The Development of Storytelling
Storytelling has been one of the defining features of human existence. From cave paintings that date as far back as 40,800 B.C., we know that our earliest ancestors instinctually sought to communicate, share and express. We’ve advanced beyond crude drawings on rock walls, but whether the storyteller is Shakespeare or Steve Jobs, great stories continue to capture our attention and the information they convey is easily remembered as they are retold across societies and generations. So if this form of information sharing is so effective, Joanne Markow wondered, why don’t we leverage storytelling more often to make ourselves stand out and ensure others remember what we’re trying to communicate?
Build Your Brand and Tell Your Story
As a recognized career development coach with years of experience helping students achieve their career goals, Joanne cofounded career-building company GreenMason based on the idea that understanding what makes you unique and valuable and using that to craft a personal narrative will help you find the right fit in an organization and set you on a fulfilling career path. Joanne and her team designed the interactive, role-playing program StoryMason to help job candidates do just that. In an increasingly competitive job market, having a killer resume is often no longer sufficient to distinguish you from the crowd, and the challenge is magnified when the person interviewing you is not the person who decides whether to hire you. So how do you make enough of an impact on your interviewer that the hiring manager is guaranteed to hear about you? Tell a story.
StoryMason empowers job seekers to gain confidence as storytellers and prepare for interviews by developing their story arsenal and becoming comfortable tapping into it to answer any question in any kind of situation. refine+focus had the privilege of hosting Joanne so she could show our team how to play StoryMason and how to use storytelling to stand out in interviews.
The rules and gameplay of StoryMason are relatively straightforward. The deck contains 5 different types of cards—openers, interview questions, themes, disrupters and closers—that serve as cues to guide the players through the role-play scenario. Working off of the old cliché that first impressions matter, opener cards offer tips on how to start a conversation as you step into the room and establish an immediate connection with the interviewer. This phase basically forces the interviewee to practice delivering their smooth icebreakers.
The interview question cards prompt players with sample interview questions, but each card also offers a “StoryMason Translation” that decodes the question to show you what the interviewer is trying to elicit from you or evaluate. Interviewers, especially at innovative companies, are increasingly discarding the old, stale interview script and baffling job candidates with questions like ‘if you could be any kind of fruit, which would you be and why?’ Handling these questions successfully is all about leveraging your previous experiences to showcase your personality, work ethic, and skills, which are what the interviewer is trying to assess. Each interview question card also includes a “conversation catalyst”, a related question you can ask back to the interviewer. Remember, what you ask says a lot about your personality as well as your intentions.
Along with each interview question, players draw theme cards that force them to practice conveying a story in a particular manner. Adding a layer of realism, the disturber cards introduce wild card elements to practice responding to the unexpected with poise while also bringing some always-appreciated levity to the exercise.
Finally, the closer cards offer a template of how you can conclude the interview with that one succinct line that will leave a positive and impactful impression.
We began the game excited but slightly anxious—though we had all plenty of interview practice and had our routines down, none of us had really used a storytelling approach to answer interview questions before. That was clear in the beginning as interviewees struggled against their instincts to respond to questions with stories rather than with straightforward, bland answers, and it became even more difficult attempting to deliver each story in the manner prescribed by the theme cards. We started to settle in and get more comfortable with the opener exercise as we practiced breaking the awkward silence.
The interview questions ranged from common questions like ‘Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation?’ to less predictable ones like ‘What questions haven’t I asked you?’ After each person answered a question we provided feedback to help the interviewee not only tell a better story but also deliver it in a more compelling way. Despite the initial challenges, we saw clear improvements with each round as every player gained confidence and relaxed in the hot seat. It helped of course that we were brought to laughter—even tears of laughter at times—by the disturber cards, which called for us to distract interviewees with buzzing phones and fire alarms or feign uninterested expressions as the interviewer. After the closer, we concluded the session by discussing our impressions of the game over tacos.
What did we collectively take away from this?
Fight against the instinct to just directly answer a question (like the typical interviewee would). Always think about how you can weave in some personal story to showcase the skills and experience you possess.
Make a list of experiences and anecdotes you can draw from during interviews. Then, when you’re under pressure in an interview, all you have to do is tailor these anecdotes to the specific questions being asked. You’ll be more familiar with your stories and can deliver them with confidence.
Remember that an interview isn’t just an ask-and-answer session but a conversation, and you can use external factors and unexpected occurrences to advance the conversation and forge a connection with the interviewer. Often, interviewers apply the airport test when deciding who to hire: if they were stuck at an airport waiting for a flight, would they want to spend a few hours talking to you?
The content of your story is only half of the recipe; delivering your message in a compelling and memorable way is just as important.
Do you feel ready to ace that upcoming interview? Are you interested in trying a new approach and having fun while preparing for it? Check out StoryMason, build your identity, gain confidence, and create a story that your interviewer will remember.