Interview Advice: Learn How to Tell a Story


Cover of "Ham on Rye"I always tell people that likability is the key factor in finding a job.

Personal referrals always beat resumes. Informal networking always beats an email. People who are seen do better than the anonymous inquiries in an email system.

There is a downside, though. If people don’t like the looks of you, you are doomed.

For me, it is all about extending the window of judgment by being as neutral and inoffensive as possible. No crazy smells. No crazy clothes. No weird quirks. When you finally open your mouth, it’s also important to stifle any personal opinions or ideas that can kill your likability quotient.

This is why it’s important for you to learn how to tell your story.

Jason Seiden has been saying this for years. In order to find a job, you need to know some truths about yourself. Who are you? How did you break into your industry? What are the things you most enjoy about your job? What do you want out of your next job?

Don’t memorize lines. Dig deeper. If you can tell your story, you can manage those awful behavior-based questions that come your way. You can very easily give an example of a time you failed on a project — and talk about what you learned from an experience — if you know exactly what you did and what you would do differently next time.

And if you’ve been fired, you can weave that into your story and talk about how you have learned lessons on accountability and humility.

The problem is that so few of us know how to tell a story. At the very least, you have to establish a setting. Beyond that, you must understand what motivates you as a character within that setting. You must have an accurate timeline of events, too. So many of us lack self-awareness and muck around with job titles, responsibilities and dates of employment. We can’t develop our narrative because we are mired in the lies we tell ourselves to seem more accomplished than we really are.

Also, far too many interviewees want to jump to the climax and tell the interviewer how they accomplished a monumental feat — or saved a company $1MM — by the age of 28. Unless you know how to tell a story and show character development, it sounds like bullshit.

Finally, few of us understand how to end a story. Why are you here in my office asking for a job? Why are you ending an existing employment agreement and looking for something new? If you don’t have a clear ending, I will make one up for you in my head. And I’ll probably misjudge you.

So how do you learn how to tell a story?

  • Read.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Watch TV.
  • Pay attention to short stories.

No, wait. Go read Ham on Rye. It’s the single best instruction manual for telling a story. And then ask your friends and colleagues to tell you their stories. Listen to what they say and don’t say.

Then do better.

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