I ran across a great question in Quora, a question and answer website apparently frequented by many technical people. What is the most valuable life skill a person can have? This one stopped me in my tracks.
The Quora readers provided some great answers: resilience, self-confidence, empathy, the ability to learn and communicate, and the ability to be happy. All wonderful insights.
My favorite response was from Jon who said, “The ability to tell a good story”.
Telling a good story makes you memorable. The ability to tell a good story makes a candidate memorable; it may even give the candidate an edge over other candidates who might be more qualified on paper.
I have written three books. In each I use stories to demonstrate the point I am trying to make. I work very hard to make the stories interesting, memorable, and teachable so I don’t preach. The story does the work.
The story does the work for candidates too. The story demonstrates the point a candidate is trying to make without having to brag.
What makes a good story?
- A beginning, middle, and end. It also shares what you learned which brings the listener back to the point you are trying to reinforce with the story. The main point is not always the end.
- Makes them laugh. You don’t have to be a comedian to make them laugh. A good story can be funny. You can poke fun at yourself, at your idiosyncrasies without making yourself look silly.
- Comes to the point without rambling. This comes from knowing what you want to say which comes from planning and practice. Write the story down so you can see it in black and white. Then say it out loud, correcting the story until you make the point without rambling.
- Know your theme. Every story has a purpose. What is yours? Do not share a story unless you are confident it supports your overall theme – the main points you want the interviewer to learn about you.
- Know your characters well. Structure your story so you look good or make the point you want to make. Do not disparage your boss or other characters in your story.
- Be direct. Say what you need to say then be quiet. Get to the point then stop talking. This is related to not rambling.
When I talk to candidates about interviewing I tell a story about a really bad interview I had early in my career.
(Beginning) It was a lunch interview in the big dining room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, the one with the stone floors and glass ceiling. It was noisy and crowded. I was very nervous. I was making small talk after we ordered when the bus boy came by with a large tray of glasses on his way to the kitchen.
(Middle) He dropped the entire tray right behind me! The glasses shattered on the stone floor. Glass shards went everywhere including my legs. Blood everywhere. The bus boy hovered, the manager came over, a dozen helpers came to clean up the mess. I was holding my napkin on my calf to stop the bleeding saying to my interviewers, “I am fine. No problem here. Everything is fine.”
(End) I wanted to sink into the floor but I held it together pretending like everything was just fine. We continued with our lunch but I was a wreck inside. I must have appeared calm on the outside. The interviewers offered me the job when we returned to the office.
(What I learned) It was a harrowing experience but I learned that being calm takes the day. My calmness under pressure earned me the job!
Stories are a great way to demonstrate what you have done, how you work, and what it is like to work with you. I could have said “I am calm under pressure” but the story demonstrated how I work so much better than just the mere statement.
The listener learns about you and can imagine you working with the team. Practice in advance so you get to the point without rambling using humor, great characters, and situations that apply to the position you want.
I have to agree with Jon. I think telling a good story is a great life skill!