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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.
Email: arashap@eloquentenglish.com
“It’s your story. Get it right.”


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.”














Free Associating: Using active listening to nab the job interview

I’ll start this blog with a story that relates to the last blog I posted, in which I stated that:

  • Learning to listen and discover the other person’s “why” for doing what they do is significant because
  • With this information, you can align your “why” with their “why”. Then the real interaction and mutual benefit can take place.


I did this when I was living in Singapore. I had received a call from the assistant of a very high-ranking government official: I was being considered as a public speaking coach for this gentleman; might we be able to discuss this project soon? He would like to visit me in my home.

Eeek. I also discovered that this official was involved in government security; when I told my friends who this person was, they freaked out. “You do realize you are being observed right now,” they said, “and ALL your records are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb.” They then ran away so they wouldn’t be seen in public with me.

Well. I sighed, cleaned my apartment and waited for the meeting. At exactly the appointed time, a black limo glided into view and there was a knock on my door.

A very mild-looking, trim man came in. He was modest in demeanour and soft-spoken—not a scary individual at all. He quickly glanced around the apartment and made a small nod—of approval, I thought. I invited him to sit and offered him tea, which he politely declined.

So what happened? Did he ask me piercing questions about my past, trying to sniff out any infractions I might have committed? Absolutely not. We spoke about Singapore history, the effectiveness of many of its policies, the social problems the country still faced and possible solutions. We did not discuss any business interaction, and I did not rush in to reassure him that I could be a fabulous coach. At the end of the interview he smiled, shook my hand and said, “We’ll be in touch.”

Within a few hours, I had this man as a client.

What happened?

#1 (of course), my apartment was pristinely clean—reflecting the respect due an honoured guest

#2, I demonstrated to him that, though I was an outsider living in Singapore, I was an interested outsider. I knew key things about its history, I spoke with sincere admiration about many of the island’s accomplishments and yet also demonstrated I was not blind to some of the social problems its citizens faced.

#3, I listened carefully to what he said, asked him to clarify some of the things he mentioned, and made it clear that I was honoured to learn from him.

Basically, I let this individual know that I appreciated living in Singapore and was committed to living there and understanding as much about it as I could. I cared about the country and communicated my concern and interest.



This government official and I shared this interest. That was enough for him; I got the job.

In the next blog, I’ll discuss how I used active listening to draw the person out. I’ll examine the bits of that conversation and what made me get the gig.

I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.


“It’s your story. Get it right.”

You Need a Hero in Your Scientific Papers

 How can you have a hero in a scientific paper??   

You can. You should.superhero scientist

Much of this blog comes from a book called The Art of Scientific Storytelling by Dr Rafael Luna. If you are a student in the sciences and struggle with writing your papers, run, don’t walk, to buy this work. Luna—both a fiction AND science writer—said many of the things I had been intuiting, but just hadn’t nailed down.

Several years ago I was teaching academic writing to post-graduate (MA and Ph.D.) students, all second-language English speakers. I used a famous textbook that dutifully divided scientific papers into various sections (the usual: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, etc.) and then examined the structure of each section. It was all right—bone dry, but all right.

Even when my students understood this information, their writing was often terrible. It wasn’t just their grammar (though they needed help in that regard), something was missing. Slowly, I discovered that what was missing was a sense of—story. A sense of telling their story to an audience of flesh-and-blood humans.

Granted, any scientific paper will be a complicated story for a specialized audience, with lots of complex vocabulary and information. However, as Luna (and others) have pointed out, most scientific stories share many commonalities with their “less-educated” cousins, the story. They still have action, a hero (yes, a hero), change, and a conclusion. Let’s break this down, comparing the scientific paper with a good presentation that tells a gripping story:

Presentations Scientific Papers
Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.  

Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.


Lead the audience on a hero’s quest: they will be faced with a problem. You will demonstrate how your idea can lead them to a brighter future.  

Make sure your main character (chemical reaction, a geographical feature, e.g.) demonstrates a clear problem to overcome (hypothesis), and how solving this problem will contribute to the scientific community.


Influence the audience to accept your point of view and take action by using both factual evidence and moving stories.  

Take your protagonist on a series of experiments that will reveal something new that can benefit the scientific community.


Tailor your story for the audience, using vivid language and imagery that will most move them.  

Tailor your story for your particular audience within the scientific community, using strong language that moves your paper forward.


 Once I was able to communicate this idea to my students, they slowly began to incorporate the idea of the ACTIVE STORY into their papers. Slooowly, their papers began to improve. That was great to see!

Note: An excellent way for a scientist to really be able to communicate his or her research to the general public is to be able to write and speak an elevator pitch. This can be such fun to do—but it is NOT easy. That will be next.