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At a Job Interview, Think of Your Experience as a Bunch of Brightly Coloured Story Balloons

When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.”Try not to say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. . . how cliche! SHOW how you work hard and work BETTER. In other words, if the interviewer asks you a question such as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” he or she wants more information than “I successfully meet challenges when I’m faced with them.” Too vague!

You will want to give a story such as the one below (and this actually happened in my own professional life when I was marketing and sales director of a U.S. publishing company):

It was September 12 and 13, 2001. The Twin Towers had just crashed. People were devastated, but they also wanted to buy any and all available books about the Twin Towers. It just so happened that my publishing company had recently published such a book. Demand for the title was overwhelming. I was dealing with my own shock of the situation—we all were—yet I was able to work with people in production, customer service, and acquisitions to develop a production plan that would immediately meet the public need, and yet not produce too many so that we would be inundated with returns. It was a horrible time in our history, yet we had a public service to do, and we did it very well. (We ended up with very few books being returned.)

In the story, above, I illustrated how I was able to demonstrate team work and leadership under severe emotional stress. Now think about your own experience: which key moments can be transformed into gripping narratives?

Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four such narratives. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use the Twin Towers story to answer the question “How well do you deal with stress?” as well as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” Don’t be afraid of including things you have done in your personal, non-work life as well. Did you run a marathon for charity and raise $3,000? Did you take a creative writing course? Both these activities show an eagerness to do new things, which is a quality highly valued by most employers. Don’t forget, too, that many of your extra-curricular activities demonstrate work-related skills such as organisation, time management and so on.

The  graphic below shows some theoretical episodes in a life that could be balloon stories to illustrate some of the questions you might encounter.

Story balloons 2

Before you go to the interview, have stories available to answer the following questions:

  • How well do you work under stress?
  • How successfully do you meet challenges?
  • How do you demonstrate leadership?
  • What is your strong point?
  • What is your weak point?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

Yes, even for the last question, tell a story that connects your values with the company’s values. Perhaps both you and the company honour innovation and creativity. Mention that you, too, demand creativity in your work, and tell a story that shows how you have done this, perhaps both in your personal and work life. (Don’t get too personal.) Mention that you look forward to an exciting career with that organisation, which can give you space to grow and flourish.

Even if you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t want to stay with that company, NEVER say so. . . in the case above, you would highlight your creative side, and discuss how your creativity could benefit the organisation for years in the future.

Remember: SHOW, not TELL.

When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.

I am a communications coach with Eloquent English in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and I can help you find your story: in your presentation, business report, “elevator pitch”, CV, website or job interview.
www.eloquentenglish.com
Email: arashap@eloquentenglish.com
“It’s your story. Get it right.”

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Learning to Use Free Association to Speak with Anyone (including future employers and mentors)

In two recent blogs, I discussed how using empathy can help you in most social interactions.

In the first blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/), I wrote about the importance of finding the other person’s “why” —his or her passion—in order to forge powerful bridges with that individual.

The second blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/537/) took this “why” approach and applied it to a specific job interview.

There is one theme that binds together these two blogs: The most important step you can do in having meaningful conversations is by not focusing on yourself and immediately listing all the wonderful things you can offer. Rather, work on understanding the other individual and determining what is important to him or her, and then convince that person that you share similar passions. (If this is true; if it is not true, do you want to be working with that person?)

You do this through having real curiosity about others; through associating one idea with another; by using you own general knowledge to elicit more information.

Here are some examples.

Setting: You’re speaking with an important client over coffee, and the client mentions that he is from Holland. What can you say here? What do you know about Holland? (Hopefully, you know it’s in Europe.) Quickly pull up categories that could be used to find out more about that person.

The graphic, below, would show the type categories of knowledge I have about Holland:

Holland free assoc

 

 

 

With these associations, I would ask these type questions (look at the associations starting at “noon” and going clockwise around the circle):

  • I’ve always admired the art of Rembrandt, Vermeer (etc.) and am dying to visit the Rijksmuseum. Have you been?

  • I just read an article about global warming and I understand that Holland is below sea level. Is global warming a threat to your country? How is it handling that threat?

  • I love to garden and have seen amazing pictures of your country in the spring with all those beautiful flowers. Is it as gorgeous as I think it is? Where do you go to see all the bulbs in bloom? When is the best time?

  • Pardon my ignorance, but I know very little about the Dutch language (and you speak English so well). I’ve heard it spoken a few times and it sounds a little like German; is Dutch a Germanic language? Is it hard to learn?

You’d be surprised at how much you really DO know about a topic; you simply need to learn how to quickly retrieve that knowledge to ask questions.

Why bother with this? You really don’t care about the Netherlands; you don’t give a toss about whether the language is related to German or not. Well, here are two things to think about:

  • Everything can be interesting for its own sake; why not learn something new just for the sake of learning something new??
  • This type questioning shows people that you are interested in them and want to understand what is important to them. THIS technique should be your foundation of communication, for people crave being understood, being “listened-to.” Once you have established this foundation of empathy, you can build a relationship by telling them about you and what you can offer.

Let’s look at one more situation.  You’re in a conference and it’s break time; you’re chatting with a CEO of a tech start-up that excites you and you’d like to know more about it. You know several things about this company, and now you have the chance to make an impression. You do this best by asking targeted questions about the company, not by talking about yourself. (In this association exercise, I will demonstrate my own lack of knowledge about tech start-ups, but wanted to use a more technical situation, so bear with me:)

Start up free assoc

 

If I were in this situation, I would ask these type questions (again, start with the “noon” position and go clockwise):

  • I understand you are doing very exciting things with (mention whatever platform, software or hardware it is…) I’ve been exploring that area, too, and would enjoy hearing your experience using it.

  • I just read an article about your company trying to improve (fill in the blank) and to meet this social / technical need (whatever it might be). In my spare time, I’ve been working on similar things. Tell me more about what your company wants to achieve.

  • Do you have much competition in this area? What do you hope to accomplish in five or ten years—or is it too early to be even thinking about that?

  • I understand you have a background in (fill in the blank) and that you got your idea for this start up by (fill in the blank). That’s fascinating—I’d love to hear more about how you started your company, and what were the main obstacles you had to overcome.

If you can start using this technique of using your own varied knowledge to build bridges with others, soon they will be asking about you. And then it will be your turn to shine.

 

 

I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: 

www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,

self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.

Email me at arashap@eloquentenglish.com

Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think of your job interview as a series of stories: Think balloons

Balloons and job interviews? Yes. All my blogs talk about the importance of storytelling and active listening in all forms of communication: “small talk” in the office, in writing science articles, and in acing that job interview.

 

When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.” Never say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. SHOW how you work hard—and work BETTER. In other words, if the interviewer asks you a question such as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” he or she wants more information than “I successfully meet challenges when I’m faced with them.” Too vague!

You will want to give a story such as the one below (and this actually happened in my own professional life when I was marketing and sales director of a U.S. publishing company):

 

It was September 12 and 13, 2001. The Twin Towers had just crashed. People were devastated, but they also wanted to buy any and all available books about the Twin Towers. It just so happened that my publishing company had recently published such a book. Demand for the title was overwhelming. I was dealing with my own shock of the situation—we all were—yet I was able to work with people in production, customer service, and acquisitions to develop a production plan that would immediately meet the public need, and yet not produce too many so that we would be inundated with returns. It was a horrible time in our history, yet we had a public service to do, and we did it very well. (We ended up with very few books being returned.)

In the story, above, I illustrated how I was able to demonstrate team work, leadership under stress, both professional and emotional. THAT is the kind of story you would want to have at your disposal.

Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four of these stories. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use this story to answer the question “How well do you deal with stress?” as well as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” Have a story ready for the following questions:

 

  • How well do you work under stress?
  • How successfully do you meet challenges?
  • What is your strong point?
  • What is your weak point?
  • How do you demonstrate leadership?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

    (Yes, even for a question like this, have a story ready: this story should demonstrate how you have taken some job or task and made it better / more efficient. That story will show how you are always looking to improve both the work situation and yourself. Then conclude the story by tying it in to the job interview at hand: “So you can see that I am always eager to try new things, to do things in a better way. I look forward to doing this, and perhaps rising within your company.” Even if you’re pretty sure you won’t want to stay with that company, NEVER SAY that . . . always show your creative, innovative side, and how that can benefit the company you’re interested in now.)

 

So. Start thinking of stories.

SHOW, not TELL.

When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.

Contact me at arashap@eloquentenglish.com

See my website: www.eloquentenglish.com

 

How to Tell your Not-for-Profit’s Story

Have a hero and a villain

In my website (http://eloquentenglish.com/2016/05/02/the-power-of-the-story/), I talk about what makes a good story. It’s all about having a hero we’re interested in, the challenges (villains) that this person must conquer and his/her transformation at the end. The best stories contain some type of universal message that we can all understand and believe in.

Think of your organisation as the hero, fighting a villain. The villain could be world hunger. The abuse of women. Factors that keep people unemployed. Your organisation wants to change that. Does your website and other material effectively show your ongoing battle with the forces of darkness? OK, that’s a little exaggerated—but you want to paint your organisation colours of vivid transformation and luminous optimism. People react strongly to that. They don’t react to a series of statistics and non-passionate language.

Make people care through personal stories

Which is more powerful to the average reader:

660,000 women are forced into marriage every year 

or

When she was 12, Sasha was sold in marriage to to a 55-year-old man.

The second one will get your attention quicker. Certainly, statistics are important, but make sure that your statistics merely support the powerful story you want to tell.

Change

Business presenter guru Nancy Duarte shows how the most powerful business presentations have the same structure as the world’s most earth-changing speeches. Both these talks, Duarte states, describe a world as it is. The presenter then highlights a problem in that world (abuse of women) and how his solution will help eradicate that problem. According to Duarte, the best speeches continually contrast the “old” world versus the “new”, proposed world that is being presented in the speech.

Here is a website that does a brilliant girl of combing facts with the personal. The language is simple and powerful.

http://www.onegirl.org.au/

On the website’s front page you read:

MORE THAN 60 MILLION GIRLS AROUND THE WORLD ARE NOT IN SCHOOL.

“And we’re on a mission to educate 1 million of them.
And we want YOU to join us.

“It’s not okay with us that an 11 year old girl can be sold to a 55 year old man in the name of marriage. It’s not okay that a 12 year old girl is forced to sell herself in a brothel to earn money to survive. Stories like this that we hear each week are not inevitable. We CAN do something about it.

“Education changes everything.”

You get a statistic, certainly. But that statistic is stated vividly: 60 million girls are not in school. In doesn’t say “60 million girls are uneducated.” That’s boring. Onegirl make this statistic an actual activity–or the lack of an activity that can cause great harm.

They use the “it’s not OK” refrain beautifully to make it clear who the villain is: factors that allow girls to be abused.

Also, the organisation actually makes YOU—the potential donor—the hero. How smart is that? The website makes you believe that, with your donation, YOU can create a new, better world in which young women have a chance to contribute to this world.

So when you’re thinking about your organisation’s website, think passion. Heroism. changing the world. And make an unforgettable story about it.

What Makes a Good Story?

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had a happy life. She got married, had children, and died.

The end.

Is that a good story? Of course not! Why not?

Because nothing exceptional happens in it—at least, not from the narrative as written here. Many people get married, have kids, and then die. But there is nothing there that grips us, that makes us want to hear more. There is nothing—exceptional.

Now, let me give you more information: This particular woman had been sexually abused when she was younger. She had reacted by taking out her own pain on others: she would beat her younger brother and torment the hapless house cat. She had even threatened violence to her adoptive mother. (She had been taken away from her horrible family, and a kind family had adopted her.) In fact, she had become so unbalanced that her adoptive parents took her to a therapist, who diagnosed her as borderline sociopathic. Slowly, through years of therapy and unstinting love given to her by her family, she was able to heal. Eventually she got married, had children, and was a loving spouse and mother.

Now do we have a story? Well, it’s certainly more gripping than the short one. Why? What are the factors that constitute a good story? Here are some; and think of the story, above, as you read on.

Characters: You want to learn about an individual who changes over time and learns something new. (Yep. She changed. A lot!)

Conflict: This character will not reach his/her new state of wisdom easily. The protagonist must go on a quest (in the case above: therapy and being willing to receive love) Eventually—perhaps a bit battered and bruised—our hero will come out on the other side, having learnt something of importance.

An antagonist who wants to keep our hero from attaining his/her goal. The father who sexually abused her did not have her best interests at heart. The antagonist might be the status quo, trying to keep an untenable situation “just as it is.” Fear of change can be the antagonist. Or pressure for untenable change can be the antagonist, too.

Authenticity. The story must touch people’s hearts. The tale can be specific to a certain time and place, but the conflicts within it must be universal. The story of this young woman interests us because who among us is not fascinated by people who overcome horrific obstacles to be transformed into something new, something hopeful? What strength both this girl and her family demonstrated. What faith her family must have had in her to stick by her. Strength. Grace under pressure. Personal transformation. These are all qualities that inspire us.

Now, I’ll be honest. This did not happen to me (thankfully); I did not undergo this transformation. However, I do know the individual to whom this did happen, and I can attest to her incredible life. I have heard her tell this story to others, and it both uplifts members of the audience and breaks their heart at the same time.

This young woman owns this story. When she tells it, it resonates. If I told this story, it might not resonate as much. You have to be true to your own story, and know how to tell your story. One website1 states, “The key to storytelling is not your perfection but your humanity.”

This is relevant to all communication, including, for example business presentations. Be honest. Be human. State the challenge in human terms, focusing on your solution for improving the present-day situation. Use personal illustrations from your own life. Don’t try to fake it. People will always see right through you.

 

 

 

1http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2014/08/the-key-to-storytelling-is-not-your-perfection-but-your-humanity.html