This is a blog post by Criscillia Benford, guest blogger at ReBoot Accel.
Imagine yourself in an interview. Your interviewer has just asked, “What is your greatest professional achievement?” It’s your turn to speak. If you imagined yourself frozen or stumbling through an answer, you’re not alone.
According to LinkedIn’s 2016 @Work study, 46% of those surveyed would not feel confident describing their professional achievements “if they chanced upon their dream employer on the street.”
However, 86% of “recruitment decision makers” agree that talking about professional achievements with clarity and confidence is key to getting the offers you want. People at the top of their game talk about their professional accomplishments as readily as some folks retweet the latest viral meme. And they’re able to do so without making listeners feel captive.
How do they do it? Interview storytelling.
Short, true stories about your professional life are especially useful tools for people who are pivoting to a new industry or re-entering the workforce because they connect your past to the present moment, and showcase your skills and talents.
Intuitively, we understand that well-told stories are powerful. Research in neuroscience and neuroeconomics explains why stories are useful in a business context.
In sum: Stories connect and engage. They connect ideas to people and humanize facts. That’s why stories are easier to remember than lists of facts.
Want to know the best part? Stories trigger a hormone cocktail (cortisol + oxytocin) that promotes focus and empathy. Who wouldn’t want that in an interview?
Here’s the deal: a success story that works for work must be short, and it must deliver a clear message. It should describe a transformation from one state of affair to another and use concrete sensory and emotional details. It should do all of this in 60 seconds –– at most 90.
Telling a story like this takes preparation and practice. And practice. And practice. And practice. Sound like a tall order? Don’t worry.
This post explains how to prepare success stories for high-stakes engagements like interviews. It also offers tips for getting the most out of storytelling practice time.
How to Prepare Success Stories: A 3-Step Formula
Step 1: Understand your audience
Remember the reason to share stories about past professional accomplishments is to help listeners envision the positive impact you could make for their organization. To accomplish this goal, you must first discover their organization’s values and needs.
If you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve probably already done this research. If not, check out this article from Forbes, 10 Essential Steps to Prepare Yourself for a Job Interview.
Step 2: Recall your strengths in action
Once you’ve identified which of your skills, traits, and abilities your target organization or industry needs and values most, take a few moments to consider your professional achievements. Which of your past achievements required you to use the skills, traits, and abilities most valued by your target organization or industry? What actions did you take to meet your goals?
Step 3: Use the PART method to outline your success story
For this step, choose one achievement from your past where you used the skills, traits, and/or abilities most valued or needed by your target organization. Use the PART method to create an outline for a story that communicates this achievement. This four-part outline will help you tell a success story that is relevant and brief, yet detailed enough to be credible and engaging. Try to use less than 20 words in each section.
The PART Method for Story Outlining: Problem, Action, Result, Take Away
- This is your story’s starting point, its “once upon a time there was a” moment. Try to capture the specifics of the problem in concrete (rather than abstract) language.
- Action or Approach
- This is your story’s middle, the moment where you describe your intervention in the most concrete terms possible. This is your opportunity to show your skills, talents, and abilities in action.
- This is your story’s ending, its “ever after” moment. What resulted from your intervention? If you can communicate this in quantitative terms, all the better.
- Why have you chosen to tell this story to this listener? What message do you hope they’ll take away? This is your opportunity to underscore the relevance of your experience to your listener’s organization.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Use a timer when you practice. Remember: you’ve got 60 to 90 seconds! Don’t worry if you go long at first. Practice alone and with allies. Ask for feedback. Notice how the details you include in your story affect your listeners’ responses. Make adjustments that increase your story’s impact without adding length.
To maximize focus, public speaking expert Kristin Link coaches her clients to practice while looking at their takeaway message on a post-it. Try it. It works!
Interview for a Dream Job: Take Two
Imagine that you’ve crafted three or four success stories that showcase your industry-valued skills, traits, and abilities. Imagine that you’ve also practiced and practiced and practiced telling these true stories to yourself and your allies. Now re-imagine yourself interviewing for your dream job.
Your interviewer has just said, “Tell me about a time you successfully handled a difficult project or work situation.” or perhaps she’s asked, “What is your greatest professional achievement?” Or “Tell me about a time you successfully motivated your team to surpass expectations.” Or even: “Describe your work style.”
It’s your turn to speak.
Criscillia Benford is obsessed with the galvanizing powers of narrative and committed to using the principles of narrative design to foster harmonious communities and families. As the principle of Criscillia Benford Architecture, she teaches innovative companies how to support thriving, inclusive workplace communities. As a member of the Children’s Screen Time Action Network, Criscillia uses her expertise in mediated communication to help children and their parents learn to reduce anxiety and loneliness by managing their use of digital technology. Criscillia earned her PhD in English from Stanford University where she specialized in Narratology (the science of storytelling). Her most recent research on digital dependencies appears in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of Neural Computation.
Are you a job seeker? Job search skills workshops ongoing in Silicon Valley. Returning to your career following a pause? Criscillia will be teaching her How to Craft and Deliver Success Stories workshop on May 18 in Menlo Park.
Want to connect with a positive community of like-minded people? ReBoot Accel is here to help. ReBoot Connect in-person community events and professional development workshops ongoing in Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Detroit, and Houston.
Can’t get to those cities? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @rebootaccel, and please join our free “ReBoot Accel Discussion Group” on Facebook for more conversation, connecting, sharing, and support.