This week, I did something that freaked me out a little. I called a mysterious telephone number and shared some of the most significant moments of my life with a stranger. Why on earth would I do something like that? It sounds like a bizarre form of therapy (or torture?) but it was really part of a Fundamentum WebClass I took called “Sell Yourself with Stories.”
As a writer, I feel pretty comfortable with stories. I create them all day at work when I’m thinking of an interesting way to start a blog post or a new way to share a topic with our readers. And of course I immerse myself in them whenever I read the latest YA novel or watch my current favorite show, The Vampire Diaries. (#SorryNotSorry)
But when it comes time to actually tell a story out loud, using my voice, it turns out that I don’t always feel so at ease. What I love about writing is that it gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to go back and edit as many times as I’d like until I’m satisfied. What’s the equivalent of a “delete” tab for speech? It just doesn’t exist.
We realized that here on the AfterCollege Blog, we’ve talked about “storytelling” in the context of your résumé or cover letter, but we’ve yet to give you some specific examples of how you can incorporate stories into your job interviews. So when Fundamentum gave us the chance to take one of their WebClasses, we opted for the session that focused on how to use storytelling to ace a job interview. Here’s a recap of my experience.
When I signed up for the class, I received an email with some instructions and a link to a Google docs slideshow. The slideshow took me through some points about storytelling, and gave me a structure for the elements of a good story. There were a few slides that just provided a brief prompt, which I needed to fill out with my own stories. So far, so good—this wasn’t that different from writing an outline or a rough draft of a blog post.
The actual class
A few days before class, and then again on the day of the class itself, I got email notifications that gave me a phone number and access code so that I could dial in. Just as the class was starting, my coach also emailed me a link to the Google slideshow doc that we would be using in the session.
We had a small group—just one other student (AfterCollege Editorial Assistant Kellen McKillop), our coach Pam, and me. We started by introducing ourselves and then looking at some of the common “traps” that stories can fall into as well as the elements of a successful story.
Then it was game time, AKA the moment I had been dreading, when we each had to take turns telling and listening to our stories. I’m not going to lie—it was a little nerve-racking, especially since I was the one who was randomly chosen to go first. (Darn it, Kellen, why does your birthday happen to be after mine?)
So yes, it was a little terrifying to tell a story and then hear it critiqued (although the “critique” was delivered in a very gentle and non-threatening “two stars and a wish” format, which was really not scary at all). But a funny thing happened as we went along. With each story, I got a little more confident and a little less freaked out. And when I had the opportunity to retell one of my stories, I was able to take in the feedback and use that to refine my technique. So what started as a long, rambling tale that may or may not have had a clear ending was shortened and improved by adding a summary that gave it purpose.
This is not a word-for-word transcript, but it gives you an idea of how my story sounded on the first go:
In my current job, I need to spend a lot of time learning. This is because my background is in writing and editing, and not content marketing. In fact, I didn’t even know what content marketing was when I first started. And so I need to learn a lot about content marketing. Anyway, I decided that I should take a course to learn more about it. There’s an organization that I really like called Copyblogger, and they offer a lot of content that’s free that helps people learn about various aspects of content marketing. And they offered a paid course where you could become a certified content marketer. So I decided to sign up for it…
And that was just the intro! Phew! Not a surprise, then, that the feedback I received was to “get to the point” a little faster (although no one put it that bluntly, of course). So when I retold that story, the intro went a little more like this:
“I need to learn a lot about content marketing in my current role because I’m relatively new to this field, so when I found a course to become a certified content marketer, it seemed like a great opportunity for my personal and professional development.”
Much better, right?
And then, instead of just running out of steam and leaving my listeners wondering if I had anything left to say, I tacked on a little summary at the end that went something like this:
“I learned the importance of making myself accountable to an outside source, and now I can make sure that I add that type of accountability to whatever type of extracurricular project I pursue.”
What I really liked about this class was that it really hammered home the importance of practice. It’s easy to say something like “I’m not good at public speaking” or “I suck at interviews,” but it can be hard to realize that you actually have the power to improve these skills. It may be (will definitely be) a little uncomfortable at first, but once you practice even just a few times, you realize that storytelling is a skill that anyone has the ability to develop.
The next day, I had my 15-minute individual follow-up class with my coach, and we had the opportunity to address any questions or concerns I had. In my case, I was worried about how to deal with certain types of interview questions that might end up having kind of a negative slant, like your biggest weakness or why you had chosen to leave a previous position. My coach helped me to see how not every interview question needs to turn into a story and how you can choose to answer certain questions in a more straightforward way and use the storytelling approach with others.
Did this class induce fear in my heart beforehand? Yes. Was that fear unfounded? Yep. Am I a better storyteller as a result? Absolutely. Will I go into my next interview or networking situation with a little more confidence? You bet.
There’s no question that you could do most (if not all) of this work on your own, but it was definitely beneficial to have a classmate and coach who were there to provide feedback and support. And really, storytelling doesn’t work as well if you don’t have anyone to tell your story to.
Have any questions for us about working storytelling into your job interviews? Let us know in the comments section below and we’ll ask one of Fundamentum’s coaches to answer.
Want to attend a session yourself? We’re doing a little giveaway until November 25, 2014. Find the details in this post.
Or, if you want to secure a spot, Fundamentum is offering all AfterCollege readers a discount on all their WebClasses. Use the code AFTERCOLLEGE20 to get a 20% discount on any WebClass until December 1, 2014.