by David Couper
As we know from childhood, every story must have a beginning, middle, and end. There had to be set-up and a pay-off. We instinctively know when a story is not working, and yet many of us find problems with creating stories. Stories exemplify our uniqueness They help employers to hire us and customers to buy.
Auntie Regina’s Ribs — More Sauce
Here’s an example. We’re at a family barbecue — a mix of close family, cousins you only see once in a while, their significant others and various friends. A guy with ketchup on his shirt — in the friend-of-the-family category who you’ve never met before — is listening to your story.
Guy with ketchup: So tell me more about what you’ve been up to.
You: Last year I was working on a new system for a client, International Bank. I had met with the people at the bank and discussed our plan. The system was going to help bank tellers increase accuracy and save time per transaction. I asked if my team could talk to some tellers to get their input. The client said, ‘No, we didn’t need to,’ and that she knew all about the teller role and would answer any questions for us.
Let’s Start At the Very Beginning
Let’s stop here. That was the beginning of the story. We’ve given the set-up. We’ve explained what the current status was. We’ve talked about what we inherited and we’re ready to start talking about what we did — the middle of the story. Too often, that’s where people start so that the target doesn’t know the context or why the actions were important. Now, on to the middle of the story.
The Middle Comes Next
You: I wasn’t really happy with that answer. I knew from experience that if you didn’t get the end users’ input early you could have big problems. And I also knew that my client would be too busy to give me the time I needed and might well not have the hands-on information I needed. But she was the client.
Guy with ketchup: Tough call.
You: Yes, but I knew what to do. I pulled some examples, case studies that showed why having the end-users’ input was so important. When I showed them to her she understood and gave me the names of some of her top people.
So that’s the middle of the story. You might want to add more to your own story, but like any good joke it’s really the set up and the pay off that get the biggest laughs. And now the end of the story.
All Good Things Have to End
Guy with ketchup: Good work. I bet having some good examples helped your case.
You: Yes. And when the system went live we had no problems. The users really liked it and the upgrade from their old process was really smooth. The manager told me that she was really pleased I had pushed her to get feedback from the users, and that had made all the difference.
Guy with ketchup: Fantastic.
There you go. A story, or a longer pitch, which will get you an interview.
Here’s another fabulous real-life example from Ron Shimony that shows the importance of believing in yourself.
Here is his initial experience with pitching himself.
I walked up and down Lincoln Avenue in the north Suburbs of Chicago and started applying for sales jobs at various car dealerships: “Hi, my name is Ron Shimony, and I would like to work for you. I don’t have any car sales experience, but I can learn fast” was what I would tell the manager. And “No thank you, we don’t have any openings right now,” or “Sorry, we don’t hire people with no sales experience,” were the two most common answers I received.
And then he saw where he was going wrong.
I realized that I had been asking these sales managers for the right to apply for a job with their company, instead of expecting them to hire me. I had to show the value I would bring to the table, billing myself as the best potential car salesperson these managers ever met.
Along with this belief in himself, Ron also practiced his pitch and emphasized his positive qualities through his body language and delivery. This was his new pitch.
Hi, my name is Ron Shimony, and I would like to work for you. Although I do not have any car sales experience, I can assure you that no one can outwork me. I will become your number-one sales guy, if you just give me the opportunity! I know what I can do and achieve, and you will not be disappointed. I am a fast learner, and your company will benefit greatly from my selling abilities and enthusiasm.
Not surprisingly, he was hired by a Chicago dealer.
Quoted with permission from Ron for your life
Final Thoughts on Telling Your Story
Good stories work whether you are hunting for a job, trying to get a promotion, or even running your own business. Remember a beginning, middle, and an end, and you are on the way to something powerful.
For more information, see also these sections of Quintessential Careers:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2014.
David Couper is founder and CEO of David Couper Consulting, Inc., a strategic-effectiveness consulting firm focusing on business’s real bottom-line: PEOPLE. A seasoned global corporate consultant and coach, David is also an accomplished writer and has published seven books. David is regularly quoted talking about business success on television, radio, print, and online outlets such as NPR, Forbes, CBS News, and Newsweek Japan. David holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Wales and graduate degrees in Education and Psychology. He lives with his 8-year old son, in Los Angeles, California.