The Power of Story in the Resume and Job Interview


Last week I took a class at Waterloo Wellington Community Futures. I take a lot of business development / professional development courses at this fabulous small business help centre. And located in Elora, Ontario. a delightfully charming town, it's doubly the pleasure as I can sneak in some shopping.

Last week's class was on how to speak about one's business not in a dry, technical (and oh-so-boring) way, but in a way that will engage a listener. I learned a great deal. And I could see the benefits of the approach to the job hunter.

Here's the kernel of what I learned: identify a story that epitomizes what you do, and use this story to create intrigue and interest.

For me, it's not about outlining to you what a strategic resume is and isn't, with technical details like grammar, content and context, and so on. It's about sharing an example of how it has worked. Here's one of the stories I crafted as an in-class assignment.

A few months ago, it was the beginning of the summer as I recall, I worked with a fellow, a Senior Vice President who had spent most of his career in the brewery sector. His original resume still held a "Career Objective," which is pretty much passe these days, and his "Professional Experience" was composed in long, dense paragraph form. And I mean long - one position was almost an entire page.

To put this issue in perspective, I recently had a CFO client engage me to condense his resume after a recruiter had one look at long, dense text and declined to review him as a candidate. Absolutly true!

Back to the beer guy. I recreated his resume, modernizing the appearance, categorizing the information, introducing snappy bullets, and just making it far more readable. And off he went to conduct his job hunt.

Last week he sent me a message on LinkedIn. "Oh, by the way," he wrote, "I landed my dream job. I am now leading the largest brewery in the Carribbean."

I live vicariously through my clients!

(I need to share that he gave me permission to use that much detail, as I usually don't.)

And that story, so much more interesting than a technical explanation of "what" I do, demonstrates what belongs in every job hunters' toolbox: stories. Stories about every one of the skills you use in your work and how it has impacted colleagues, clients, decision-making, productivity, performance, and profits.

I challenge each of you to use this approach. And if you need help, New Leaf Resumes is at your service.

Interview questions and nerves

Today I spoke with a recent client. He had had a telephone interview, and was now scheduled for an in-person interview. The one quesiton that gave him pause was a behavioural one, "How do you handle constructive criticism?"

For some reason (and we all have different questions that might trigger a nervous reaction) he found it difficult to answer. First of all,  the question likely has more to do with a situation at the company, perhaps with a staff member in the very division to which you've applied, and less likely anything to do with you. Truly unlikely that they have already noted that you got your back up about a critical remark (and if you did, there's an issue for you to dispense with before it stumps your career growth completely). It's probable that one of their staff won't accept suggestions with grace and good humour.

And secondly, an honest response is the best. That's why canned answers sourced from a "100 Answers to Typical Interview Questions" type of book won't work as well as an honest and authentic response.

If you actually ask for feedback on a regular basis, say so. If you embrace the chance to serve clients better, or deliver services more effectively and thus like to hear honest appraisals, say so. And if you don't mind it, and listen politely to evaluate in private, say so. It's not the answer in particular that's going to make Candidate A better than Candidate B, it's simply about answering the question with honesty. (Of course if you get your back up you are advised to get help in conquering this reaction.)

And don't go on and on, justifying, explaning, twisting and turning and piquing the interview team's collective "liar meter" antenna! A short and sweet honest answer is all that's needed. It's just a simple question.