You have a story to tell …….

Pen on BookAt the weekend I was listening to a podcast of Sandy Toksvig as the Castaway on Desert Island Discs. She claimed never to be bored and to be able to walk down the shortest street, talk to pedestrians, and find a million stories to tell …

Telling stories can have a major positive impact during interviews. Today we’ll discover three magical ingredients for interview stories. Why tell a story? Stories can be used to put your capabilities into context and to give behavioural evidence of the qualities that the interviewer is looking for. Stories, especially those containing the best ingredients, will also help any interviewer to remember you when they come to make their decision.  Stories are memorable and they help us to rehearse the messages that they contain but, in an age driven by logic and analysis, we have largely neglected the skill of storytelling.

What is my story?

“But I have no story to tell.” Yes you do. Certainly, for some, story will come naturally while for others it will seem a daunting prospect. To my mind it doesn’t matter where you sit on that spectrum because everybody will have a story to tell. Some years ago I used to work on The Strand, in London, and would go to Somerset House canteen with colleagues for lunch. One of them would call in a corner shop to buy a packet of cigarettes on the way. When he joined the remainder of us, perhaps 5 minutes later, he would always have a story to tell relating to that purchase – and usually one that would have us chuckling, or even belly-laughing, for the whole lunch break. Every life is filled with stories, large and small. Your life is no less story-stuffed. Three magical ingredients: How did my old colleague turn the daily purchase of a pack of cigarettes into an engaging story?

There are always personalities involved. For my colleague there were perhaps several people involved: himself; the shopkeeper; another customer; the tramp outside; the driver of a car going past; or any other of an infinite cast of personalities.

There is emotion. Again there were always emotions involved, covering a wide spectrum anywhere between comedy and tragedy (often intriguingly mixed), involving some or all of the characters.

Thirdly, and perhaps this is where the greatest challenge is for most people, my colleague knew how to work his audience. The timbre of his voice, combined with varying tone and pacing, played their part. Body language, particularly facial expression, was also important when creating a strong impression.

Taken together these elements made him entertaining company, and reliably so. That observation alone might tell you how important storytelling can be. Only a limited number of people will ever be natural raconteurs like my former colleague… but most of us can and do tell entertaining stories on a daily basis in our business and social lives. Is it more difficult in an interview situation? In your CV you will have outlined some of the key achievements from your career. Inevitably there will have been other people involved: peers, subordinates, and managers. Customers and suppliers, or other external parties, may have been involved as well. How did they feel or react to whatever it was you were involved in? Perhaps more importantly, how did you feel and what did you learn? The most mundane activities can become interesting if personalities and emotion are woven into the fabric of the story.

A future article will suggest how a story may be structured to help your interviewer understand your competences and skills.


Who am I? A chap living in Nottingham, United Kingdom who perhaps has a much higher level of enthusiasm than ability leading to an interest in many things but mastery of none. A father of three no longer dependent children, or so they tell me, and husband to a one-time nurse who now works with me (or rather I work for). I attempt to take photographs and occasionally fluke half decent shots though thank goodness I no longer have to buy film. I endeavour to practice karate but with advancing years spend more time instructing them participating but actively participate in the more gentle tai chi. Professionally I have spent the last twenty years in recruitment – not always the most highly regarded ‘industry’. For my part I take great pleasure in helping companies to find the right people and a lot of satisfaction out of seeing them thrive and succeed. More recently I have spent a lot of time helping people who have, or fear they may, lose their jobs. For many putting a CV together is so difficult and then finding opportuniteis can be a major challenge. Interviews can be a different problem altogether but with a little help most people can perform a lot better than they otherwise would.

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