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Stories impact selections

30 March 2020

The Impact of Stories in Selections

For millennia people have used the art of story to convey more meaning than is held in the words alone.

Consider the depth of meaning found in the classic six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Powerful parts of our brain are activated when we hear a story.  When words are simply used to explain a process the language processing parts of our brain are activated and words are decoded into meaning – effective, but boring.  When words are used to tell story fMRI scans have shown that many more parts of our brain are activated.  Parts that transmit touch, movement, and emotion, such as our sensory cortex, our motor cortex, and our amygdala.  In essence when we hear stories our brains have us experience, not just understand, the words.  

Additionally, when we tell stories, the brains of those listening to us start to synchronize with us.  When we feel pride in telling a story about ourselves the other person will feel pride too.  When our brain is flooded with adrenalin as we tell a story of achievement, the brain of the person listening to us will have elevated levels of adrenalin too.

Telling stories helps us bring people to understand and align to our ideas, thoughts, and emotions.

This is powerful, and can be planned for, in the process of job selections.

Tell stories in your written application or your interview and the panel members will more fully engage with you.  They will bring greater belief in you, they will trust you more, and they will feel more positively towards you.  Additionally, they will remember you better, as stories are believed by researchers to be 22 time more memorable than facts alone.

When an employer hears you tell a story of something you have done that you know was 'you at your best' they cannot help but respond positively.  They see the subtle cues you cannot help but convey – the sparkle in your eye and the smile in the corner of your mouth as you remember, the lift of pride in your shoulders, the quickening of your voice.  These unconscious elements of body language give additional power to your stories.

To be able to use stories in selection processes you first have to collect them.  This is why one of the first actions I give job applicants who work with me, and an action I encourage you to do, is to write a long list of achievements.

Over the next two weeks make a list of 20 (yes 20) things you have done in your career that you are proud of.  These will be the be big projects or assignments you have done, but more likely they will be the small moments when you really stepped up to your potential.  Think of examples such as:

  • Challenging unconscious bias in a conversation with xxx
  • Drafting of policy position on xxx
  • Conversation with xx on concerns about xxx
  • Developing project approach to xxx
  • Influencing xx to support xxx
  • Changed xxx process to better align with xxx
  • Advocated for xxx position at xxx meeting
  • Researched xxx topic and bought new insights to xxx
  • Consistently and positively delivered through xxx time
  • Bought new xxx process to team meetings

Other stories it is good to collect are signature stories.  The stories you have about yourself that pop up again and again.  I have one that I absorbed as a child from my racy, cheeky, sassy and mischievous grandmother, through many nights curled on the couch beside her, a signature story I hold till this day...  Signature stories impact the way you speak about yourself and the way others speak about you.  We will explore signature stories, what to do with all your stories, how to persuade people through stories in selection, and I'll share what my grandmother told me, in upcoming blogs so keep an eye out for the next instalment in a couple of weeks. 

As always wishing you a flourishing career.


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