By Janice Burch, Co-founder, Pro Resume Center, LLC
It was early in my career in a leadership position and I was charged with interviewing applicants for a junior level client liaison/writer position.
This young man we'll call Jeff, was an athletic-looking guy, early 20s, dressed well in a tailored dark grey suit. He had a great resume, knew to stand up and shake my hand vigorously when I greeted him and had just recently graduated from a Big 10 college with a 3.7 GPA where he played D1 soccer. Driven? Yes. Check.
He stepped into my office for the interview and glancing over his resume, I thought – this is going to be an amazing interview.
After we settled in, I asked him to tell me about himself.
His response: “Well everything you need is right there on the resume.” I asked again and he responded by listing the bullet points from the resume. I again asked if he could give me some examples of some things he was sharing. He said he really didn't have anything to add – it was all right there, he said.
Can we collectively sigh and say it together – missed opportunity?
I was left with a dull taste after Jeff ignored the biggest shots I gave him to sell himself on how he would be an asset to the company. The biggest concern we had was – would he do the same thing when a piece of client business was on the table or a client called to ask for more information on a specific line item of a proposal?
Would he say, “Well it's all right there in the proposal in front of you, if you would just read it.”
Hmmm. We shook hands and I said we’d be in touch.
A day later, I met with candidate 4 – we’ll call him Ron. He did not have nearly the GPA of Jeff, and had graduated from a small private Midwestern school and was a little less polished and shiny than the other slick candidates with whom I’d met.
The tiny bit of sauce from his lunchtime sub on his tie, coupled with what looked like his dad’s suit from the 1970s may not have registered high with on the office style meter – but these cosmetic things faded quickly into the background as Ron took his chance to shine and show off his communication skills during the interview.
Engage, Relate, Connect Using Your Stories
He shared with me how he took his small college newspaper from nothing to an award-winning, nationally recognized paper during his last two years, increasing readership by 35% by end of his senior year. He didn't rattle off a memorized bullet point list of accomplishments from his resume. He did however, share a funny success story about a late night deadline for a client at a previous position he held just after college and how it resulted in new business because of his team leadership abilities. He also told me a story about how he increased his personal sales quota after learning how to handle customer price objections and how this helped lay the groundwork for his successful sales career at the store during summer breaks.
When I asked him questions – he had a story and delivered it with finesse. He held my attention for a full hour and with every quip he told, I wanted more. More time, more stories, more Ron.
After checking some references and running the requisite background, we offered the job to Ron within two days of the interview.
Why? Because he showed us that he understood the power of storytelling. We knew this translated well for marketing our company's services. Being able to tell YOUR stories in an interview helps hiring executives see your communication skills and confidence and how your presence may play out with colleagues and clients.
Granted, not all are comfortable talking with others in this setting. Early on, interviews and client calls scared me to death. To have to walk into a new client's office and present a project idea – to have to engage people I barely know and help them understand that working with me, the company I worked for at the time, was the best choice they could make? It was overwhelming to me at the time. But I learned, through trial and error at first, then practice and more practice, that being able to take interviews and sales calls to the conversation level, where you are telling stories to show your value rather than rattling off a list of capabilities and services goes so much further to connect. The more you do it, the easier it gets. With practice, even the most challenged person in the room can eventually get to a place where they are more comfortable in an interview or doing public speaking, than they've ever been before.
Stand out, tell a story
Later in conversation, Ron would tell me that he indeed had prepared his brief stories ahead of time in case he had a chance to share details, so he could comfortably rattle them off to help sell himself during the interview. Smart guy.
Lesson: Prepare for your next interview by crafting a few memorable, personal and succinct stories from your job experiences and accomplishments that will hold the interviewer's attention and help them think hard about offering you a position.
They already read your resume. That's how you got the interview. Use the interview to show off your communication skills and let them see you how you would mix well with other employees and clients. It's your chance to close the sale. A good salesperson does not read the label on the back of a box or product label when trying to sell the customer. They sell customers on the experience, the benefits, how it will make their life better, easier, richer, and how it will meet their needs.
Have you seen the benefit of preparing a few good stories ahead of time for your job interview or sales call? How did it help? Would love to hear from you in comments below, plus any additional tips you have to help the shy or inexperienced job seeker uncover their own personal stories to help them land the job they want.
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