How to Tell Your Life Story in a Job Interview, with Rob Biesenbach

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I wanted to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001, and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide.

My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job; the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, Becky Thomas, and Jessica Black from the Mac’s List Team.

This week we’re talking about how to tell your life story in a job interview.

Sometimes the hardest story to tell is the one we tell about ourselves. Modesty, lack of objectivity, and insecurity all come into play.

But the ability to tell our own story is critical to successfully navigating job interviews, networking events, and first-time meetings with others.

This week’s guest expert is Rob Biesenbach. He says you need to know how to tell your life story in a job interview. Rob and I talk about how to do this later in the show.

A LinkedIn page offers another chance to tell your life story. Many of us, however, don’t make the most of that opportunity. Ben has found a list of the top five things that the worst LinkedIn pages share in common. He tells us more in a moment.

You’re a new college graduate full of energy and ambition. You’ve gotten several job interviews but no offers yet. Is it because employers think you’re too optimistic and inexperienced? And what can you do about this? That’s our listener question of the week. It comes from Heather Rockwell in Newberg, Oregon. Becky shares her advice shortly.

First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team.

I’m here with Jessica, Becky, and Ben, and our topic, everybody, is how to tell your life story in a job interview. This isn’t the elevator pitch or response to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question but rather it’s the story you tell in an interview about yourself and your profession. I’m curious, what strategies do you all use when you tackle this and what principles do you follow?

Ben Forstag:

I’ll go first.

Mac Prichard:

Becky was avoiding eye contact.

Becky Thomas:

I always go first. I want to let someone else go.

Mac Prichard:

Alright.

Ben Forstag:

I really like to put my professional life story into a narrative that culminates with why I’m sitting in the room talking to the person I’m with. I think that answers a lot of questions an interviewer might have already about, “Why are you here? What’s your story? What’s your background? How does it fit into the conversation we’re having today?”

The trick here is that you have to customize that narrative a little bit for each job that you’re going to, because there are multiple different destinations you might be going to in your career and so you’ve got to create that path, that narrative story to each one of those destinations, depending on who you’re talking to.

Jessica Black:

I take the same approach in general, of using it as a storytelling mechanism. But in job interviews, it does usually come in the form of a ‘tell me about yourself’, even if it’s not directly those words. But something kind of opened ended, of “Why are you here?” or “Who are you?” type of a question.

I usually start out with something personal. I say I’m a Portland native, kind of start that out, and get people to understand who I am. Because I’m still in Portland, and I think that that gives a large bit of information about me and it also starts it out really personal. But then I do go into the…not my whole life story of, “I lived on a street in the suburbs.” I never say any of that stuff, but I do kind of frame up what my career experience and my career history have looked like.

I’m a big fan of finding the common threads in your career history and tying that all together to say, you know, “Went to University of Oregon. I studied this, and now I…through taking on multiple positions in multiple industries, discovered that I’m really passionate about x, y, z, and that’s why I’ve discovered that this job would be really great.” That sort of thing.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. I love the structure of that, Jessica.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Because it’s really got three parts. This is who I am. This is what I’ve done. And this is why I’m here talking to you.

Jessica Black:

Right, exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I like what you’re saying, Jessica, about the common threads and ties. I tend to start with that big picture stuff. Often I’ll just do some thinking before an interview, just about refreshing what my strengths are, what I enjoy doing, what I think that my core professional persona is. How to describe that simply. So often I’ll say something like, “I’ve always been a very curious person, and that led me to journalism, to ask people questions. And that led me into marketing and how I understand my audience because I’ve always asked questions, and I’ve always been curious. So I focus on results and who I’m speaking to, and customizing story telling, all that stuff.” So that leads me down into more of a detailed story about my job experience, and projects, and results, and all that stuff.

But I think it’s good to form that foundation so that the interviewer can understand, this is the core of this person, this is how I can sum them up to my manager.

Jessica Black:

Yup.

Becky Thomas:

When they ask, so. I think about it that way.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, because as you talk, I can see you laying the foundation for a headline. So when the manager talks about you as a candidate to a peer or a superior, there’s going to be a one sentence takeaway about you.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, make it easy for them.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I too follow this structure that Jessica outlined, and I thinked you touched on this, Jessica, but I always pay attention in the ‘what’ section about what I have to offer. And I think back to Ben’s point too, about the employer’s needs and then like you, I close with a ‘why I am here’ and again, I try to connect that with the employer’s problems.

Jessica Black:

Right, because in a job interview it’s really not a question of ‘who are you?’ You know, they care, but they don’t really care to have a conversation. They just want to know why you would be a good fit.

Ben Forstag:

And one of the reasons I like this narrative structure that we’re all hitting on here, is because, I’ve mentioned this before, the first question I have for any candidate is, “Why are you here? Why this job? Why are you interested in working for me?” And if you can create a narrative around this that not just explains who you are, and what you do well, and what your skills are, But like the trajectory of your career, and you can position this job, the one you’re talking about, or for, right now as a culmination of everything else in your career, that’s a really powerful message to convey off to an employer.

Jessica Black:

That’s really well said, and that’s what I was trying to say as well. Good job, good job.

Mac Prichard:

Well stories always stick with us, whether they’re the stories we tell in job interviews or in other work that we do, and I know Rob, who does a lot of work on storytelling is going to touch on that too.

So before we talk to Rob, let’s turn to you, Ben, because every week you’re out there, poking around the internet, looking for websites, books, and tools our listeners can use in a job search and a career. So what have you found for us this week, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

So this week I want to talk about one of our favorite topics on the podcast. Can you guess what it is, Mac?

Mac Prichard:

LinkedIn?

Ben Forstag:

You got it. LinkedIn.

Mac Prichard:

Full disclosure, I’ve got a script.

Jessica Black:

You would have guessed that anyway.

Ben Forstag:

And anyone who’s listened to the show over the course of the last year or so probably knows that we like LinkedIn a lot. It’s a powerful networking tool.

Mac Prichard:

It’s right up there with the long standing debate about one or two pages for resume.

Ben Forstag:

Don’t get us into that, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Alright, let’s go back to LinkedIn.

Ben Forstag:

I’m slowly putting my fists away.

So I was cruising around Twitter this week and I came across what I thought was a really useful link about LinkedIn. And it’s from fastcompany.com. It’s an article called Recruiters Explain What The Worst LinkedIn Profiles Have In Common. And the reason I like this is because it takes a lot of the key points from the episodes we’ve done on LinkedIn and kind of condenses it down to five major points. So I’m going to go quickly through those and we can chat about them.

So the first big mistake is your LinkedIn profile is outdated. And I know we’ve talked about this a lot. Your LinkedIn profile is a living document and you’ve got to go in there and update it regularly. Too many folks do it when they’re looking for a job and then ignore it and it falls by the wayside.

Mac Prichard:

And it really does stand out if you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile in some time.

Ben Forstag:

The next one, and I’m quoting verbatim here, “Your headline sucks”, which basically…you want to be creative in your headline. Think about keywords, because LinkedIn is, at it’s essence, a search engine. It indexes headlines, so you want to make sure you’re using the right keywords in that headline. But also showing some creativity, something that’s going to get people’s attention.

Mac Prichard:

I see a lot of people use job functions here. Things like ‘coach, author’ or ‘speaker’

Ben Forstag:

Guilty as charged.

Mac Prichard:

Others use job titles, but they do have some kind of headline.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah you have to have some headline. I think the argument here is that if you’re looking for a job, having a really keyword intensive but also creative headline is a great way to get recruiter’s attention. Because they’re looking at LinkedIn all day and at a certain point, profiles all start looking the same. So if you have some way to really capture people’s attention, you’re going to be remembered.

Mac Prichard:

So you need to be strategic, and be thoughtful about the keywords you choose and be creative.

Ben Forstag:

You got it. Number three actually speaks to something we were talking about earlier here, which is telling a coherent story. A lot of folks on LinkedIn just list all of their past work experience as if they’re in a vacuum. Between these dates I did this, then after that I did something different, without kind of tying it all together about what it means. Creating a narrative or a story around your career.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I see this a lot with the LinkedIn profiles that are just basically online resumes. There’s a job title, a company, and sometimes people even leave out responsibilities and they just go with the employer and date. It’s such a lost opportunity.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, you have so much real estate there to play with. I mean, your LinkedIn profile has an infinite length as far as I know. So use that opportunity. Again, this is another place where you can throw in keywords, because LinkedIn will index those.

The fourth mistake people make, and this is coming from recruiters, they say the mistake is making it all about business and not putting any kind of personality into your LinkedIn profile.

Mac Prichard:

And this is more than hobbies. It’s actually listing, perhaps volunteer activities, like memberships on boards, involvement in sports leagues, maybe even the PTA. But it all helps paint a picture, doesn’t it?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. And it could be even hobbies, because you never know what kind of connection you’re going to find with someone else. I’ll admit, I make two or three references to the Cleveland Indians in my LinkedIn profile, because I’m a big fan of the Cleveland Indians. And believe it or not, two or three people have reached out to me; not recruiters, but other contacts, based on that. They’re also fans of the Indians, and it gives us something to talk about and kick start that relationship from.

And finally, the biggest mistake you can make is you haven’t published anything on LinkedIn. And basically, this doesn’t mean that you have to write a big blog post. But that you’re not sharing articles, or liking or commenting on other people’s posts. It looks like your profile was just created and then forgotten about if you’re not actively using it to connect with others and generating content.

Mac Prichard:

And I think a lot of LinkedIn users miss out on this because they forget that LinkedIn is a social network. It’s like Facebook or Instagram, and it’s a dynamic platform. You benefit the more you publish and the more you respond to comments and contribute comments to other people’s profiles as well.

Ben Forstag:

Mac, it’s almost like you’ve done multiple podcasts on this topic. It’s amazing.

So if you’d like to get the rundown on these five mistakes you’re making with your LinkedIn profile, check out our resource of the week. Again, it’s Recruiters Explain What the Worst LinkedIn Profiles Have in Common. It’s from Fast Company, and we will have the url in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

Well thank you, Ben. And if you’ve got a suggestion for Ben, please write him. His address is  ben@macslist.org. We would love to share your idea on the show.

Now let’s turn to you our listeners, and Becky Thomas joins us to answer one of your questions.  Becky, what’s in the mailbag this week?

Becky Thomas:

This week’s listener question came in via email from Heather Rockwell in Newberg, Oregon. So Heather says,

“I’m young, passionate, fresh out of college, energetic, and ambitious. How do I get employers to take me seriously? I’ve had several interviews since graduation, and all of them left me feeling like I was too young, too optimistic, and too inexperienced for them. How can I show my potential as a young, early-career professional? I know I have what it takes to perform the jobs I’m applying to, but I need them to see it.”

Heather, this is a good question. I think most recent college grads feel this way at some point. I reread your question a couple of times and a couple things stood out to me that I wanted to dive into a little bit more.

So, Heather says, “How do I get employers to take me seriously?” And she feels like they see her as too optimistic. Both those things make me think that she’s giving the impression that the employers see her as too young. And I’m wondering why that is. I think she would probably benefit from doing a bit of a self assessment as she’s starting to go to more job interviews and stuff like that. What is it that’s making them think that you’re too young or too optimistic?

Are you too chatty? Are you talking like a young person? Like slang or saying “like” all the time, which is something I do all the time? Do some assessment on, are there some verbal ticks? Are you maybe dressing a little young? And maybe just go a little bit further towards dressing and speaking more formally. Just projecting a more professional, and I’m not saying that she’s being unprofessional, but it’s possible that just because she is a young person, sometimes older people are intimidated by younger folks. So just to look to the person you’re interviewing with, if they’re older and they’re more formal, just try to be a chameleon. Try to reflect what they’re doing and just make them more comfortable. That’s one thing that I was thinking about for her.

Another thing, just in general, as a young, fresh out of college person, I think it’s important to not just say, “I’ve got potential. I’m smart.” Because employers want to see results. They don’t want to bet on your potential. So do some digging into your college experience or even your high school work experience if you had part-time jobs, things like that. How can you show the skills you have for the job you’re interviewing for with your resume or in the interview? Just getting creative with those skills and explaining some of the things that you’ve been able to accomplish so far. Because it sounds like you’re a smart person and you’re very capable and so use some of that concrete things that you’ve done and experienced already to show the employer what you can do. I think that will hopefully get you far.

Yeah, so that’s what I was thinking for Heather. Do you guys have any other thoughts?

Jessica Black:

Yeah, yeah. I do. I think that what you just said in the second half is spot on, definitely. Of pulling out what she has done and being able to highlight those accomplishments. Then I think partially the things that you said initially of…

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, and I didn’t want to assume anything. But just rereading the question…

Jessica Black:

I know, totally understandable. I’m not jabbing anything at you. I just want to add to that, of projecting the confidence. Because I think coming right out of college, you’re very eager and that’s probably what they’re picking up on with the optimistic and all of that is… you know, you’re young and you’re really excited about getting a job and that sometimes comes across as being naive or whatever.

I’ve definitely been there. I’ve had this multiple times, I’ve definitely had this sentiment of, “I’m smart, I’m capable, but nobody will take me seriously because I also lead with my optimism and my energy.” Which I think is a great asset, so don’t lose that, but also kind of what Becky was saying, of making sure that what you’re presenting is coming across very confident. I think that when you have a list of your accomplishments, and have that as a base, you can use that to walk in a room with a lot of confidence, and a lot more ease.

You mentioned that a little bit too, kind of the calm demeanor and all that. Which, I think that it will really help that you…I don’t people kind of just pick up…and I’m not trying to say, Heather, that you are desperate, but I’ve been there of just desperately wanting a job, and every interviewer and every interaction is just, you are a little bit too eager for the job, and that comes across as well. If you project a self assurance and confidence and all of those things, I think that that would really help, but then also have all the of the things to back it up with. The accomplishments that you have.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

I just go back to that unpacking process that you were doing, Becky. So I’m guessing the problem is not your age, because I’m guessing the employer could figure out how old you are before they invited you in for the interview, based on the length of your resume or your graduation dates. So I wouldn’t say right off the bat it’s your age that’s the problem. I’m guessing you have to dig down a little bit deeper into that and I guess I would also question any employer who doesn’t like enthusiasm. So enthusiasm is probably not in and of itself a problem. I’m guessing that that enthusiasm isn’t directed towards the employer’s needs maybe.

If you’re enthusiastic and stuff but it’s not directed to an immediate need the employer has, it seems kind of misguided enthusiasm, or youthful enthusiasm, or not relevant.

Becky Thomas:

That’s true.

Ben Forstag:

Again, I’m not sitting in the interviews. I don’t know what’s going on, but I would have to believe that if you were a very enthusiastic candidate who was really enthusiastic about solving the problems that that organization had or were required of that job, that that would never be a barrier to most employers.

And then the same thing, being young, if you’re getting the interview, is clearly not a barrier either.

Becky Thomas:

That’s true. Yeah, she’s already making it into the interview. So yeah, it’s about directing that enthusiasm towards the employer’s specific problems and not just saying, “I’ve got all this potential, I’m smart.” But “I’m smart, and here’s how I’m going to help you.”

Jessica Black:

Yeah. And demonstrating that you have some awareness of real world problems because that could be something, too. If you think that everything’s rosey all the time… it’s wonderful to believe that, but also demonstrate some practicality.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I like it.

Ben Forstag:

Just FYI, Jessica is rosy all the time.

Jessica Black:

But I’m also very practical. Hopefully you all know that.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a wonderful combination.

Jessica Black:

Thank you guys.

Mac Prichard:

These are all terrific points. The only thing I would add is consider asking for feedback. And just because you ask doesn’t mean you’ll get it, but I can vividly remember early in my career asking for feedback, and the times that I did get it, and it didn’t happen all the time, it was very helpful.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

So you might consider doing that as well, Heather. When you get a call or an email saying you haven’t made it to the next round, just see if you can set up a call and have a short conversation about what you might do better next time.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, that’s a lot better than trying to guess what they were thinking.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

But yeah. She’s on the right track. So good luck, Heather.

Mac Prichard:

Well thank you, Becky,and thank you, Heather. If you’ve got a question for Becky, please email her. Her address is becky@macslist.org. You can also call our listener line. That number is area code,  716-JOB-TALK. Or Tweet us; our Twitter handle is, @macs_list 

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of our book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere.

We’ll be back in a moment and when we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest expert, Rob Biesenbach, about How To Tell Your Life Story In A Job Interview.

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple; most of us learns the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For fifteen years at Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland, Oregon find meaningful, well-paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now I’ve put all of my job hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live.

You’ll learn how to get clear about your career goals, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit Mac’sList.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Rob Biesenbach.

Rob Biesenbach helps organizations and individuals capitalize on the power of storytelling.  He’s an award-winning consultant to Fortune 500 companies, an engaging and informative keynote speaker, and a Second City-trained actor.

Rob is also the author of two fun, practical books that use principles from the world of performance to help people communicate more successfully. And he’s now at work on a third book, on storytelling.

He joins us today from Evanston, Illinois.

Rob, thanks for being on the show.

Rob Biesenbach:

Thank you, Mac. Glad to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Well it’s a pleasure to have you, Rob.

Now our topic this week is, as you know, how to tell  our life story in an job interview when we’re a candidate. Now Rob, why do people struggle with this? Why is this hard to do?

Rob Biesenbach:

I think it’s very hard to talk about ourselves, some people for ego reasons, they’re shy about talking about themselves. But for most of us it’s very hard to edit ourselves. It’s a very personal subject when you’re telling your story. Your life or of your career, so how do you separate what’s important from what’s not important? How do you avoid going down long tangents? How do you avoid oversharing? Those are some of the challenges people face when telling their story.

Mac Prichard:

Now you mentioned some challenges, and I want to talk about how to overcome them. Are there other common mistakes you see people make, Rob, when they’re telling their stories to employers and in a job interview?

Rob Biesenbach:

I think the biggest mistake is something I call, “confidence soup syndrome” where it’s just a recitation of a bunch of job titles, job history dates, functions. It’s more listical than narrative. It’s like reading your LinkedIn profile instead of telling a story. So it’s just not that compelling.

Mac Prichard:

But facts are important, and you want to make sure when you’re a candidate that the people you’re talking to are aware of all of your experience. Why shouldn’t you just restate what’s on your resume or at least try to hit the highlights or headlines?

Rob Biesenbach:

Well absolutely, facts are important but they do have the resume presumably in front of them. They’ve looked at it. So you don’t need to obviously recap everything that you’ve done. A story is a great way to highlight the most important things you’ve done and also just provide a narrative flow that’s easier for the hiring manager to understand and consume and remember.

Mac Prichard:

Now I know stories can be a lot more persuasive than facts. Why is that so, Rob? Why are we more engaged as listeners and as employers when we’re hearing from a job candidate about their story rather than just getting a recitation of basic facts on a resume?

Rob Biesenbach:

Yeah, study after study after study has confirmed that storytelling is the most powerful form of communication there is. It’s neuroscience. When you tell a story, it activates people in a much different way than when you’re just reciting a bunch of information. It affects us on a physical level when we hear a good story; our eyes dilate, our hands sweat. On an emotional level, we empathize; on an intellectual level, we put ourselves inside that story and ask what we would do. So it’s all very experiential. Stories sweep us away, and captivate us, and it really is the best way to break down walls with people and build trust and create a relationship.

Mac Prichard:

So, let’s talk about a good story. What does it look like? Does it have common elements?

Rob Biesenbach:

Yes. There are important elements that are almost universal to storytelling. There has to obviously be a character, and in this particular situation the character is you the job hunter, generally. There has to be some kind of challenge you’ve overcome, some kind of conflict. And there has to be a resolution, of how you’ve resolved that particular challenge.

So there are lots of different ways to tell your story. There are a lot of different kinds of stories you can tell, but those are the main elements.

Mac Prichard:

So I can imagine listeners thinking, “Gosh, that sounds like a Hollywood screenplay, and I don’t want to write a screenplay, Rob. I just want to get a job.” Can you tell our listeners how to…and I love the structure that you outlined and I think it’s spot on. Can you tell our listeners how they can translate that into an interview and how to apply that to their own lives?

Rob Biesenbach:

Yes, you do not have to worry about creating a Hollywood movie. When I do storytelling workshops I always assure people, “The story you tell does not have to send the person out of their chair laughing, or have them break down in tears. It doesn’t have to be that kind of story. It can be just enough to provide a glimpse of who you are, what you value, and the value you bring. So don’t set such a high hurdle for yourself. There are some very simple steps that anyone can take to tell a good story including a story about themselves.”

And I can start with the first step if you want to hear that?

Mac Prichard:

That would be terrific.

Rob Biesenbach:

The first step is really to try to figure out what has been the theme of your career or life? Steve Jobs gave this great commencement address to Stanford University a number of years ago. Your listeners can find it on Youtube. As he was addressing the anxious, soon to be graduates about their futures, he talked about connecting the dots in the things they do. He said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

So the point is, whether you know it or not, and some people may feel, “Oh I’ve gone from job to job without any clear focus or direction.” There has been something driving you forward and maybe you don’t recognize it, but number one is to try to find what they call, ‘the implicit narrative of your career’ with a theme that sort of  draws all these experiences together.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have some tips about how people who are struggling with identifying that narrative, that theme, how they might do that?

Rob Biesenbach:

Yes. Look back at your work history. What are some of your biggest accomplishments? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What are the traits and skills you’ve brought to bear? And other commonalities. Look at awards, look at recognition, look at performance reviews, look at the reason people bring you into a team in the workplace. Why do they bring you in? Oh, you’re the negotiator, or you’re the cool head in time of crisis, or you’re the organizer. Whatever it is, there is something there. So finding that narrative thread is, I think, the first key.

Mac Prichard:

One way I’ve seen people do that as well is to turn to friends or peers or colleagues and ask them to identify the two or three things that the person is really good at. And sometimes you get surprising insights by doing that.

Rob Biesenbach:

Absolutely. Yours is the extrovert version. Talk to people. Mine I guess is to go off by yourself and a bunch of paper. But yeah, I agree.

Mac Prichard:

And I think we have both introverts and extroverts listening to the show, so that step one is identifying that narrative and finding that theme. After we’ve done that, Rob, what do we need to do next?

Rob Biesenbach:

Well I have a number of steps. It’s really just five steps that will take you through your story. I think I can best illustrate it by telling my story. It’s one I tell in my workshops and people find it useful in bringing the structure to life.

Mac Prichard:

I’d love to hear it.

Rob Biesenbach:

Yeah, and I’ll start with how I found my narrative thread. Well maybe I should start with the story? Naw, I’ll start with the narrative thread.

The thing that has tied my experiences together, believe it or not, has been a desire to perform. I was the youngest of four children, so I was the self-proclaimed often, center of attention. I was…in school I attempted to be the class clown. When I was in the workplace, I was often recruited to do comic sketches or song parodies when someone was retiring or leaving or having a Birthday or something.

Even in the assignments that I gravitated to, I started speech writing about twenty years ago and I was apparently really good at it. So writing a speech and delivering a speech is very much about performance. It’s about drama and story and rhythm and tempo. Then of course I got into performance. I got into acting, I started doing improv and sketch and all the rest. So that is the driving narrative of my life. At first I didn’t know it, but it was always there in my subconscious.

Mac Prichard:

So that’s step one of your process. But tell us about the next step and, again, by sharing your own story.

Rob Biesenbach:

Sure. I suggest people make their story short, about a minute, a minute and a half maybe. You can time mine, sometimes I go a little over but the essentials of the story is this.

For most of my adult life I pursued a conventional career in business, doing corporate communications and PR, and it was rewarding, but I always felt there was something more calling to me. Something more creative. And about a dozen years ago I stepped into the offices of Second City in Chicago, and began taking improv classes. I did sketch, I moved into theatre, comedy, drama, commercial work. I’d soon build an entire second career. So I was kind of living these two lives. During the day I was serving my corporate clients, and at night I was rehearsing and performing and I thought that these two worlds were not able to be reconciled. But a funny thing happened; the more I performed on stage and studied acting, the more I realized that these two worlds that I was inhabiting were not that different. Business and acting, they both require you to connect with an audience, to express yourself creatively, to tell stories. So I found a way to bring the worlds together. So I’m, in my workshops and my books, I’m sharing the business knowledge I’ve accumulated, and I’m performing in a way on stage in front of audiences. In the process, I’m helping people become more skilled, confident, communicators. And it’s really, really rewarding.

Mac Prichard:

That sounds like a great summary of how you’ve combined those two interests. Both working in improv and in business. So that’s the narrative. What is the second step in your process, Rob? How do people take that narrative and advance that story, particularly in a job interview?

Rob Biesenbach:

Well I break down the narrative, actually, into five steps. If they want to formulate the narrative. And again, going back, if you’ve found that common thread, and that common thread for me was performance, is really a five step process.

You begin in the beginning like any good story, and that’s sort of the normal state. When you look at my story, the normal state was me pursuing the conventional career in business.

The second thing is something comes along to disrupt the normal, an inciting incident. For me, the inciting incident was this desire to perform.

And then you have the third step which is the turning point. The turning point was when I decided to sign up for classes at Second City.

And the next one is conflict. Okay, where is the conflict in this story because that’s where every story lives and breathes. The conflict for me was that I had these two separate areas of my life that I was unable to reconcile.

And I resolved it. The fifth step, resolution. I resolved it by bringing them together in my workshops and books and offering people some value.

So those are the five steps.

Mac Prichard:

I love that structure, and what I particularly like as you tell your story, is it addresses the concern that might be on an employer’s mind if you were a candidate for a job. And I can imagine hiring managers thinking, “Oh gosh. This Rob, he’s certainly talented in business communication, he knows public relations, but what he really wants to do is comedy, and he may just want to park here for a while, until he gets another gig.” And the way you tell your story, it addresses exactly who you are and why you do what you do, and the benefit that you might offer a hiring manager if you were interviewing for a job with the company.

Rob Biesenbach:

Well it was a fascinating journey as I sort of developed this,  trying to figure out where I was going. My old website was literally black and white with two sides. On one side was art and on the other side was business. I set them up as two separate things, and I didn’t tell my clients I was performing. I didn’t like telling my acting friends what I did during the day. It just felt really weird. But I realized I was becoming more creative and providing more value to my clients, so it was time to bring this other side of me out of the closet to my clients. And show them that, “Yeah, I do this other thing, but there’s no reason to think it’s weird or off track. It is directly benefiting you because I am bring you more creativity, more value.”

Mac Prichard:

And I think your story and the way you tell it reflects what’s happening to many of us in the workplace. We all wear multiple hats, we have different interests, and we need to find ways to communicate the value of those interests and those skills to our employer. Because again, it can offer so many benefits to a hiring manager. I certainly have struggled with this myself personally, because as you know I run a public relations company that does social change communications for foundations and nonprofits, and I am also the publisher of Mac’s List. People, I think, get perplexed by that sometimes. “Here’s a fellow who’s running a community that helps people find work but is also a social change communicator. What is the common connection between the two?” And for me it is connection. I enjoy connecting people to make great things happen. Whether it’s telling the stories of our clients on the public relations side of my work or helping to connect creative people with rewarding, meaningful work. And that’s the common denominator that links the two.

Rob Biesenbach:

Oh, that’s great. You’ve found your narrative thread, your implicit narrative. That’s so cool. I think there’s so much emphasis, so much pressure these days, to specialize, to specialize, to have selected expertise and to go after a niche. I’ve had such a diverse career in government, nonprofit, corporate agency, solo practise, acting, writing, and all the other stuff. Every one of those has helped me in every other area of my life. So I think for other people who have this diverse experience, don’t denigrate yourself; embrace that, find the connection, find that implicit narrative, and make that a strength. A positive.

Mac Prichard:

And I know, Rob, you have had a fascinating career, but it’s an experience that so many people are having in the workplace. Many of us can expect to change jobs seven, eight, or even ten times in a forty year career, and we’ll probably change careers two or three times. So it’s an approach like this that you’ve laid out, that helps explain why we do what we do and what we offer to others who may want to work with us. So thank you for that.

Rob Biesenbach:

Yeah, absolutely. I think once you’ve established this, and you know what you’re about and where you’re going, then you can start making more informed choices about the next step in your career.

Mac Prichard:

Well terrific, Rob. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Now tell us, what’s coming up next for you?

Rob Biesenbach:

Next for me is another baby in about three weeks. We’re having our second baby. So that’s very exciting.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, congratulations.

Rob Biesenbach:

Thank you, that’s on the personal side.

On the professional side, I’m working on my third book; so second baby, third book. The third book is on storytelling and it includes chapters on how to use stories in job interviews and networking, as well as many other areas.

Mac Prichard:

Well terrific. Well I know people can learn more about you by visiting your website and that is RobBiesenbach.com. We’ll be sure to include that in the shownotes and I think we’ll also add some news about your upcoming book as well in the shownotes.

Rob Biesenbach:

Yeah, and if people want, they can get a couple of free chapters from the book, including the one about how to shape your personal narrative for job interviews. If they go to my website, and you gave them the url, RobBiesenbach.com, but if they go to RobBiesenbach.com/story, that will get them to where they can access and download this free chapter.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well we’ll include that link in the shownotes as well. Rob, thanks for joining us today.

Rob Biesenbach:

Alright, thank you Mac, I appreciate it.

Mac Prichard:

Well I enjoyed that conversation with Rob, and I’m curious to get your thoughts. Becky, what are you thinking about my interview with Rob?

Becky Thomas:

I thought it was great. I thought his personal story was really interesting. The fact that he sort of started to weave in his personal experience as an actor, and things like that, into his professional experience. I always struggle with that, especially for job interviews. It’s like how much personal stuff do you bring into it? Because you are a person and your career is a part of your life as a person, but you’re not supposed to bring a lot of personal stuff into it. So I think it was really helpful for him to share how when your personal passions influence the things that you bring to your career. Whether you have clients or whatever it is, the potential employer. It’s okay to bring that stuff in, and it adds power to your career story. So that was cool.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, it does just add to it, makes it more robust.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

More relatable. Which is nice.

Becky Thomas:

And the employer remembers you for that.

Jessica Black:

Well yeah, it just brings more authenticity and humanism, or something.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

Whatever that word is. I mean, obviously, telling a story and being able to be succinct, but also powerful in that, is a really huge asset. And it’s a great skill for anyone to have, and I think for interviews it’s especially great. Just to be able to tell a succinct story about who you are and what you’re looking for, just when you meet people at networking events, and things like that. That’s again, not your elevator pitch.

I also liked what he said about avoiding the alphabet soup syndrome, which, I’ve never heard it called that, but kind of going off track, and having something not even pre prepared but knowing what you’re bullet point words and sentences are going to be…

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, just the facts approach isn’t enough…rattling off your resume.

Jessica Black:

Right, exactly. So that you can easily customize it for whatever space you’re in. I’m struggling with my words now, but also having something at the ready for when people ask you. Because people want to know those things, especially again, in job interviews. It’s really important.

Ben Forstag:

I agree. I like a lot of the talk he had about finding threads in your career. And he had some great expression, and I wrote it down, and now I can’t find the paper but it was like, “The threads are your experience, your history, and your values.”  I think, speaking to your point Becky, to really talk about that in a sincere way, you have to talk about who you are outside of your work life because that informs your values, or that bespeaks your values. And so if you can really distill your message down to those key fundamental threads, I think you’ve presented a really powerful argument to the employer that, “I live this; it’s not just I’m really good at this, it’s also really important to me as a person. And I’m going to bring that passion to you as an employer.”

Mac Prichard:

I like the structure that he outlined for how to tell your story. Then also, and he and I touched on this in our conversation, but I thought it was such an important point. By telling your story in this way you help explain to the employer why you’re there and  why you want to be there and what you have to offer. Sometimes, particularly if we’ve had different kinds of jobs or worked in different fields, employers can struggle with understanding, “Well why does that person want to be here? Maybe what they really want to do is this other thing they used to do.” And this helps address that concern, and it makes you an even better candidate.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah totally, it makes you more interesting. Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well thank you all, and thank you, Rob, for joining us this week.

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What’s your story? Job seekers often struggle to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question in a job interview.

This week’s guest, Rob Biesenbach, makes a case for authentic storytelling in a job interview. Tell a succinct story that shows who you are, what you value, and the value you bring to the employer.

Studies confirm that storytelling is the most powerful form of communication there is. By transforming your career history from a chronological list into a story with personality, you’ll leave a strong impression on the interviewer. Rob shared tips to tell your career story with a strong narrative arc in 5 steps:

  1. The Thread: Connect the dots of your history, and boil it down to one common theme.
  2. Disruption: Tell a story that impacted your career trajectory.
  3. Turning point: How did you decide to turn a corner.
  4. Conflict: Summarize a couple of impactful challenges.
  5. Resolution: Explain how you resolved the challenge and what brought you here.

About Our Guest: Rob Biesenbach

Rob Biesenbach helps organizations and individuals capitalize on the power of storytelling.  He’s an award-winning consultant to Fortune 500 companies, an engaging and informative keynote speaker, and a Second City-trained actor.

Rob is also the author of two fun, practical books that use principles from the world of performance to help people communicate more successfully. And he’s now at work on a third book on storytelling. Get a free chapter of Rob’s upcoming book, Unleash the Power of Storytelling.

Resources from this Episode