Expanding on the Job-Interview-as-Shared-Narrative

One of the most exciting posts and concepts I’ve come across in the last couple of years came from my colleague Walter Akana (pictured) in 2010 — The Job Interview As Shared Narrative, which I wrote about here.

Now Walter has taken the concept to the next level with an expanded version of his post on Interviewing.com.

To recap, here’s the nugget that really explains this idea:

I believe that thinking of our careers as narrative has a powerful implication for how we conceive of professional interactions, in general, and job interviews, in particular. And it’s this: discussions of our professional experience are truly opportunities for shared narrative. Trading stories with an interviewer about our shared experience allows for a sharing of meaning, and supports the kind of bonding that takes place in discovering the things we share in common. It is a fundamental human need that drives folklore, which is often a device for transmitting a culture’s morals and values.

So how the heck do you “trade stories” in an interview? That’s the question Walter anticipates and addresses in the expanded piece. “While it’s typically not advisable, in a formal interview, to turn the tables and ask the interviewer for his or her experiences,” Walter acknowledges, “it is possible to engage them by sparking their interest and curiosity. One way to do this is to borrow from public speaking and open our stories in ways that are more compelling. So, it’s possible to set a story telling tone by using a provocative statement or question that will engage the listener.”

He then provides a wonderful list of examples of how to set up a more engaging response to some frequent interview questions:

Interviewer asks: Can you tell me about a time when you proposed an idea that was rejected by your manager or team?
Interviewee says: Have you ever faced what seemed like a no-win situation? Well, let me tell you a story…

Interviewer asks: Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager, what was the situation, and how did you resolve the disagreement?
Interviewee says: You know how people always say two heads are better than one? Well, in 2007,….

Interviewer asks: Tell me about a time when project demands seemed overwhelming; what did you do, and how did you reach your objectives?
Interviewee says: You know, 80% of the value really does come from 20% of the process, let me give you an example from the my position at…

Interviewer asks: Have you ever dropped the ball with a customer; who was the customer, and how did you resolve the situation?
Interviewee says: Have you ever had a customer that you simply could not satisfy? … Well, let me tell you about one where…

Interviewer asks: Tell me about a time when a project you led required cross-functional support; what was the project, and who were the players, and how did you make it work?
Interviewee says: You know how the accounting department always seems to want…?

Interviewer asks: Tell me about a time when you achieved a truly remarkable result; what was it, and how did you do it?
Interviewee says: Achieving a net promoter score of 100% is a BIG deal, let me tell you how we did it…

Can’t you just feel the interviewer conjuring his or her own stories based on those lead-ins? Even if he or she doesn’t verbally share a compatible story, a connection based on shared experience has been created in the interviewer’s mind. As Walter puts it — the interviewer will “identify with a common experience or idea,” and the technique will promote engagement.

Also see Annette Simmons’s slightly different take on eliciting the interviewer’s side of the shared narrative.