Job interview? Tell stories

A job ‘interview’ isn’t aptly named. When we think of an interview, we usually think in terms of two roles: interviewer and interviewee. The interviewer asks the questions, and the interviewee answers them shortly and clearly. Imagined in this way, the interview is mainly about transferring information from interviewee to interviewer. There’s one big problem with that if you want to make a lasting good impression: it’s boring.


Other people feel like job interviews are interrogations. They feel pressured to give the right answer to questions – even though there often is no right answer.


What if, instead of thinking about these events as interviews or interrogations, we thought of them as a presentation? A chance to tell our story?


In Made to Stick authors Chip and Dan Heath explain why some ideas are sticky, while others are not. A sticky idea is “an idea that is understood and remembered, and that has a lasting impact. One that changes your audience’s opinions or behaviors.” They argue that humans are hard-wired to pay attention to and remember only a certain type of information. In their research, they have found that sticky ideas often share six characteristics:


  • Simplicity

  • Unexpectedness

  • Concreteness

  • Credibility

  • Emotions

  • Stories


Together, these six characteristics spell out the word SUCCES. The authors go on to explain that ideas are not born to be sticky, but rather made to be sticky. In other words, we can present ideas in such a way that they become stickier. This is exactly what you want to do in a job interview. Your goal should be to make a lasting good impression – you should make yourself sticky.


You do that by telling great stories. About yourself. About your experiences. To give an example, let’s imagine that you are asked to tell something about yourself. This is a beautiful opportunity to tell a story!


All stories have a structure. So should your story. You can start creating great stories by using a template. There are many useful templates out there, but here’s a simple one: the thematic story.


First, think about your career. What are the three themes that define it? To find them, it might be useful to think about why you’ve made certain choices. Once you have found three good unifying themes, turn them into a story by using the following structure:


  1. Attention grabber

  2. What drives or defines you?

  3. Theme 1, theme 2, theme 3

  4. What’s your vision or aspiration?

  5. Clear end with a rush of insight


If you look closely, you can see that you can incorporate the elements of the SUCCES framework in there:


  1. Attention grabber -> simple, concrete, perhaps emotional?

  2. What drives or defines you? -> simple, concrete, credible

  3. Theme 1, theme 2, theme 3 -> stories

  4. What’s your vision or aspiration? -> concrete

  5. Clear end with a rush of insight -> unexpected


Thinking about the conversation you are going to have not as an interview or interrogation, but as a chance to tell a great story, puts you in a much better position to make an impression. What’s your story? Go out and tell it.