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Skillful storytelling can help you land a job

Sun., April 26, 2009, midnight

Experts say it helps to allow interviewers to relate to your stories

For centuries, cultures and traditions have survived because of storytelling. Now, it may be that storytelling can help another important aspect of our lives: our careers.

More and more career experts have been urging job seekers to learn how to tell a story when it comes to citing their accomplishments. The reason: The human brain is geared to remember and enjoy stories. If a hiring manager enjoys listening to you, if a boss remembers your accomplishments because they were told in story form, that’s a big plus in today’s tough job market.

“Storytelling makes you more memorable. It makes you stand out,” says Katharine Hansen, a college professor, Ph.D. and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers. “There’s an emotional connection when a story is told; the brain locks onto it.”

This has been something that marketers have understood for a long time. They know that telling a story is much more likely to engage customers than just presenting a laundry list of their product’s attributes. They know that bringing an emotional edge to a story – anger, happiness, sadness, anxiety – can all help the product remain with the viewer longer.

It’s that powerful connection that employees – and job seekers – are being urged to harness.

Still, telling a story doesn’t mean telling a fable. Relating an incident to an interviewer or a boss that is fictional will backfire not only because lying about your capabilities can be career suicide, but also because anything that rings false may not even stick with them. Specifically, in a Psychology Today story, Ian McGregor, Ph.D., and John Holmes, Ph.D., noted that if a story is easy to re-tell and sounds true to us, then we are much more likely to remember the essence of the original story.

In her book, “Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career” (Jist, $14.95), Hansen says that stories “satisfy the basic human need to be known” and to help the employee and job candidate gain confidence.

“Not only can telling stories enable others to know you better; they can also help you get to know yourself better,” she says. “As you see common threads and patterns emerging in your stories, you’ll understand more about yourself, your goals, your best career path and your ideal job.”

If you’d like to try some storytelling to help your career or job search, Hansen suggests:

•Determining what you want others to know about you. If you are proud of the fact that you’re organized, don’t panic when given critical tasks and are always willing to jump in a help out when needed, then think of stories that demonstrate how you have used those skills, especially in a professional setting. You want to make sure that a boss can see you putting those skills to work for him.

•Looking for an emotional connection. Consider stories about yourself that show off your personality. Are you upbeat? Focused? Never give up? Think about what personality traits would fit in best with a work culture, then develop a story that would best showcase these traits. Also, this is a chance to show your values are in line with an employer.

•Personalizing your resume. Resumes are often no more than a page or two, and while highlighting your capabilities, you should always be looking for ways to make those skills stand out. When interviewing for a job, think about ways to combine several points into one story, or at least tell a story about a challenge and how you overcame it.

•Honing your skill. Not everyone can tell a story effectively right away. Practice your storytelling and work on keeping each story to no more than two minutes. At the same time, you need enough detail in order to keep it memorable, interesting and relevant.

“Our attention span is getting shorter and shorter all the time,” Hansen says. “But it’s more important than ever that we find ways to make ourselves stand out. It should be part of any career strategy.”


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