Storytelling: the best way to get to the truth
By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
Where is the truth in a world where both companies and job seekers are branding themselves with all sorts of jargon and pretense? When everyone puts only their best foot forward, they forget that it takes two feet to get anywher. By inserting storytelling into the interview process, whether candidate or company, you’ll elicit greater authenticity, make stronger connection, and be the one who is remembered.
This is not to suggest that storytelling should replace a company’s normal interview questions and assessments. Nor should it preclude job seekers from studying an organization’s website and preparing to present their skills and experience in a positive light. But remember your goals. Organizations not only want to hire people who can do the job, they need to look beyond skills and experience to attitude and cultural fit in order to foster retention. Jobseekers want more than a title, a paycheck and benefits, they want stability and inspiration to get up every morning to go to work.
Storytelling gives you a broader and deeper look at each other that leads to better, more lasting employment decisions. As Maya Angelou put it, “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Stories bring that all- important feeling to the interview mix. And, isn’t it true that how you feel about your people and how they feel about your organization has much to do with the success of everyone?
Questions you should ask
There are, of course, some rules to good storytelling. First of all, don’t ask questions with an agenda. You want to get to know this person, or this company, not lead the storyteller down a pre-determined path that won’t tell you much about them. Let them tell you whatever your question brings to their mind. In answering, make your stories short and relevant—and actually answer the question. If the storyteller cries tears, happy or sad, or laughs a belly-laugh, you’ll know you’re getting to the truth. If you’re a candidate, ask for stories from different levels of the organization and see if you notice common themes.
There’s probably no greater contemporary storyteller than Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote many of the best animated Pixar movies, from Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life to Wall-E and Toy Story. In a TED Talk, his advice to storytellers is to use what you know, capturing truth from experience and expressing the values you feel deeply. Your listener will determine much about who you are by what you say. This is a much better way to explain yourself, as a person or a company, than expressing your character traits or values in a laundry list.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Richard Furness, of PR firm Finn Partners, says his favorite interview question is: “So, (insert name) what’s your story?” He finds that the answer tells him a great deal about the character, imagination, and inventiveness of the person. It also helps form an opinion about their likeability and the way they think. This question can also be useful to candidates by simply rewording: “So, tell me your personal career story.” You’ll get the same kind of insights about the person who may become your boss and the kind of people the organization hires.
Other story-generating questions for organizations to ask candidates:
- What’s your most memorable work experience?
- Describe a time when what you did deeply reflected who you are.
- When in your career have you so passionately focused on something that you lost track of time and were completely lost in what you were doing?
- Describe a time in your career when you felt uniquely valued.
- What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it make you feel?
- How do you hope it will feel to work for this organization?
And for candidates to ask of prospective employers:
- Describe something that happened here that you don’t think could happen in any other organization.
- Tell me about how you experienced one of the company’s values in something you or someone else did. How did it make you feel?
- Based on your experience, what kind of person has fit in really well in this organization? What kind of person hasn’t fit in?
- What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done at this company and how did people react? How did you feel when it was all said and done?
- Describe a time when your boss made you feel uniquely valued.
- Describe how the company celebrated when it achieved an important goal.
If after hearing your mutual stories, you find that you care about this person or this organization, jump into the relationship with both feet.