Dedicated to our 2019 college graduates:
I pointed toward a figure way down below. “There she is! Tenth row on the LEFT.” We were seated in the Allstate Arena attending our first-born’s college graduation. From a vast sea of blue caps and gowns, I had managed to spot our Kaitlin.
Twenty minutes into the ceremony my phone buzzed. Text from Kaitlin: “BTW, if ur not sure where i am, i’m on the RIGHT side, row 15.” Oops!
Now our son Alex will be graduating in three short weeks. He’s job hunting, and I worry about how that sea of sameness can follow him into the job market. It’s the cap and gown conundrum—how to stand out when everyone looks the same.
So when Alex came home the Thursday evening before Easter and said he had a second phone interview with a company the next day, I put our salmon dinner aside, poured a glass of Butter Chardonnay, and plopped down to share a few professional tips.
So how can you stand out and be remembered in an interview?
Pre-planned, well-told stories that vividly illustrate who you are and what your skills are.
For anyone else out there interviewing or who wants to help their little birdie fly the coop, here are 3 ways to STORIFY your interview and be irresistible:
1) Research the skills that companies are looking for and craft a story for each:
A quick Google search revealed that the top attributes expected of 2019 graduates include such things as excellent communication skills, strong work ethic, being a team player, and problem-solving. A search of the actual company Alex was interviewing with showed that they especially valued being a team player.
Armed with this data, I said, “Alex, come up with a variety of stories from your academic classes, being on the tennis team for four years, your Facebook Live sports show, and any other experiences you’ve had that illustrate each of these skills.
Team player? His tennis team has a lot of great talent and is ranked at the top of their division. Even though Alex isn’t always in the lineup, his teammates call him the heart and soul of the team, or as they say—“the glue guy.” Now he can craft a story around that idea of being on a team and finding ways to contribute and support a group, no matter your position.
2) Reframe “failures” into stories of insight and growth:
One of the most common questions that interviewers ask is “Tell me about a time you failed and how you handled it.” In fact, Alex has had that question already at a previous interview. But here’s the important part: According to Forbes magazine, you should choose a failure story that suggests you lack experience, not character.
In Alex’s case, he recently told an interviewer about being the color commentator at one of his college’s basketball games. As the game got underway, he realized he didn’t know how to pronounce a couple of the players’ names and he wished he would have thought to review that before the game. I suggested he turn that example into a story that highlights his strengths while chalking the failure up to inexperience.
Such as: “A couple of months ago, I got asked to be the color guy at one of our basketball games. They’ve got a great team and I’m buds with a lot of the guys. I even got the chance to interview Coach G for one of my sports journalism classes. Before the game I looked over all the stats for the team, plus I had been following them all season, so I was like, this is gonna be great. Me talking sports on the air. I was pumped.
But when Roman Youngblut came in off the bench, I realized I wasn’t exactly sure how to pronounce the second syllable of his last name. “Bloot” or “Blut”? The play-by-play guy set me straight, and I managed to get through the rest of the game, although there was another player who had a tricky name too. “Jelen” or “Yelen”? Suddenly, I couldn’t remember. It really reminded me how important it is to think through ALL the details when you’re preparing for something new, even when you think you’ve got it covered.”
With this brief story, there’s a clear takeaway—details matter—and embedded in the telling are the things Alex did do well, like the honor of being chosen color guy, the fact that the coach had granted him an interview, and his passion for the game.
3) Make your stories vivid and memorable with details:
When crafting stories, include specific details. It’s easy to skip this part and speak in generalities. But just a few well-chosen details can create an emotional connection with your listener which makes your stories memorable and relatable. Compare “I picked up other team members on my way to morning practices” with “I packed in as many guys as would fit in my red Ford Focus as we made our way to 5:30 AM practices in the freezing winter.”
Some final words on storytelling:
Just because you’ve crafted a story, it shouldn’t sound scripted. Stories should be real and conversational. Recognize, too, that, on the spot, your story may need to be abbreviated. Having a clear takeaway—the one point you’re trying to illustrate with a story—i.e. “details matter”—will help keep the focus of your story in your mind as you’re telling it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying generic things about who we are and what we value, like “I’m really passionate about what I do” or “I think that being a team player is so important.” Stories set you apart, connect to your listener, and, hopefully, land you the job.
P.S. It worked! Alex had his in-the-flesh interview on Friday! Fingers crossed!