The film Lincoln is getting rave reviews because it tells a great story in an engaging way. And, it reminds us that the 16th president was most effective at convincing someone to take his side when he was able, without hesitation, to reach into his past and relate a story to the current moment. There are lessons to be learned from this by the job hunter:
1. See yourself as a storyteller, and your professional successes and accomplishments as your story. You have an ability to make an emotional as well as intellectual connection with members of your network and hiring authorities by the way you tell your story. Whatever the context, tell it in an interesting way, making an effort to draw in your audience by relating to your listeners.
2. Tell your story in different formats. Your story can take the form of your elevator pitch, or chit-chat as you interact with others at networking events. You present it differently still when you're in an informational or formal job interview. It can be of different lengths, with more or less detail, but always with a single overriding narrative.
3. Each bullet point of your resume is a story. Your resume shouldn't just be a listing of the facts relevant to your career. Nor should it be just a long listing of skills you have, software programs or languages with which you have expertise, or kinds of work at which you excel. Rather, it should weave all those facts into stories, where each bullet point says something about an issue or problem you had to deal with, what you did to deal with it, what skills you used, and how it all turned out.
4. Have all kinds of stories ready to tell. What better invitation for a story than the typical way a behavioral interview question begins: "Tell me about a time when you…"
Practice telling your stories about how you dealt with difficult situations like: problem bosses or co-workers; high expectations coupled with low resources; times when you were caught in a values clash of one kind or another; and even times when you failed at something. Sometimes the "moral" of the story—like what you learned from your failure and how you would do things differently—is even more important to the listener than the fact that you might have failed to begin with.
5. Listen and improvise. Some of Lincoln's best scenes depicted the president taking time to listen to others and responding with wit or emotion to their needs. Even as you tell your story, take the time to listen and perceive how well you're relating. Do you see bored faces? Do people look like they want to head out to the next meeting or are they at the edge of their seats, sitting in the palm of your hands? Be prepared to adjust your story to the needs of the moment, rather than just plowing on through it because you prepared it and want to share it.
6. A great storyteller listens carefully to other people's stories. Understand that there are stories hidden in everything from job descriptions to the questions that interviewers ask. The sharpest job hunters hone the skill of looking beneath the surface to perceive the hidden stories, like what is going on in the department that needs a new employee, and what is happening at the company as a whole. What are the needs of the employer and how did they come to be? These are all critical elements of the employer's story. If you're able to respond with empathy and provide a vision of how the solutions you offer will improve the employer's story, you'll hit a home run.
The secret about job interviews is that they're as difficult, albeit for different reasons, for those who ask the questions as those who answer them. But if you can re-imagine the situation as an opportunity to engage listeners in your own professional story, you can relieve a good deal of stress for both sides, and become much more effective in your job hunt.
There are lots of people who have similar skills to yours. But no one has your unique story. Stand out from the pack by taking the time to remember your story, and know it well. Prepare to tell and retell it, each time tailoring it just a bit to meet the needs of the moment and your current audience. If you tell your story well and convincingly, hopefully soon you will have a new story to tell: The story of how you got your new job.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.