The world of storytelling is worth billions. Look at the book industry, which is reported to have made $78 billion worldwide in sales for 2022, according to the WordsRated Global Book Sales Statistics Report. Not to mention the movie industry, which took home another $8 billion and change domestically this year. People love a good story.
In the competitive world of job searching and interviewing, standing out from the crowd is crucial. One way to do this is to harness that human desire for a good story. If you can dig into your own past, create a few compelling stories, you can create a positive connection with recruiters and hiring managers alike — leaving you head and shoulders above the competition.
In this blog post, we look at turning your job search and interviews into successful narratives.
Understanding the Power of Storytelling in Your Job Search
Why do humans love a good story? Storytelling is an ancient craft that is hardwired into our brain to induce pleasure and captivate our attention. Before books, before movies, before anything were campfires and stories. People connected with one another, entertained others and formed bonds through their stories. For job seekers, using certain cues and stories will create certain emotions in certain audiences, which is why you must research.
Every single time I watch the movie Love Actually, I cry. At the beginning I cry at the airport scenes, in the middle I cry for the loss of the mother of the little boy Sam, I cry for the wife whose husband cheats on her right before Christmas, I cry at the end with little Sam getting his first kiss, and then one last time as the airport scenes start up again. I cry and cry and cry, and it is one my most favorite movies of all time, specifically because I am bound with emotions of all kind.
What connects me to this movie over other holiday movies that make me cry are the airport scenes. This is the only movie I can think of that relates that joy of arriving in an airport and seeing a loved one you haven’t seen in a long time. As a kid, I had this experience every summer of walking into the JFK and Jacksonville, Fla. Airport arrival sections and being greeted by loved ones, mostly my grandparents, welcoming me back to the U.S. (if you don’t know me, you might not know I grew up in Rome, Italy). As a military spouse, the airport arrival feeling is a little different but still filled with joy and relief. Needless to say, airport arrival imagery leaves me an absolute puddle of nostalgia and warmth.
As you can tell, I love storytelling myself. Emotions, vulnerability, it all helps link humans together into this wonderful experience of life. If you can take your experiences, skills, aspirations and weave them into a cohesive, compelling narrative that captures the attention of hiring managers and recruiters, you will at least be remembered, and if you do it well enough, you will even be liked.
The Science Behind Storytelling (Summarized)
When you are telling a story to someone who is actively listening, you create a strong personal connection. Using storytelling in a resume, a cover letter, and of course in an interview creates this emotional connection makes you more relatable and memorable. You become human, and not just another “applicant” in the eyes of the recruiter and hiring manager.
Scientifically, what you are doing is creating a no joke mind-meld. Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2010 showed that when someone is telling a story and the listener is following along, undistracted, the two create a neural coupling. The researchers used a functional magnetic resonance imaging device (fMRI) to study the blood flow in the brain of the storyteller and the listener, both subjects had the same parts of their brains light up and in relatively the same activity pattern.
This type of coupling and engagement leads to the release of dopamine and oxytocin, neurotransmitters/hormones in your brain. You might have heard of these neurotransmitters before, dopamine is released and gives you the feeling of pleasure and motivation. Oxytocin is sometimes called the love hormone and is released to make you feel bonded to someone and less anxiety. A hug can release these hormones, so can alcohol, but you should probably stay away from drinking stories!
Engaging the hiring manager and recruiter with storytelling can trigger their brains into feeling more connected to you and leave them with this “gut” feeling that you are the one they want to hire.
Crafting Your Story
Now you know why storytelling is important and how it works. But how do you craft a story when you are interviewing and job searching that creates that neural coupling and lasting connection? First, you need to do a bit of research. You have to know who you are interviewing with, who is reading your resume and cover letter, and what are the keywords and skills needed to get this job.
1. Know Your Audience
Understand the company’s culture, values, and what they look for in a candidate. Visit the company website, research their company page on LinkedIn, and read news articles about them. Next up are the people you are interviewing with, look them up on LinkedIn as well, find videos if you can on YouTube. Find out as much as you can. Whether you use all the information you gather or not is up to you and your stories. You don’t want to come across as a stalker, but you want to know what stories will spark a real reaction and which ones to stay away from.
With this company knowledge, knowledge about the hiring manager and recruiter, along with the information on the role, you can start to craft and customize your stories so you know they will hit home and align with the intendent audience.
2. Identify Key Themes and Skills
Reflect on your career and personal experiences to identify themes that align with the job for which you are applying. You want to bring in elements that reflect your personal brand and your background. You want to come across as confident without bragging, and stories that show even if you made a mistake, you grew or learned or resolved that mistake. Always end the story on a high or positive note.
Some sample themes that you could highlight in your job stories could include times you reflected outstanding leadership skills, times you got very innovative or creative with a project or problem, how you displayed great resilience, examples of exemplary teamwork, or times you displayed excellent problem-solving skills.
Look at the description, take out the key skills and competencies and start crafting short stories around each of them.
3. Effective Storytelling Structure
Good stories have a clear structure. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to organize your narratives and remember back to your elementary school days of the plot building, peak or climax of a story (usually involving a critical issue) and then resolution and conclusion. It doesn’t have to be a novel, but you should have a clear beginning, middle and end.
When thinking about your STARs, remember again to keep them within your personal brand. If you want to be remembered as the relationship-builder in your team, or the problem solver, highlight examples of those more than others and again, align them to the skills and competencies the role requires. Use quantifiable data to back up your stories if you can, but it’s more important to evoke some emotion that will last with the hiring manager or recruiter.
One of the toughest things to be is concise. You aren’t writing a book, or a movie here. Keep your stories to the point, and concise. Have your highlights, especially on a resume, but have a flow that quickly gets the point across and packs a good emotional punch.
4. Practice Authenticity
Be genuine in your storytelling. Authentic stories resonate more and help build trust with your audience. Don’t copy someone’s story you heard on YouTube. You might a) get caught lying and b) not have answers to follow-up questions.
If you get stuck with how to craft your story, try to get a career coach to help you work through these moments. A good coach can help you look back at your experiences to find stories and organize your thoughts to create compelling examples. If a coach is out of the question for you, look through past performance reports or accomplishment journals, ask colleagues or old bosses about times you displayed those skills or problem-solving expertise.
Places to Highlight Stories
The most obvious place is during your job interview, but even before that starts, you can create a compelling and interesting stories in your job search materials.
Think of a resume and how it starts off. In today’s day, we create a summary and tagline for your resume. In these areas, you are already beginning to craft your story. Think of these areas as a place to draw the reader in and entice them to read on. Wow them with a first line or headline, then pull them in to find out more about you.
A cover letter is another great place to touch upon a story you haven’t gotten through on your resume. Showcase or dive in deep into one skill or area— preferably one a major skill the role requires or one aligning to the company culture and values.
Another place is your LinkedIn profile and online presence. If you are on LinkedIn, which if you are in a knowledge-worker profession I highly recommend you to be on there, you should have your brand and your story(ies) laid out. What are you trying to get across to your audience, what do you want them to remember about you. It’s all in the stories of our posts, in our summaries, and in our experiences. Tailor and craft them to the role you most want and the keywords you most need to highlight.
Incorporating storytelling into your job search and interviews can be a game changer. It not only helps you stand out, but neurologically connects you to the hiring manager and recruiter if done well. You will leave a lasting impression on potential employers. Remember, the key to effective storytelling is authenticity, relevance, and a clear structure. By mastering this art, you can turn your job search journey into a compelling narrative that leads to a great career opportunity and fit.