Once Upon A Job:
"Success Stories" Steer Seekers Toward Employment

by Craig Harrison

Nothing succeeds like success! And in job interviews, experts believe that nothing succeeds quite like success stories. Are you sharing yours? Why not? The secret is in how you share your successes.

I coach job seekers to develop their thirty-second success stories. During interviews, a quick-hitting story can make or reinforce a point in memorable fashion. Success stories may be told in response to a question, to punctuate a credit on a résumé, or even as an aside. Did you know you had a storied past?

Success stories can show an interviewer how you resolved a workplace problem, innovated or grew on the job. Stories can showcase your acumen, demonstrate your facility with others, or profile your leadership qualities. Each story shows you succeeding in a work context, which is the purpose of your interview. Remember, the person interviewing you is trying to envision how you'll do in their work environment. Past performance is often the best predictor of future success so it behooves you to share your successes. Stating just facts or statistics leaves interviewers dry. Telling your story adds the color, context and realism to help your interviewer appreciate your skills and experience and how you applied each.

Stories work for several reasons. For starters they're more memorable than numbers, names and dates. Stories also work well because we enjoy the drama: a problem followed by a solution, a mystery solved with a twist, or a creative workaround to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Also, the listener can find him or herself in the story as well. A good story will resonate with listeners. According to Gay Ducey, a past president of the National Storytelling Association, "we're wired for stories, individually and collectively. Since the time of Odysseus we've been told stories. Since we were little kids we've been read and told stories. This is how we've been conditioned to learn; our morals and our values are taught through stories."

Look at your résumé and pick out an accomplishment. Now tell your interviewer the story behind the accomplishment. It states that you increased sales 60%. But tell how you did it; Give us a "before vs. after" description. What was the secret? Stories that reveal secrets captivate their listeners.

Your vita indicates you streamlined production time 40%. What was the key to this success? Why hadn't others done this already? What personal quality helped you succeed at this task where others before you hadn't?

The Three S's of Success Stories

Success stories offer a setting, a situation and a solution. Remember, you're the hero of your stories. Your decisions, actions and insights made a difference and it's OK to say so. You don't have to be boastful, but make Howard Cosell proud: tell it like it is!

Here is an example of how one candidate summarized his most recent employment for a competitor:

"In my last job I was hired to manage a production department at war with the editorial department. I walked into an environment full of distrust and resentment, built up over years of animosities and recriminations. Through my implementation of cross training between departments, initiation of mutual social outings such as picnics and scheduling of project post-mortems we were able, after 6 months, to convert resentment into understanding and competition into cooperation. As each department began to understand how the other one worked we were jointly able to improve the workflow and consequently shorten time to market with publications. Even quality improved as we better understood how best to work together. That showed me the importance of internal communication and how hard it can be, though not impossible, to change an existing culture."

Not only does this success story demonstrate the candidate's ability to solve problems, but it shows interviewers the candidate's understanding of interoffice politics and the human side of operations.

Stories can demonstrate your detail orientation, dedication, leadership, independence, researching ability, creativity or problem solving inclination. Remember that employers want well rounded hires so make sure they see evidence of your varied skill set. Here are a few examples:

  • Your conversion of old equipment into new uses shows you can think outside the box and are resourceful.
  • The non-monetary ways you recognized your staff shows your creativity, abilities as a leader as you demonstrate your understanding of how to motivate others.
  • The weekly internal E-letter you created for employees not only boosted morale, it gave evidence of your strong communication skills.
  • The canned food drive you initiated at your last job not only showed your commitment to your community, it also raised visibility for the company and improved their public relations.
  • By forming a lunchtime jogging club you helped bring employees from different departments together while improving the health, and mental health, of employees who participated. Your leadership and team building skills were further evidenced when your runners club formed a Centipede in the recent Bay to Breakers race.
  • Your multilingual skills helped aright a project suffering from miscommunication between subsidiaries from overseas. Not only could you translate phrases and idoms of speech, your insight into cultural differences bridged a gap and corrected a wayward project. More than showcasing your knowledge of languages, you demonstrated the ability to liaison between different groups, negotiate and turn an important project around.

It stands to reason that when employers hire candidates with such skills and experience, similar stories will ensue. Your continued employment makes yours a never-ending story. Review your past work history and identify the stories within each accomplishment. Now tell it to others. Make sure you include the moral to your story. What is the point the story tells about you, your skills and credits? And remember, it's never too soon to tell your story: "once upon a job..."

As a self-employed speaker, trainer, and consultant on communication topics, Craig Harrison is simultaneously a decision maker, gatekeeper, and caller on a daily basis.

He is standing by to take your calls and e-mails (888) 450-0664, or via excellence@craigspeaks.com. Visit his website at www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com.

Reprinted with permission from Craig Harrison, Expressions Of Excellence.com!
For more job-seeking resources from Craig Harrison:

E-mail: excellence@craigspeaks.com
Phone: 1-888-450-0664
Web: http://www.expressionsofexcellence.com