THE BLOG
10/30/2013 08:44 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2013

Stories That Find Jobs

How can a story help you find a job? A study reported in the October 4th Science reports that readers of literary fiction show a marked difference in their ability to empathize with another person. Stories make you think. They take you down new roads. Perhaps even to places you've never been.

But there is a catch. The stories can't follow a familiar pattern. They can't be training guides, or "success stories" or genre fiction. What the researchers called "literary" stories are the ones that prompt the thinking. Stories where you have to read between the lines, fill in the missing pieces, imagine the characters or make up your own endings. Those are the ones that prompt the thinking, the ability to infer, to relate, to consider new ways of viewing a problem. Like for example, the problem of finding work.

To step outside the research and see these findings in action, here are five quick examples of how readers of Finding Work When There Are No Jobs started with a story from the book that prompted new thinking. And then ended up with a new job.

1. Confusing my resume with ME. "As a {social worker} the story about the young man taking the patient on a trip to find Oprah caught my interest. It was funny. It also helped me remember that here I was, a member of a helping profession, thinking a resume was more important than communicating how I had helped others. The story helped me remember what I think is important. Looking for a job makes you forget that sometimes." Brandon. Portland OR.

2. Tripping over HONESTY. "I grew up in Baltimore. I didn't know who Steve Dahl was. But I did know about Howard Stern. So the story about the honest guy in the coffee shop really made me think about how much I valued honesty. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that telling everybody everything about myself wasn't helping me get a job. I started changing my approach each time I talked with someone about a job. That led to me talking to a lot more people. Not so much interviews. Just people I knew. Before the book, most of my time was spend sending out resumes to strangers. Trying to get strangers to talk to me. Reading the stories about community in the book made me think about spending more time talking with the people who were NOT strangers. It was those conversations that led to my new job as a Manager." Denise. Chevy Chase MD.

3. Forgetting about FIT. "A headhunter who had reached out to me about a Senior Marketing role, had used the word "fit" every time we talked. I thought I got it. But when I read the story about the homeless guys finding work and the rhythm of the streets being a way to think about danger, I began to see "fit" in a deeper way. I really understood what my headhunter was talking about." James. Atlanta GA.

4. Leaving out harmony. "I liked the story about all the singers and writers gathering below a highway. I knew who some of them were, but not all of them. Yet, for some reason, I really liked that story. I realized why when I read the question at the end, "What is it about you, specifically, that brings harmony to a workplace?" That question really focused me on the fact that I have something, couldn't even tell you what it is, that makes other people get along with each other. I know how strange that sounds. I'm in wealth management. In my work, my clients are happy when their portfolios tell them to be happy. So, I never thought about all the ways I knew how to get clients through a bad quarter. Looking back on how I got this new job, my Managing Partner told me that what stood out about me was that I impressed her as being someone who could manage a client through a crisis. Maybe that is my harmony coming through." Martha. New York, NY.

5. Dreaming can help. "Those three little stories about the dreams, they weren't the usual stuff you read about dream jobs. I'm an IT Contractor. My dream job is the one where I get paid. So, I read the dream story about the snow. It got me thinking about how I really don't want to spend another winter up here. {In Michigan}. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on the phone to a guy I went to school with in Houston. He told me he could get me past HR to a real manager in his company. I hadn't talked to this old friend of mine in years. I couldn't believe he'd do that. But he did. I had three interviews on the phone. They flew me down here. And I live here now. It's great!" Jim. Houston, TX

None of these stories are traditional success stories. No one could do exactly what these five people did. Nor should they. That's not the point. The point is to look to a story to prompt new thinking.

Job search is traditionally portrayed as a one-size-fits-all set of skills. Learn the skills, get the job.

But what if there was more to it than that? What if what is standing between you and a job isn't a resume tip?

What if it's a story?