Need a job? Focus on storytelling instead of résumé how-to’s
What do Hollywood films and Scooby Doo cartoons have in common? Both have a lot to teach jobseekers about standing out and getting hired. It all starts with telling a good story.
Famous screenwriting instructor Robert McKee describes stories as “the currency of human contact.”
By McKee’s definition, “currency” is simply something that is used as a medium of exchange. For example, someone tells a story and gets sympathy or a laugh in return, or perhaps the story incites disgust or scorn.
Talent management specialist Roger Wright agrees that stories are currency, but puts a capitalist spin on the word. Like money, a well-told story has value, he says, and can “buy” valuable things — like gainful employment.
“All the time spent sending résumés into cyberspace would be better spent honing and perfecting your story and finding the right people to tell it to,” says Wright, author of “Finding Work When There Are No Jobs” (Think Different Press, 2013).
Remember how Fred, Scooby and the gang drove around looking for mysteries to solve? Wright advises jobseekers to do the same, minus the trippy van and talking dog. “What is it that you can do easily that others see as a mystery? Mysteries always indicate a need for a solution,” Wright says. “What if you could fill that need, solve what appears to be a mystery to others and get paid for it?”
Most people in search of work look for jobs. “What they ought to look for are needs,” says Wright.
Identifying needs is necessary for crafting a good story and finding an appreciative, attentive audience. Think about times you met a need and made a difference, and how the skills and knowledge you used then could be of use to individuals and organizations now.
Develop different versions of your story so you’ll have a fitting one to “pull out of your wallet,” so to speak, depending on the audience and its needs, Wright recommends.
Being prepared in a job interview to identify and address a specific need within the framework of a story sets a candidate apart, says San Francisco-based business communications coach Patricia Fripp. The basic sequence starts with a situation, problem or challenge, followed by the specific approach, actions and solutions you propose, and then the classic storybook happy ending: the results, benefits or success you envision.
“Telling the right kind of story not only can make you memorable; it can help you demonstrate skill sets and can help your interviewer imagine how you would succeed in the job,” says Julie Fuoti, founding partner of Grapevine Group, a Summit, N.J.-based consultancy that combines storytelling and brand strategy. “In a crowded job market, telling stories is the easiest way to stand out from the crowd.”
Storytelling principles apply on the job, too, when giving presentations or pitching ideas and products. “The absolute best way to train, teach, motivate and sell is to use specific examples, or what we usually call stories,” Fripp says.
Follow the “classic Hollywood formula,” Fripp says, complete with colorful characters and heroes, sparkling dialogue, and lessons learned.
“Business presenters can put a little more emotion into what they say,” she says.
Movie makers indicate how audiences should feel by cuing music in certain scenes, and presenters can do the same through word choice and delivery.
Turn “numbing data” into stimulating descriptions of what it all means, Fripp says.
“More than any words you say, people will remember what they ‘see’ in their minds” as you speak, she adds.
Connect with the audience by looking people in the eye instead of staring at your notes or PowerPoint slides. Keep the type on your slides to a minimum, warns Fripp: “Your audience is there to listen to your stories, not read them.”
Don’t underestimate the persuasive power of an emotional story. Neurologists have shown that decision-making is an emotionally driven process, not a logical one, and that “our brains are wired to remember stories, not data or information,” Fuoti says.
Don’t overdo it, though. You’re looking to earn a job, new clients or record sales, not an Oscar or a reputation for overdramatizing.
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