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THE IT INTERVIEW GUIDEBOOK: THE ART OF STORYTELLING AND CAPTIVATING YOUR AUDIENCE
IT resourcesIT resources
THE ART OF STORYTELLING AND
CAPTIVATING YOUR AUDIENCE
If someone asked you to tell them
about your favorite movie, could you?
Chances are, you’d easily be able to
summarize the plot in a couple of sentences.
Now consider why it’s so easy for you to do so.
The obvious answer is, of course, that you were drawn into the story and enjoyed the
movie—which isn’t surprising, since movies are carefully crafted by master storytellers
to be engaging and memorable.
The secret to a successful interview: great storytelling
In this eBook, you will learn:
• How to research a
company so you
know your audience
• How to create engaging
stories that a hiring
manager won’t forget
• What you should never
do when telling a story
in an interview, and what
you should do instead
So how do movies pertain to a job interview?
Well, as a jobseeker in today’s competitive IT job market, you need to make yourself as
memorable as possible to hiring managers. No matter how good your education, how
impressive your experience, or how extensive your computer skills, what will really set
you apart from other candidates with comparable skills is your ability to articulate how
you can bring value to an organization.
Going to an interview and simply reciting your résumé isn’t going to engage a hiring
manager or interviewer. To really stand out, you need to know how to tell your story
in an authentic manner that resonates with your audience. And that’s where the art of
storytelling comes in.
The art of storytelling can be applied to interviews to make a greater impact on your
listener. In an interview in Harvard Business Review, Robert McKee, an award-winning
director, and writer and author of Story, Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of
Screenwriting, instructs that a powerful way to engage people is to unite an idea with an
emotion. In an interview setting, this translates into providing information about yourself
in a manner that your listener can relate to emotionally, making you and your story more
memorable in his or her mind.
The greateststory I
Every answer you give, every question you ask, and every
anecdote you recount during an interview combines to tell
a story about you.
So in order for your story to be memorable, you need to take control of it. As Robert
McKee says, a successful story unites an idea with an emotion—in other words, you have
to craft your tale so it strikes a chord with the audience. To do this, you first have to
establish common ground and engage your listener’s emotions. And that’s where
researching your audience comes in.
To determine what you need to research, ask yourself, “Who is my audience and
what is my goal?”
Your audience is, of course, the hiring manager—both as an individual and as a
representative of his or her company. Your goal is to convince the hiring manager that
you’re the best fit for the job.
To establish common ground, you need to understand the company’s objectives,
circumstances, and reason for hiring a candidate with a specific skillset for this particular
position. You also need to know the hiring manager’s own background. So the more you
know about both the company and the hiring manager, the better you’ll be able to tailor
a story to your audience’s frame of reference.
THE MORE YOU
BOTH THE COMPANY
AND THE HIRING
BETTER YOU’LL BE
ABLE TO TAILOR A
STORY TO YOUR
PART I: RESEARCHING YOUR AUDIENCE
Forbes reports that hiring managers often complain candidates lack knowledge about
the companies they’re applying with. Having knowledge of the company not only shows
you’ve done your homework, it also puts you in a better position to tell a story that’s
relevant to the interviewer’s situation.
Set at least a couple of hours aside to gather information about the company and the
hiring manager. What follows is a list of the most important pieces of information you
need and where to find them.
The company’s product or service: Look on the “About Us” page on the
The company’s history: Check the “About Us” page, or the company’s LinkedIn or
Wikipedia page. You can also conduct a Google search on the company’s name.
The bios of the leaders of the organization: review the “About Us,” “Management,”
“Leadership,” or “Investor” page on the company’s website.
PART I: RESEARCHING YOUR AUDIENCE
Who the organization’s competitors are: The company’s website is unlikely to include
this information. The best way to find it is to conduct an online search on the company’s
name, as well as a search for its competitors. You can do this by typing in “Competitors
of [company name]” and making sure to offset the words by quotation marks.
The organization’s recent activity: Check the “News,” “Press,” or “Media” pages
on the company’s website, and look for recent press releases. You can also check the
company’s blog, as well as perform searches and news searches on the company’s name.
The background and communication style of the hiring manager: Look on the
company’s website and see if the hiring manager has a bio there. Then take a look at the
hiring manager’s LinkedIn profile and read it carefully. Make note of any interests, group
affiliations, college alma mater(s), and connections. Study the LinkedIn bio carefully, as
well as all endorsements, to gain an understanding of the hiring manager’s background.
What is this person like? What does his or her profile tell you?
PART I: RESEARCHING YOUR AUDIENCE
Putting it all together
Review the information you’ve collected, and synthesize it to form a picture of the
company and the hiring manager’s situation. What do you imagine is the hiring
manager’s biggest problem right now? Are the company’s IT systems failing to keep up
with the organization’s growth? Does the company want to design custom systems for
clients, but it lacks the personnel with the right combination of expert programming
language skills and well-honed interpersonal skills? Use your talent for analytical thinking
to gain an overview of what’s important to the company and the hiring manager at this
point in time.
Spend some time considering what you and the hiring manager have in common in
order to know how to strike a chord with him or her. Consider aspects such as education,
work experience, and interests. By understanding the hiring manager’s situation and
having a common point of interest to draw him or her in, you can ensure your story’s
meaning comes across with clarity and power. Then you can work on honing all of your
interview answers into a comprehensive story that carries maximum impact and makes
you a memorable candidate.
THE HIRING MANAGER’S
SITUATION AND HAVING
A COMMON POINT OF
INTEREST TO DRAW HIM
OR HER IN, YOU CAN
ENSURE YOUR STORY’S
ACROSS WITH CLARITY
PART I: RESEARCHING YOUR AUDIENCE
It’s important to understand that simply rehearsing a couple
of anecdotes to share during an interview isn’t a guarantee
you’ll be a memorable candidate.
After all, you won’t be the one leading the conversation, so you can’t be sure when
you’ll have the opportunity to tell your story. You need to be able to participate in the
conversation and roll with it. That’s why you need to craft an authentic, engaging story
that communicates your message throughout the entire job interview—no matter what
questions are asked.
The way to do this is by knowing what the company wants, what the hiring manager’s
situation is, and how you can bring value to the organization. You’ve already worked
on gathering background information in Part I.
Now we’re going to discuss how to deliver your story throughout the course
of the interview.
PART II: BECOME A GREAT STORYTELLER /10
A “STORY” SHOULD
LAST FOR AT LEAST
THREE TO FIVE
OTHER TYPES OF
BE LONGER THAN
THREE TO FOUR
WILL GIVE THE
YOU LACK FOCUS
AND AREN’T A GOOD
Lessons from TED Talks
When it comes to in-person storytelling, many of us struggle to get our words across in
the right manner. Fortunately, we can take some lessons from TED Talks, the presentations
given by professionals who share their enthusiasm for their passions in a—typically short—
speech. The best TED Talks go viral and are seen by millions of viewers around the globe.
In Inc., TED organizer Kelly Stoezel shares some advice to make you appear confident
and your story sound natural. She advises preparing yourself and your audience by
making small talk ahead of time; telling the story in your own manner instead of relying
on a scripted structure; and knowing that you’re providing a service by sharing this
information with your listeners.
In his TED Talk, filmmaker and Toy Story writer Andrew Stanton says you can create a
great story by using what you know, capturing a truth by experiencing it, and expressing
values you deeply believe in. He also advises avoiding explicitly stating something about
yourself (e.g. “I’m collaborative”) and instead allowing your listener to make his or her
own deductions about you based on your story (e.g. “I worked with two colleagues to
build the database in record time”).
/11PART II: BECOME A GREAT STORYTELLER
Six storytelling tips to improve your interviewing skills
According to Stanton, a well-told story hooks, thrills, and captivates the listener. The
following six tips for storytelling will help you improve your storytelling skills and apply
them to interview situations.
1. Prepare to make the audience care. Using the research you did in Part I about the
company, identify key points that describe how you could make a difference in the
organization, as well as how you would fit in with the company culture. Come up with
compelling reasons for why your skills are exactly what this employer needs right
now to achieve its goals. For example, if the company needs somebody with in-
depth knowledge of programming languages as well as interpersonal skills, prepare
to explain that you’re proficient in four programming languages and were named
“Employee of the Month” at your customer service job during your college years.
2. Establish a connection. Before the interview starts, use the opportunity to establish
a connection with the hiring manager. Make small talk about something you have in
common, such as, “I noticed we’re both (name of college) grads. Did you go to the
most recent alumni event?” or, “I saw you’re also a member of (name of group) on
LinkedIn. Do you find it useful?” By establishing a connection, you’ll create a more
relaxed setting, which makes it easier to engage the interviewer.
PART III – LANDING THE JOB YOU WANT
Be clear on
3. Show your enthusiasm. Gain the interviewer’s attention by sharing information that
clearly demonstrates your enthusiasm for what the company does, as well as your
eagerness to bring value to the firm. For example, “I really like what you’re doing
by offering custom-built systems, and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring my
knowledge of C# and Java, as well as my customer service experience, to the job.”
4. Be clear on your intentions. Everything you say and do during the interview should
convey that the job you’re interviewing for is your first choice. Being informed as to
the company’s needs and enthusiastic about the position goes a long way, as well as
communicating that you like the company culture and think you’ll be a good fit for
the team. It’s also a good idea to draw upon your knowledge of the company’s values
and history to support the fact that this organization is your first choice employer, not
just one in a series of applications.
5. Be likeable. The more people understand you, the more likely they are to feel
empathy for you. Since you’ve already established a connection during the small
talk at the beginning of the interview, you can build on this by discussing things you
have in common. So ask questions and find opportunities to establish more common
ground. Moreover, being interested in the hiring manager, as well as the rest of the
team at the company, will make you even more likeable and show how good a match
PART III – LANDING THE JOB YOU WANT
DISAPPOINTED IN YOUR
JOB BY BEING REALISTIC
IN YOUR JOB SEARCH.
TO BE REALISTIC, YOU
NEED TO EVALUATE
AND SKILLS IN RELATION
TO A DESIRED ROLE.
you are for the team. For example, if you ask, “What do you like best about working
here?” and the answer is, “The work’s always cutting-edge and interesting,” you
could go on to say how much you enjoy challenging yourself and accomplishing new
things. This shared emotion creates a rapport that can make you stand out from the
rest of the candidates.
6. Delight the listener. Have one or two good anecdotes that clearly demonstrate the
qualities you want the hiring manager to know about. The stories should be short
and truthful and show you in a positive light. For example, you could tell an anecdote
about how you had just started with your previous employer when your supervisor
fell ill during a high-priority project, so you filled in as team leader and managed to
complete the project on time and within budget.
The interview is your opportunity—and might be your one and only chance—to connect
with the hiring manager, so use the conversation to tell a candid story that shows how
invested you are in the company’s needs and highlights how you could assist the hiring
manager in achieving his or her goals. Most importantly, be honest and always be yourself.
PART III – LANDING THE JOB YOU WANT
To make your story and yourself even more memorable, avoid
these “deadly sins of storytelling” during the interview process.
Writing for the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Professor of Marketing Jennifer Aaker
addresses frequently made storytelling errors that result in dry, unexciting stories.
Structuring stories chronologically. A tale that simply recants events from start to end isn’t
nearly as interesting as a carefully crafted story in which risks and consequences build to a
satisfying—and oftentimes surprising—conclusion. Make sure your stories are founded in
ideas linked to feelings and passions, and show logical connections between each event in
the story. For example, you could tell a story about how when a previous employer needed
to streamline its data collection in order to meet an important deadline, you went above
and beyond the call of duty to design a function that allowed database users to edit within
the system, minimizing the time needed for corrections and maximizing sharing efficiency.
As a result, the company met its deadlines and showed improved capacity from then on.
Using clichés. Avoid general categories and terms when speaking about yourself. By using
descriptive language that evokes images instead, you can engage your listener and make
yourself more memorable. So in place of saying, “I’m very organized,” you could say, “I like
my workspace to be organized. I always make sure to label files and folders correctly so I
or anybody on the team can easily find them.”
PART III: DEADLY SINS OF STORYTELLING /17
WRITE DOWN WHAT
GOALS MAKE SENSE
FOR YOU BASED ON
AND END GOAL.
Using jargon. Though the hiring manager is most likely an IT professional, it’s possible
that you’ll also interview with others in the organization who aren’t. In this case, bear
in mind that sprinkling the conversation with jargon that’s too technical or limited to a
specific population is a surefire way to lose most audiences. For example, if part of the
interview process for an IT job at a company includes meeting with the CEO who doesn’t
have an IT background, you should probably steer away from terms like “mainframe,”
“bridge,” and “QoS.”
Fabricating details or events. Untruths and half-truths undermine your credibility.
While it’s fine to show enthusiasm and passion, never exaggerate the facts.
Remember: an employer can and will check your references, so stick to the truth,
no matter how enticing embellishments might seem.
Being too general. Anecdotes that make your experiences interchangeable with
those of many other candidates aren’t going to make you memorable in the eyes of an
interviewer. Avoid being too general by selecting stories that are unique to you, and
showcase them by means of YouTube videos, blog posts, and/or your personal website.
If an accomplishment was shared, give credit where credit is due. Make sure your stories
are tailored to your audience and contain messages that highlight your best qualities as
they apply to the industry.
/18PART III: DEADLY SINS OF STORYTELLING
Playing the blame game. Sharing information about past experiences and shifting the
blame to your previous employer, supervisor, or team members will trigger a red flag
with the hiring manager that you’re not a good fit—even if you preface the story with the
statement, “I’m not blaming anyone.” Instead, present the story as a learning experience
that’s helped you develop, or steer away from it altogether.
Claiming to be perfect. When asked about a mistake or failure you made in the past,
don’t immediately answer that you can’t think of any. This is another red flag for hiring
managers, since nobody’s perfect. In fact, not sharing a story here might make it seem
like you aren’t willing to take responsibility for your actions. Make sure to prepare a good
story that shows what you learned from your mistake and how the experience improved
your ability to deliver in your job.
With the points above in mind, spend some time practicing your stories. Write them
down, record yourself telling them, and present them to friends. Ask for feedback and
keep practicing until your stories are engaging and memorable.
“DEADLY SINS OF
MAKE SURE YOUR
STORY IS UNIQUE,
PART III: DEADLY SINS OF STORYTELLING
THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS ARE COMMONLY
ASKED AS PART OF THE INTERVIEW PROCESS.
practice them aloud
so your answers
• Why are you interested in working
with our company?
• Why are you looking to leave—or
why did you leave—your last position?
• What’s important to you in a
• Why should we hire you, or what makes
you the best candidate for the role?
• Describe an accomplishment of which
• How do you handle conflict at work?
• Guidance or mentorship
• Conflict resolution experiences
• Team- and peer-inclusive
• Approachability anecdotes
• Examples of complex problem-solving
• Objective-oriented strategy forming
• Ability to drive change
• Application of company strategy to
your specific domain of expertise
• Relationship nurturing
• Risks and failures
• Influence on team culture
• Ownership of decisions and actions
• Description of your leadership style
HERE ARE SOME TOPICS FOR STORIES YOU
CAN PREPARE PRIOR TO YOUR NEXT INTERVIEW:
• Any study or research you completed
that would be relevant to the
company and/or hiring manager
• Experience at getting up to
speed quickly on a project
(cite a specific example)
• Coaching you received in previous
environments that helped expand
your knowledge and experience
• Transferable experience or
knowledge (products, certifications,
methodologies, etc.) that is relevant
to the position and compensates for
a lack of exact qualifications
has the connections to develop your IT career. Our customers
include 90% of Fortune 500®
and 99% of Fortune 100™
We put a new employee to work every 33 seconds, and every four
minutes one gets hired full-time by a Kelly customer.
Search for jobs on our kellycareernetwork.com, or visit
kellyservices.us/ITcareers for career insights.