02/05/2015 07:09 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2015

The One Essential Element Of Every Job Interview

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Andrew Linderman has a pretty cool job: He tells stories for a living. It’s not all happy endings and fairy tales—though it could be if you take his advice. Linderman, CEO of Story Source, teaches job-seekers how to use storytelling to ace interviews, which can be especially critical when you’re changing careers and convincing a potential boss to allow you to breach the wall and leap into a new field. (See this recent article in The New York Times and another one in Entrepreneur for more on why storytelling matters in business). If you can’t take one of Linderman’s classes, here’s a happy plot twist: He shared some essential storytelling secrets with Life Reimagined.

Storytelling doesn’t have to be grandiose or fanciful. “Speak to the truth of an experience, rather than speaking in clichés or hypotheticals,” Linderman advises. People appreciate honest, specific and personal stories that foster a connection and show some human vulnerability. “Storytelling is an elemental communication tool. It's what we want, it's what we're hungry for,” he says.

For instance, interviewers love to ask about a candidate’s best or worst qualities. Instead of simply spewing adjectives, Linderman suggests using experiences from your life to demonstrate a particular quality that an interviewer wants. “Think about your work in the context of values, accomplishments and vision, and tell a story that encompasses all three,” he says. Instead of simply informing someone that you’re thoughtful or innovative, mention a time when you applied these characteristics and had them validated by someone else. The key here is to get other people onboard, to show your good qualities were recognized by others. Herein lies the difference between an anecdote and a story. An anecdote simply recalls an experience; a story describes a shift in the teller’s awareness and perspective. Interviewees can use it to demonstrate personal and intellectual growth.

Of course, when you’re in the hot seat, it’s tempting to try to impress someone with an elaborate tale or a showy scenario. But is this really you? “What people don’t recognize is that, if they trick someone, they just won 40 hours a week with somebody they spent two hours duping.” Instead of grandstanding, Linderman recommends thinking of an interview as a personal, honest conversation.

“People think of interviews as a power exchange where the interviewee has no power. When you start to think of an interview in a storytelling context, it becomes less transactional and more interactive.”

So consider yourself on the same level as your interviewer, but don’t show all your cards. Avoid tired phrases like “I want to tell you a little story” or “the moral here is” You’ll sap power from the narrative. And finally, mind your watch: Though Linderman is loath to put time limits on his stories, he acknowledges that “more than two minutes is a long time for people to talk, and a long time for people to listen.”

Last but not least, consider practicing your narratives on a willing listener before debuting them to your real audience. “It’s like going to the gym. The more you do it, the better you get,” he says.

Read more from AARP Life Reimagined:

How To Turn Your Worst Traits Into Your Best Assets

Are You Ready For A Second Coming-Of-Age?

Robots Want your Job



Ten Ways To Land Your Dream Job