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So, Tell Me A Little About Yourself

I recently had occasion to participate with an interview team. This is always one of my favorite parts of my job because it allows me to meet and learn more about so many different people, both across the company and from outside the organization.

It occurred to me while I was writing up my comments for an upcoming post-interview integration discussion that the interview process is a natural fit for the strengths of storytelling. It allows the interviewer to see more of the person beneath the résumé and the responses to the pre-selected interview questions on the paper.

Many interviewers become so caught up in the “task” portion of the interview that they miss vital clues as to the inner strengths of the person before them. That’s not particularly surprising because companies emphasize the importance of consistency in the interview process, so they concentrate on conducting a consistent interview from one candidate to another.

In addition to that, interviews have become theme-based. The three that I’ve seen most often have been technical based (can they do the job), talent based (do they have the skills needed to adapt within the job and grow into other jobs), and behavior based (how they will respond within given situations).

However, almost every interview offers a “magic moment” opportunity when the interviewer goes “off script.” The moment is often announced with words similar to, “So, tell me a little about yourself.”

Now, to be honest, most candidates throw this opportunity away. They either recite a platitude (“I’m a self-motivated go-getter who is passionate about [insert job function here], which is why I’m the best person for this job.”) or they talk about their families, hobbies, or reiterate their employment history.

This isn’t surprising. “Tell me a little about yourself” has become the “How are you?” of the interview process. Very few people actually expect a meaningful response. It is recognized by both parties as polite small talk.

But, what if it wasn’t? What if it was recognized and used as an additional information gathering opportunity?

Most corporate jobs share the same broad areas of job criteria. Communication Skills is almost a given in any interview situation. Effective storytelling certainly demonstrates the ability to orally communicate. It can also address Creativity in the type of relative information shared.

If a candidate wanted to emphasize Problem-solving or Decision-making abilities, the story method could be used to walk the interviewer through the thought process, vividly demonstrating the skill level. Many interviews, though, will already have questions ready to probe these areas.

Where I believe that storytelling can excel is in the areas of motivation and identifying what it will be like to work with you. Everyone can say they are highly motivated and that they value relationships. Storytellers can demonstrate these attributes.

Let’s start with motivation. If your story can tell me why this job is so important to you, it will answer an unspoken question that is playing around in my mind. Don’t tell me that you’ve dreamed about being a Claim Service Representative since you were three-years-old. I won’t believe it. However, if you tell me how helping people became an integral part of who you are, and how this job will provide an outlet for you to express this better part of yourself, I’m going to make note of that.

Similarly, another unspoken question will be what it is like to work with you on a daily basis. It’s great that you have an amazing string of degrees and that your picture is featured in the dictionary next to the letters MBA. If you have the personality of a zombie, your achievements are meaningless to me.

Telling a story about how relationships help you to contribute to goals or enhance your skill level reinforces the interviewer’s understanding. Best of all, if your story causes the interviewer to want to hear more, the overall impression is likely to be very favorable.

Storytelling can be a great strength in the interview process. It is not used nearly enough…and it can help you to favorably stand out from among a pack of candidates.

Thank you for reading.