Part 1: Storytelling and the Candidate Interview

Last summer, while vacationing on Nantucket, I was looking around for something to do on a rainy day when I read a vague listing in the local paper for a storytelling workshop to be held that morning. Curious, I showed up at the workshop location to find out that it was being offered by The Moth. I also learned that it was an eight hour class to be held over two weeks, culminating in a story slam in front of a live audience. Over the course of the two hours, I went from being completely convinced I would not participate to being totally committed that I would do it – including the performance…..in front of a live audience……under the lights…..with a mic.

The workshop was one of the best experiences of my life. Storytelling, The Moth way, is very personal – you are the central character of your story. It is spontaneous – there is never a script and no telling is ever the same. Done well, it can move an audience to tears, or laughter, or to a deep place of reflection. An expert storyteller is his or her authentic self, sharing in vivid detail something that really happened, and the learning – the aha moment – that resulted.

As a search consultant to higher education institutions for the past twenty years, I have prepared many, many candidates for interviews with search committees. In addition to the usual advice about dressing professionally and doing their homework about the hiring organization, I also encourage candidates to have a few stories “in their back pockets.” I advise them to reflect on their professional accomplishments and workplace challenges and to think of those examples in terms of stories. At the Moth workshop, I learned that five or six minutes is a good length for a story; in an interview setting three minutes is probably about right. You need enough time to provide some context and background, then move into the meat of the example, and a minute or so for reflection – what did I learn; how did I grow; how did I help my organization to succeed? An interview story is not a time to share intimate personal details, but it is an opportunity to show your authentic professional self. A well-thought-through, clearly presented, and properly delivered story can clinch an interview. Check out storytelling tips on the Moth website, and try to adapt them to your next interview situation.

Part 2 – next installment: To get the right candidates, organizations need to tell their story the right way, too.