How mastering the art of storytelling can lead to your next great job

You don’t have to be a master orator to tell a good story. In her new book, ‘Let the Story Do the Work,’ author Esther Choy says you just have to make a connection with your audience.

How mastering the art of storytelling can lead to your next great job

We all like to think that our decisions, especially in business, are based strictly on fact, not emotion, but the truth is, emotion plays a key role in every choice we make.

That’s where storytelling comes in, says Esther Choy, whose Chicago-based firm, Leadership Story Lab, coaches managers in storytelling techniques. In her consulting work and in the executive education courses she teaches at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Choy says people often feel like they don’t have any interesting stories to tell. “But an effective story isn’t really about you,” she says. “It’s about drawing your listener in and creating a sense of shared experience. Storytelling is about eliciting a ‘Yes, that’s happened to me, too!’ from the person listening because now you’ve taken an everyday experience and turned it into a feeling of connection.”

In her new book, Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success, Choy explains how to turn even the most boring situations into fabulous anecdotes.

Monster recently spoke with Choy about how using her storytelling techniques can help you get hired.

Q.  You write in the book that every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Could you tell us a bit about that?

A.  Yes, it’s really the same structure that keeps us enthralled by a novel or a movie. The beginning should be intriguing and arouse your listener’s curiosity about what will happen next. The middle is where you frame the situation and describe what you were dealing with and what you did. The ending ties it all together, and it’s what people usually remember best about any story.  So, in a job interview, you want your ending to show why you’re the best candidate.

Q. That sounds like a lot to squeeze into an “elevator pitch” at a networking event. How do you decide what to leave out?

A.  A good rule of thumb is, if you need to keep it short, tell what you did and maybe why, and leave out how. For instance, let’s say you made a change that cut your employer’s costs, or you won over a tough client.  Skipping the details will probably spark your listener’s curiosity about how! If and when they ask, that’s your cue to explain a little more fully.

Q. What if the story you want to tell has a lot of figures in it? Is there a secret to keeping it interesting?

A.  There is! And with so much numerical data available now, we’ve all sat through presentations where we struggled to stay awake! The secret is, picture a seesaw—one end is curiosity, the other is certainty.

If you must convey a lot of numerical information, in a job interview or any other setting, keep tipping that seesaw going back and forth. Raise a question that piques your listener’s curiosity, and, use numbers to answer that question. Then, move on to your next point, and do the same thing. That back-and-forth between wondering and knowing is the structure of lots of great stories.

Q. From a storytelling perspective, how important is it to know something about a hiring manager’s background before an interview?

A. Very! Deciding what story, or stories, you want to tell from your career is one of the best reasons for researching your interviewer on Google, social media, and the company website. Try to find out enough about them to make a reasonable guess as to which of your own stories is likely to resonate the best.

Truth be told, the ending—the take-away—is most important. So if you don’t know in advance who’ll be interviewing you, ask yourself, “If this person remembers nothing else about my story, what do I hope they take away from it?” Then build on that. As with most things, you’ll get better at this with practice. Learning to craft your story so that it draws your listener in and creates a sense of connection is as much a process as a destination.


Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics for Fortune and other publications since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?