Just as you would with any candidate interview, ask the standard and necessary questions, but frame the questions to let the candidate know you’re looking for a story, not a mere recitation of past experience. For example: Instead of asking, “What brings you to us,” try, “So what’s your professional story? Tell me how you came to decide that we’re the right agency/brand for you?” Instead of, “What do you think is your greatest strength/weakness/etc.?” try, “Tell me a story about a time you made a mistake at work and what you did to correct it,” and so on. Then listen for the following:
A hallmark of good storytelling is narrative efficiency. If the candidate rambles, becomes redundant, or falls off on peripheral tangents, it’s a good sign that he either doesn’t know how to tell a good story or doesn’t know how to pick the right story to tell.
Pay close attention to how much you care about the candidate’s story, for it’s a tall task to make one’s life interesting to a stranger. Does the candidate talk about how she thinks and feels about her past experiences, as opposed to just recounting the order in which events occurred? Is the candidate concise, as mentioned above, cutting out all the minutiae to give you only the interesting highlights or the the turning points in her career? These are the things that make stories interesting. A story is not a recounting of events; that’s a plot. A story is plot with soul.
Interrupt the candidate to ask questions about the story the candidate is telling. A good storyteller will have agile narrative reflexes. The candidate should be able to reframe her story to meet your (consumer or client) demands. If the candidate is unable, look for her to fall off the path of relevance.
Listen for something you’ve never heard before. A well-rehearsed candidate may be able to move quickly on her narrative feet, but freshness in storytelling can’t be learned or taught. It’s innate. Beware the candidates that reply with typical “What Color Is Your Parachute” answers.
5. Newsroom Know-How
Brand and marketing storytelling is a multi-channel animal. When it’s successful, it’s a unified multi-channel animal. Look for candidates with newsroom or journalism experience, no matter how big or small. Or look for candidates with eclectic backgrounds in story-based industries including broadcast, film, creative writing, and so on. The ability to succeed in multiple arenas indicates ability for agile, multifaceted storytelling.
6. Narrative Know-How
To make a mere anecdote a story, one must add two ingredients: struggle and change. Look for candidates whose backgrounds indicate learning from their experience. For example: A candidate may have begun her career in journalism and migrated to advertising, or vice versa. Be sure to ask why. A candidate who can tell you what they learned about themselves in one position and how that insight lead to the next position is likely to be a good storyteller. Again, eclecticism is a harbinger of storytelling chops.
Be wary of candidates who only recount their triumphs. Stories may often end in a win, but they’re speckled with challenges along the way. This is what gives good stories humanity. Triumphs are boring if they don’t come on the heels of struggle. Look for candidates who admit to their mistakes, but who came back from them to succeed. Candidates who are willing to admit to failure in order to emphasize triumph are also likely to be natural storytellers.
Originally published May 12, 2014 2:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017