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The Secret to a Successful Interview: Great Storytelling

Beth Kuhel

With the intense competition in today's job market, everyone's searching for new and better ways to be memorable to hiring managers. Since all hiring managers are looking for someone to bring value, your ability to articulate this message is what will set you apart from someone else with comparable skills.

The art of storytelling can be applied to interviews as a strategy for making your case clear and impactful. First you need to know the purpose of your story and how it will explain why you're the best person for the job. Once you have a clear idea of specific information that will indicate you could fit in there and that you would be a valuable team player and problem solver, the next step is to understand how to relate a concise story that the hiring boss won't forget.

Nail the interview by creating your story. Beforehand, ask yourself: "Who is my audience and what is my goal?" In the case of an interview, the hiring manager is obviously your audience. A job interview is all about persuading a hiring manager to believe you're the right fit for a specific job. You'll need to start with understanding him, and ensure your story has a clear and powerful meaning -- to him. Then you can set to work honing it for maximum impact.

The more you know about him, the better you can craft a story that will appeal to his sensibilities. To succeed at this, you need to be knowledgeable about the company, the boss' challenges and the desired profile for the ideal candidate -- before you walk in the door.

Become a great storyteller. In a TED Talk, Andrew Stanton, a filmmaker who cowrote the "Toy Story" movies, says that a great story comes from using what you know, capturing a truth from experiencing it and from expressing values you feel deeply. He suggests you allow the listener to make his own deductions about you from the story. That is, don't come out and say you're collaborative, adaptable or anything -- you tell a story that convinces your listener you possess these traits.

Stanton says that a well-told tale grips, excites and engrosses. Here's how you can apply his five tips for storytelling to improve your interviewing skills.

1. Make me care. Identify key points that describe why you would fit in and how you could make a difference at the firm. Do your research about the firm, its target market, the competition and the issues it currently faces. Give compelling reasons how your skills could complement his and help him achieve his goals.

2. Take me with you. Come armed with information that shows you have an understanding of what they do, how they do it and why they do it. Gain his attention by sharing information that shows you're excited about the opportunity and are eager to bring value to the firm.

3. Be intentional. Know why you're there. All your answers should convey that this job is your first choice and that your desire to be a part of the team will make you a great evangelist for the company.

4. Let me like you. Find what you have in common with the boss and the employees there. Review their LinkedIn profiles prior your interview and check out their Facebook pages. This could give you more personal data points to bring up in casual conversation about areas you share in common.

5. Delight me: Have one story in your back pocket that has been well received by others about yourself. This should be a candid telling (a few sentences will suffice) about an experience or situation that will leave him with a positive thought about you.

Your interview should be used as a means of connecting you with your hiring boss. Provide thoughtful answers that show you care about the boss' and the firm's needs and emphasize ways you could help the manager achieve his goals. Above all, be authentic and candid without rambling.

Deadly sins of storytelling. In a post on the Stanford Graduate School of Business' website, professor and author Jennifer Aaker addresses common errors people make in telling a story that result in their coming off as flat and dry. These "deadly sins of storytelling" can also be applied to the interview process.

1. Chronology. Do your answers to interview questions build on ideas, feelings and passion, or do they feel disjointed and disparate? Tie each previous accomplishment together as an outcome of the previous effort. Give the interviewer a window into how you think and what you did that wasn't an expected behavior in a previous job -- that you went beyond the call of duty. Show how the outcome had a positive affect on your team and how your boss appreciated it.

2. Telling. Avoid lists and categories when talking about yourself. Instead, use stories to help illustrate who you are.

3. Jargon. Make sure your language is clear and free of terms that are exclusive to a single population. Use familiar words that fit the culture of that specific industry and of that firm.

4. Fabrication. Make sure your story conveys your authentic accomplishments and avoid any exaggeration.

5. Proprietary. Create YouTube videos, video blogs and/or a website that showcases your stories. Be sure your stories are tailored to your interviewer and provide a message that will reflect your best traits -- ones sought after by that industry.

If your stories are meaningful, succinct and tied to the values and interests of your interviewer, they could make you a more memorable job candidate. The connection you build with your interviewer through telling a great story could land you your dream job. So go get your stories today.

Beth Kuhel is a contributor to the Personal Branding Blog. She is founder and president of Get Hired, LLC and the co-author of From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career. Beth's coaching assists students and career changers to successfully match their needs, interests, passions, skills and personal goals with the needs of a sustainable industry in a sustainable location. Beth is a C.E.I.P. (Certified Employment Interview Professional). She coaches individuals and groups at all stages of their career journey to maximize their potential for success. You can follow her on Twitter @BethKuhel.

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