Why Storytellers Get the Job They Want

By Frank Traditi

Garrison Keillor, the creator and host of the popular radio show, Prairie Home Companion, is one of the best storytellers of our time. His wit and wisdom gets us every time we listen to him. He has an uncanny ability to create an emotional bond that just draws us in and we crave to hear more.

Why is he so successful? Because people love to hear stories. Stories that are funny, sad, exciting, dangerous -- you name it -- you can create an instant relationship with someone if you can tell a convincing story. That's exactly what he does when talks about the "News from Lake Wobegon".

Here's why the fine art of storytelling can be a powerful tool in your quest to find a job. You are probably aware by now that companies hire you based on your ability to demonstrate what you can do for them and how you can solve their problems. While a hiring manager expects you to have all of the functional skills necessary for the job, they are much more interested in how you can use your special abilities to handle the challenges given to you if you were in the job. The big question is how do you demonstrate this ability in an interview when they haven't seen you at work yet?

Tell a story.

Often during interviews you'll get the opportunity to highlight your unique talents. A very effective way to do this is to introduce career success stories about how you overcame significant challenges. You may have suggested a creative idea to handle an employee performance problem. Maybe you instituted a step-by-step process to reduce customer complaints. Perhaps your persistence paid off to close a multi-year contract with the largest customer the company has ever seen.

All of these actions resulted in great accomplishments throughout your career. Now you get the chance to tell the story of how you did it. To help you tell your story in the most convincing way, you need a simple format to work from. Here's an easy, 3-step process to put the pieces together for your success stories when you get the opportunity to tell them.

  1. Describe the problem or opportunity you faced.
    This is the situation you were up against. It may have been a special project that you were assigned or a highly volatile customer issue. Perhaps it was an aggressive sales objective never attempted before. You're setting up the plot of your story here.
  2. What did you do?
    How did you deal with the challenge? Perhaps you devised plans, assigned tasks, coordinated meetings, created a system, or mobilized a team to tackle the problem. Describe the process, step-by-step, of how you attacked the problem through to resolution. Remember - you are explaining and marketing your ability to solve problems.
  3. What was the positive end result?
    Describe, as specifically as you can, the positive outcome of your actions. How did you save or make money for the company or department? What changed for the better as a result of your initiative? Did a difficult communication problem disappear after you got involved? Did you repair a big customer problem? If you can point to specific, bottom line results, the more convinced a hiring manager is that you are person for the job.

Here's an example to help you out. Let's say an interviewer asks you a question like:

"Tell me about a time where you had to work in a high-pressure situation."

  1. Describe the problem or opportunity you faced.
    Not too long ago, we were dealing with a technically complex customer service problem with one of our largest customers. They spent approximately $200,000 per month with us and were not going to stand for poor customer service. They had been dealing with these issues on and off for a period of four consecutive months. They threatened to cancel a long-term contract if we did not take care of the problem within the next 45 days.
  2. What did you do?
    I had just taken over responsibility for the sales and service team that managed this account. First, I assessed the problem through an all-hands meeting with everyone who came in contact with the client. Next, I assembled several teams to each take responsibility for one of the problems related to a specific technical issue. I asked each team to develop a plan of attack to deal with their problem area. They had 24 hours to communicate back to the other team members and report on their progress.

    This method of handling a very complex and technical problem proved successful. It mobilized individuals who, up to this point, were passive and fearful about correcting the customer problem.

  3. What was the positive end result?
    The bottom line was that all of the client's issues were fixed within two weeks. Their contract renewal came due 60 days after we fixed the problems. As a result of our fast action and determination, they signed a new contract for an additional $150,000 per month in services over a three-year period.

Who needs to hear your stories? You'll want to tell them to anyone who has the power to hire you, or who could repeat your story to someone who can. This includes prospective employers, managers who can influence the hiring process, networking contacts, and job search buddies. Take a moment now to identify three success stories appropriate in discussions where you get to talk about your career.

Do this enough times, and who knows, pretty soon you might have your own radio show - just like Garrison Keillor.

Copyright © 2005, Frank Traditi

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