If the whole world’s a stage, everyone’s life is a story being played out. And there are no bad stories, just bad storytellers. Whether you are applying for a new job or are being interviewed for a promotion by your current employer, your chances of success can be greatly enhanced by transforming yourself from a walking set of skills into an unforgettable lead actor in your own play. To create compelling narratives that engage your listeners and write you indelibly on their minds while highlighting your best qualities, follow these 15 storytelling techniques.
- Don’t limit stories to your work life:
Obviously stories about career accomplishments and performances are relevant to a job interview and can be very effective to share. But don’t limit your pool of story ideas to just the office; some of the best yarns come from your private life. Connections can easily be made to the office environment through tales of climbing a mountain, landing a big fish, or raising kids.
- Identify the quality first, then develop the story:Annette Simmons, the author of The Story Factor, recommends you first pick a quality about yourself you want to highlight, then think back on the story. She suggests drawing on four “reliable buckets” for good stories: a time you showed off that quality, a time you failed, a valued mentor, or a favorite book or movie with a character who displayed that quality.
- Let job postings be your guide:As for what skills you should highlight with your stories, Katherine Hansen, the author of Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, recommends looking to job postings. Pick a dozen or so listings and find which required skills pop up the most. For each skill, come up with a relatively recent story from work or play that shows how you have displayed that skill in the past.
- Tell the truth:Simple, right? Yet still the belief persists that “everyone lies on their resume” and a little fudging here and there is expected. Your mission as a storyteller is to take what you have, warts and all, and turn it into a compelling narrative. This means, for example, not hiding unemployment gaps but sharing what you learned from the experience that’s now made you a better person and worker.
- Speak with your audience in mind:
As John Steinbeck pointed out, if a story is not about the hearer, he won’t listen. So your story needs to be relatable at its core. Stories that might put off your listener because they are offensive, haughty, or completely out of the realm of everyday life may get you remembered, but not for the right reasons.
- Bring your story to life with vivid imagery:What makes a story stick in a person’s mind is the ability to mentally place themselves in your shoes and picture what you went through. You pull this off by describing some of the sensory details: the smell of the fresh-cut grass, the sound of the lawnmower, the feel of the golf club in your hands, the look on your friend’s face when you hit that hole-in-one.
- Get to the point:You know you’ve told an awful story when you finish and the listener says, “Interesting,” and moves on. You know you’ve told a truly compelling story when he’s bubbling with questions when you finish. And that’s exactly what you want from him: interest in you. So sometimes the best storytelling technique is to drop question-begging statements and speed right past them in the telling.
- Nail the opener:Women take a notoriously brief amount of time sizing up potential male partners, and you probably don’t have much longer to capture a listener’s attention with a story. Pique their interest by promising them something unusual or surprising. Throw out phrases like “brush with death” or “funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” anything that makes their ears perk up and gives you their complete attention. Just be sure to deliver once you’ve built it up.
- Make your cover letter stand out:The cover letter doesn’t have to be a drab, formulaic “To Whom It May Concern” affair. William Zinsser, the author of the landmark book On Writing Well, advises opening a cover letter with an anecdote or something like “One reason I want to work for you is I always remember something my father told me…” As it’s still a cover letter, keep it concise and use simple, conversational language.
- Follow a story formula:
There are a number of storytelling formulas developed by experts in this field of career advancement that you should stick to when crafting your stories. All of them involve progressing from some sort of problem or situation to the actions you took and the results that followed. For example, there is Kathryn Troutman’s CCAR formula: context, challenge, action, result. Another formula is Fred Coon‘s SHARE: situation, hindrance, action, results, and evaluation.
- Think of a resume as “story lite”:Because resumes are supposed to be concise, it can be hard to tell a story with one, but not impossible. Hansen advises thinking of each bullet point as a mini-story, concisely worded, to be expounded on in an interview or cover letter. Rather than leading with what you did, start each point with the positive results of your actions first in order to grab attention.
- Jazz up a LinkedIn invitation:Storytelling is basically about making business communication more conversational. Don’t overlook chances to make your communication memorable and interesting. For example, instead of sending the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network” on a LinkedIn connection invitation, craft a little message that will stick in the invitee’s mind (and cause him to accept): “Loved your recent post. I shared it, along with others in the past, with several of my LinkedIn Groups. Would you like to connect with me here on LinkedIn? I feel like I already know you!”
- Create a story-based personal branding statement:Personal branding is the art of establishing yourself as separate from the pack. The best way to do this is to incorporate your story and your experiences, which are inherently unique to only you. In David Andrusia and Rick Haskins’ Brand Yourself: How to Create an Identity for a Brilliant Career, they recommend using the formula “skills + personality/passion + market needs = branding statement.”
- Practice makes perfect:Don’t make the interview the first time you break out a story or you’ll meander and search for words or names and generally do a shoddy job. Consider writing out a story you want to use, then read through it and edit it down, cutting superfluous information. Once you have that, practice telling it with a natural rhythm and with the appropriate pauses and emphases.
- Know when to make your exit:
Part of knowing your audience is being able to gauge how busy they are. Of course, everyone is busy, but some potential employers are busy. You’ll need to walk the line between taking the time to tell your story properly and taking up more of your interviewer’s time than you should. Either way, the key is to wrap up your tale leaving them wanting more, as any good storyteller can attest.