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William Arruda

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The Job Interview As Shared Narrative

InterviewLet’s face it. The phrase job interview conjures up feelings and images most of us would rather not entertain. And it only adds to our apprehension when interview advice references terms like targeted selection, behavioral interview, situational and stress interviews, panel interview – just to point to a few! Nor does it help that most people seem to reserve interview prep for the time when they’re in active job search, and feeling especially pressured to make a great impression in order to win a job offer.

Yet, it seems to me that there is a flaw in the typical thinking about job interviews: it is in the notion of being a job seeker preparing now for an interview. The real question, I think, is how does the interview fit with the long-term management of one’s career?

If we take the long view, managing one’s career involves having some degree of self-awareness of specific instances of one’s successes and failures. Ideally, we are able to capture the elements of those successes and failures to monitor, maintain, or improve our performance. And if we don’t, there is very likely someone else who will. It’s what performance reviews are intended to do, after all.

Taken as a whole, these individual instances of success and failure weave the story of our career, and perhaps even our life message. While seemingly disparate elements, they are episodes, or chapters, or plot lines that form a larger narrative. In fact, this relationship to story is not novel. It is clearly captured in the most fundamental approach to interview prep: create accomplishment stories to describe your experience. It’s what the STAR Technique is all about; namely, creating stories that tie together discrete situations and/or tasks faced, action steps taken, and results achieved.

Our careers represent our narrative, with stories that get told in formal performance meetings, in “water cooler” chatter, after hours with colleagues and friends, during mentoring conversations, and while networking generally. Indeed, our stories are what give us visibility and credibility inside of the communities of practice made up of the people who do what we do, and more broadly in brand communities that include the people we serve.

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 cultures morals and values.

If the final outcome of a job interview is to select the candidate who has not only the required skills but also represents the best cultural fit, then your ability to engage in shared narrative over the course of the process can have an impact on your success. Still, this is not something you should construe as just another interview strategy. In a world driven by digital presence and always-on social networking, the ultimate approach is to step outside the analog, on/off thinking that conceives of discrete events that are part of a job search process. Instead, find regular opportunities to share who you are in a way that ties you to the culture of you communities.

Cross-posted at Threshold Consulting.

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Dubbed 'The Personal Branding Guru’ by Entrepreneur magazine, William Arruda is a pioneering brand strategist, speaker, author and founder of Reach Personal Branding. He is credited with turning the concept of personal branding into a global industry.

William delivers keynotes and workshops on the transformative power of personal branding for some of the world’s most successful companies. He energizes and motivates his audiences—and his private clients include some of the world’s most influential leaders. As a thought-leader, William is a sought-after spokesperson on personal branding, social media and leadership. He has appeared on BBC TV, the Discovery Channel and Fox News Live and he’s been featured in countless publications, including Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the New York Times. William is the coauthor of the bestselling book Career Distinction. He is a member of the International Coach Federation and the National Speakers Association. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education.