an interviewer asks you to tell them about a specific time when you demonstrated excellent conflict resolution skill, they don’t want theoretical answers.
Don’t start with, “Conflict resolution requires a level head….” No, begin with, “There was a situation where I last worked….” Interviewers want to hear stories that have meaning to them. You also have to use proper form.
A story you tell to answer a behavioral-based question will be less open-ended than a story you tell in a social gathering or for an activity I gave my networkers. It has to have form, should not exceed two minutes, and be specific to a situation or problem.
Remember what I mentioned above; don’t start with a theoretical answer to describe a specific time when you dealt with a conflict, or any other specific situation.
In workshop I lead called Mastering the Interview, I have my participants construct a story using the following form: Problem or Situation, approximately 20% of the story; the Actions taken to meet the situation, 60% of the story; and the Result of the action taken, the remaining 20%.
Some of my workshop attendees have difficulty keeping the situation brief. They feel the need to provide background information, which distracts the listener from what’s most important—the actions taken to meet the situation. The result is also important, whether it’s a positive or negative resolution.
Create a connection
When the candidate creates a connection in an interview, a couple of things can happen. First, the interviewer may smile and indicate approval by saying, “Thank you. That was a great answer.” This likely means that your story addressed the the question and adhered to proper form.
Or the employer may come back with follow-up questions, such as, “How do you know you saved the company money by volunteering to take over the webmaster responsibilities?” Bingo. You’ve gained the interest of the employer. You’ve created a connection.
My networkers achieved success by eliciting some emotional response from the group. One story a man delivered was about how he was tasked with telling his aunt that her father had passed away. No one in the family could bring themselves to do it. So, he did the tough act. His was an emotional story.
Preparation is paramount to success
There is really only one way to prepare for telling your stories. You have to completely understand what’s required of the position. Know what competencies the employer is looking for, e.g. time management, leadership, problem solving, problem assessment, and customer service skills.
Based on this knowledge, you will construct five stories in anticipation of directives like, “Tell me about a time when you felt your leadership skills had a positive impact on your team…and a time when it had a negative impact.”
My networkers didn’t have time to prepare for this exercise; they had to think on their feet. But all of them did extremely well. The stories they told might not have been geared toward the job search, but it showed them the importance of making a connection through storytelling.
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