Storytelling is the secret to successful interviews

June 23, 2021

Face-to-face interviews can be intimidating when the person you want to impress opens the meeting with “Tell me about yourself.” Of course you’re expecting them to ask, but it still makes your shoulders and neck tense up. Maybe a job is on the line, or maybe it’s a college admissions panel. Either way, they’re interviewing a ton of people, so you need them to remember you. 

What should I lead with? Did they read my cover letter? Should I refer to my resume? Why do I feel tongue-tied?!

The most common response is to recite a list of facts. Interviewees rattle off names, places, dates, and more than a little bit of corporate-sounding jargon. But here’s a challenging truth: facts alone will get you nowhere. Stories and anecdotes incorporating facts will elevate you above the crowd. You’ll be remembered, which is the whole point.  

Six or seven years into my career, I was invited to present a project I managed about the design, spacing, and control of driveways on a busy road in Virginia. There were probably 15 speakers and an audience of 100 planners and engineers. I was by no means an expert, so I figured several hours preparing a 20-minute slideshow for this presentation was a given.

Storytelling is important for in-person meetings, but absolutely vital for remote interviews. You’ve got limited time to catch the attention of your audience and make yourself irresistible to them. Telling the right stories can make you the obvious choice. 

I enjoy public speaking, so the thought of being at the podium with a microphone was exciting. But I was acutely aware of my lack of experience in street design. My strategy was to give a clear explanation of the project: what my company was hired for, our engineering approach, and our recommendations. My slides would include large photos, simple graphics, and fonts that could be read from the back of a room. 

The presentation went smoothly and I felt pretty good about it. Afterwards, a few people made a point to thank me for sharing the project and commented on the slide design. That felt good, and helped me forget I couldn’t possibly have anything to offer the engineering experts. 

Later that month, I gave the exact same presentation to my office-mates during lunch as a way of practicing my public speaking. During the Q&A, someone asked me a question that made me feel like I belonged at the kiddie table. “What was the point of your presentation?” I just gave this polished slideshow, and someone at my company is wondering why anyone should care?! 

I gave some sort of answer about company brand recognition and making the client look good. I don’t know how long I took to answer, but I probably used too many words and lost the point of the question. 

Days later I was talking with a mentor about more presentation opportunities. He asked what I hoped to accomplish. When I clarified that I wanted to present so I could speak to more engineering experts, he pressed again. “What do you hope to accomplish by speaking?” 

I had given a presentation with confidence, quality material, and it was utterly forgettable. 

Why should anyone remember my company’s “successful” planning study for an important client? They shouldn’t. I gave a technical presentation that could be filed alongside thousands of other similar presentations.

In the same way, your interviews have a purpose. Don’t squander the opportunity to stand out by reciting facts and figures about your life. Tell a story about what makes you you. Pick something from your life that’s surprising or funny and connect it to your application. You’ll be amazed at how often you’re remembered. 

What stories are you telling about your experiences? We’d love to hear about them.

1 Comment

on Storytelling is the secret to successful interviews.