My most recent job hunt was pretty intense, or rather, I went about it very intensely. I researched companies in many fields (everything from biotech to publishing), reached out to old contacts, emailed countless introductions, and eventually scheduled no less than 20 interviews over the span of four months (more interviewing than I'd done in my entire life). Throughout the process, I realized that while I felt increasingly anxious about finding a job, the interview process seemed to be somehow getting easier.
It's possible I was simply getting more comfortable meeting new people on a regular basis, but I think the biggest contributing factor was the realization that most interviews are exactly the same. While the details changed slightly from company to company, I found I was being asked many of the same questions over and over.
"What's your communication style?"
"How do you interact with a manager?"
"How do you deal with stress?"
"What are your problem solving skills like?"
"Are you organized? Are you a good multitasker? Do you work well on teams? Do you work well on a deadline?"
After ten interviews, I felt like a robot, mechanically rattling off reasons I thought I was qualified for the position. In retrospect, I probably started sounding like a robot too, which is why it's not shocking I wasn't getting offers. I looked good on paper, but "good on paper" doesn't matter if you're not interesting in real life. I (eventually) learned that the best way to navigate an interview like an actual human being was not to recite facts from my resume, but to tell stories instead.
As old as language itself, storytelling is one of the most fundamental ways we interact with each other. Stories are how we recount events, yes, but they are also how we share who we are and how we interpret the world. We exchange stories with friends, family, and the cute neighbor we're always trying so hard to impress... why wouldn't we do the same during a job interview? Best of all, while a rehearsed list of accomplishments can come off as abrasive, awkward, or 'braggy,' telling a story always has a natural and engaging element for both speaker and listener, regardless of how many times it's been told.
How do you slip in a great story when your interviewer is asking the slew of usual questions that seem to merit one-sentence answers? Here's an example from above:
Question: "For this role, we're looking for someone who can juggle a lot of tasks but can also stay organized at the same time. Does this sound like you?"
Boring answer: "Definitely! I'm one of the most organized people I know, and I'm constantly multitasking throughout the day."
...Um, ok? If this is the extent of your interview answers, have fun living in your parents' basement for the rest of your life.
Complete, engaging, and reassuring answer, (with a story): Definitely! In fact, a few months ago, I was the intern in charge of organizing the community outreach program for my company. It was really heartening to see so many people looking to get involved, but that meant there was also a lot to keep track of. I used an Excel spreadsheet to track our volunteers, everything from their contact information to their availability, and then created several email distribution lists to keep everyone informed. While that was going on, I was also making phone calls to different local organizations to see where we could help out. We ended up volunteering with the State Park Service and spent the day cleaning up the beach. You wouldn't think cleaning up trash would be fun, but we all had an amazing time and all that work paid off!
The story is the way to go - it shows rather than tells your interviewer what you're good at, displays genuine enthusiasm, and gives them a great way to remember you when they're making the hiring decision later on. And maybe most importantly of all, it makes interviewing a whole lot more fun and relaxed... so if you end up doing 20 of them, you won't want to jump off a building. Everyone wins.
This article was originally published on Fundamentum.