This is a second in 3-part blog series on storytelling in the interview and how telling stories, instead of giving answers, to increase connection between interviewer and interviewee, which could culminate in a greater likelihood of an offer. To read the first blog, click here.
I love entertainment. It doesn’t matter what kind–movie, theater, TV, streaming, music, or book. Part of the joy, for me, is the shared experience. Whether you are laughing at the same jokes in a theater or discussing the show you just binge watched on Netflix, there is a commonality with others that unify you, even if for a brief moment in time.
At the core of this entertainment is a story. It could be grandiose and multifaceted, specific to a distinct moment in a person’s life, or a character study. In whichever form, we often connect to a main character in the story. Whether we cheer or jeer for them has a lot to do with how we relate to them, and we relate more to these performers when their emotions, background, or experience aligns with our own. For example, most of us connected to Riley, the main character in Inside Out, because we went through growing pains and lost a little of our childhood in the process, just as much as we relate to Red, the Morgan Freedman character in Shawshank Redemption, because we have been at the point of giving up before being given a new reason to hope.
Another reason we feel connected to these characters is they have strengths and flaws we recognize as our own.
All these forms of entertainment are filled with multiple storylines. These stories either maintain our interest or make us hit the delete button. It keeps our interest when it brings a new perspective or freshness to a common theme. It loses our attention when we’ve seen or heard the story before.
For this same reason, it’s important to be sincere in your answer to “what is your greatest strength.” If you try to give an answer based on what you want the employer to hear, versus what is true and authentic, you will end up telling the interviewer something they have heard a thousand time before.
So much for standing out.
The same goes for “what is your greatest weakness.” Everyone knows the formula. You provide an example of a quality or characteristic you have had to work on, tell the interviewer how you improved it, and conclude with how you have applied it since.
This is a tried and true strategy to answering these questions, but it still needs a face lift. The face lift comes from you and the story you are able to weave.
So, tell a story. Don’t just tell me what your strength or weakness is, but tell me when you used it and give me the evidence. Make me relive it with you from beginning to end.
For example, for the strength question, instead of simply mentioning strong active listening skills, I have told some version of the below:
I love to connect people to each other and opportunities, and have a natural inclination to get to the underlying need of a person, mostly because of strong active listening skills. I read into not only what they say, but what they portray through tone, body language, and movement. It’s in my nature to inquire and dig deeper to help people realize their needs and wants, and make it a reality.
Recently I had a client who was having difficulty finding a finance position. She had recently graduated from college with a strong GPA, as well as advanced Excel and analytical skills. However, she wasn’t aware of the recruiting cycles for a lot of the finance positions, and had missed the boat because she wasn’t aware of when she should have applied for these positions. Even though she graduated, she had the initiative and the desire to try to connect to recruiters. Chances were slim she would be considered for these positions. However, I noticed her motivation and passion about this career.
After meeting her a couple of times, I saw a common theme of her taking my advice and turning it to her advantage. Because I believed in her ability, I connected her to a former client who was working at a company of interest to her as well as a staffing agent at a local temp agency. She took initiative to connect with both of these leads to secure informational interviews. The former client forwarded her resume to an HR manager at his company, and before she knew it, she had an offer there. Simultaneously, she heard about a temp-to-perm opportunity at a well-known company of great interest to her from the temp agency. Either way she was in a better place, and in the end, she took the position with the former client’s company for greater security and eventual promotional opportunities
Nothing brings me more satisfaction than hearing a former client tell me they have found satisfaction in their life and career. I like to credit my active listening skills and interpersonal/relationship abilities as keys to this success.
If challenged with the “Tell Me About Your Weakness” Question, instead of mentioning I am a perfectionist or too organized, I usually share something along the lines of:
I dreaded public speaking. In high school, college, and my early career, I remember sweating and shaking, voice wavering as well as getting lost in my thoughts. I would purposely not hold notes even if it helped me remember certain key points because my hands would visibly shake. I tried memorizing with no such luck. I tried relying on the PowerPoint and putting in animation to take the attention away from me, which was not successful either.
It wasn’t until I started talking about what I liked that I started to see improvement in my speaking. I realized that, earlier in my life, I had to talk about whatever was required for the assignment. When I was able to go into the real world and talk about topics I was both passionate about and felt I was a subject matter expert in, the presentations felt easier, and definitely more comfortable.
That doesn’t mean I still don’t get nervous before every presentation. I think many of us still get nervous. However, training through Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters has helped. So has practice. I also will introduce myself to a couple of members of an audience before I get started, as well as give myself a little time before the speaking engagement to get a feel for the room. One thing is guaranteed, you won’t see me sweat or shake anymore.