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The Compelling Story Technique

Once you have grown accustomed to the Behavioral Answering Technique, you can expand your approach beyond simply giving examples into building compelling stories. Instead of merely providing an example which matches the question, weave the example into a compelling story with personality, flair, and interest. Captivate your audience by providing the details and nuances that bring your story to life and make it personal.

Consider yourself the author of a piece of nonfiction. As you put your story into words, you must give life and meaning to the characters and surroundings. Do the same in telling your compelling stories. Build the framework and background for the story. Add the elements of interest and intrigue. Tell about the unexpected plot twists. And show how our hero (you) saved the day in the end.

We all have compelling stories in our past. We tell them to our friends, our family, our loved ones. We laugh. We cry. And our hearts yearn for more. Yet we sometimes lose these stories over time, or bury them in our long-term memory bank, long hidden. Now is the time to review and renew.

The key to retaining these compelling stories for your interviewing is to write them down. Go over the questions and bring to mind the stories you can weave to provide your example in living color. And as another compelling story occurs to you, or as you find yourself in the telling of another interesting tale, ask yourself if the story will provide substance to your interviewing. If so, write it down.

After a period of time, you will develop an extensive collection of compelling stories to guide you through your interviews. As you become proficient in developing the connection points to these stories, you will find yourself steering to these stories to illustrate your responses.

One example of a compelling story was told by a recent grad, who answered a question about her organization skills by telling how she planned and organized the alumni dinner during homecoming weekend, including full details of the management of twenty different student volunteers and coordination with six different campus departments. The event was a resounding success, but there were several challenges she needed to overcome. And each of these challenges provided a compelling story of its own, as she was able to show her ability to plan, organize, and develop a team toward eventual success. In the end, she received a personal letter of recommendation from the President of the university, which she presented as validation of her extraordinary efforts.

Another compelling story was given by a current student in reference to a question about his lower-than-expected grade point average. He related the amount of work he had put forth to finance his college education, averaging thirty hours per week and occasionally putting in as many as fifty hours per week. He was eventually promoted to department manager, even though the employer knew he would be leaving after completing his degree. He recounted the story of the meeting with the employer in which he tried to back away from the management responsibilities, asking that one of the other department employees be promoted. The employer called in the four other workers in the department, who each personally asked that he take on the job as their manager. This student successfully shifted the focus from his lower-than-expected grades to his outstanding performance on the job by the use of his compelling story.

How do you know if your story is connecting with the interviewer? By eye contact. This is where the interviewer will show their interest. If you are not connecting with your story, decrease the amount of detail and drive home your point quickly. Depending on the personality type of the interviewer, you may need to adjust the length of the story, yet compelling stories work with all personality types. With the extreme driver or analytical personality types, you will need to keep the details to a minimum, while quickly making your point. Usually two or three shorter stories will serve you better than one long story. At the other extreme, for feeling personality types, you will perform better with a longer story and more details. How do you detect the difference in personality types? By continuously striving to stay personally connected with the interviewer. If this connection appears to be lost or fading during the telling of your compelling story, shorten the story and come to your point quickly. On the other hand, if you have a captive audience who is hanging on your every word, provide all the necessary details.

The key to using compelling stories is that stories are remembered. Stories are what make you human. Stories are what put a face on you in the mind of the interviewer. And stories are what they will come back to when you are being sold to others internally. When that time comes, you have given your interviewer ammo for helping others to see why you should go on to the next step in the hiring process. Or be offered the job.

The Pregnant Pause Technique

If you are succeeding in presenting a series of compelling stories during the interview, you will likely develop a rapport which places the communication on a more interactive level.

However, as you are presenting information during the interview, you may need to test the waters with the length of your answers. This can be done easily with the Pregnant Pause. As you are telling a story or example, pause at the conclusion of the story. This will be the cue to the interviewer to take back control with another question or redirection of the original question. But if the interviewer continues eye contact during the pause, use this as a cue to go on and provide another example.

Most interviews do not have established ground rules, agendas, or programs. They can and do change and adapt based on the interaction between the interviewer and the candidate. So how long should your answers typically be?

It is always a good idea to keep your answers within two to three minutes, maximum. You will have no idea at the outset if the interviewer has two questions or twenty. By proper use of the pause, you give the interviewer the opportunity to stick with their overall plan and schedule. And, if appropriate, you can continue to give further details or an entirely new example.

A side note to the pause is the converse reaction—an interviewer should not have to interrupt your answer. If you are interrupted, give control back to the interviewer. Take it as a tip that you will need to shorten and tighten up your future answers.

One additional side note: never interrupt or finish a sentence for an interviewer. Even if they talk extraordinarily slow, be patient. Remember, they are the one who holds your ticket for admission.

Read more:

Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers