The Magic of Story Telling

Date posted: March 23, 2009  
Filed under: Communications, Interviewing, Leadership, Media, Networking

Transcript of Podcast on The Magic of Storytelling for Job Search March 16, 2009

Welcome to our career transition channel podcast on Total Picture Radio; this is Peter Clayton reporting.

For over twenty-five years, Judy Rosemarin has provided executive coaching to people in career transition, as well as to major corporations for their leaders and leadership effectiveness and presentation skills. She is the founder of New York based Sense-Able Strategies.

As an interviewing expert, Judy also writes for, a national networking association for senior executives. For many years, Judy has hosted monthly senior executive networking meetings in New York City, in conjunction with ExecuNet, where executives learn how to present their best value statements and expand their contacts and networks to keep their careers vital and advancing.

In the summer of 2006, I had an opportunity to participate in one of the monthly networking meetings and interviewed Judy on negotiation skills. I wanted to follow up with her and discuss what strategies are working with her clients in this economy.

Judy, welcome back to Total Picture Radio.

Judy: Oh, thank you so much Peter. It’s so nice to talk with you again.

Peter: Nice to talk with you, as well. We all know the financial market in New York has imploded, taking with it many other jobs and businesses. What kind of guidance are you able to provide to your clients and the ExecuNet members in this job market?

Judy: Well, this job market indeed is rough and difficult; at the same time, I’ve been in the field long enough to know that we have had times like these. They, of course, always look sunnier and easier when we look back on them as opposed to being in them.

What I tell my clients to do is to really know who they are. It’s important to know – people talk about branding and a personal branding, and I actually was coming off a train station this morning, the platform, thinking about what that meant and it seemed to me that a person’s brand is really a combination of their value and their values. And Peter, what I figured out was, one value is what you bring to the table. Are you somebody who increases business or decreases business or keeps it steady as she goes. And my values – a person’s values – are the things that you hold kind of inside your heart. Your value of a good work ethic, your values are of wanting to work with people who you can respect, if you value people who work from mission driven organizations. So to me, a personal brand is a combination of value and values. I tell my folks, or encourage my folks, to get clear about who they are and what’s important to them.

Also in transition work, in career transition work, and many of my clients who hire me have to go through this other part of getting not rid of perhaps, but diluting the anger or the distress or disappointment or the frustration or the outrage that one might have when one is let go. There are many made people as you and I know that are not let go because of poor performance, not their own perhaps, the organizations and the folks at the top. At the same time, if you’re angry and you’re upset, which you have a right to be, you need to work on diluting that, redirecting it and using it to, actually in a funny way, that distress can push you back into what you value. When you think about that, if I’m upset that they didn’t treat me fairly, then I can be angry at that or say, wait a minute, that helps me, Judy Rosemarin said I should know what my brand is. Well, you know what, treating people fairly is one of my values. So even in a dark night, there’s kind of a little light that we can use to get us going forward.

Peter: I know one of the things you help your clients with is helping them to create what you call a positioning statement that they can use when they go out and make connections within their network to help find those nuggets, those resources that exist out there within everyone’s network to perhaps find that next position. Can you talk to me a little bit about what this positioning statement looks like and how you go about achieving those things.

Judy: A positioning statement – I have to be careful with that – it’s attached to value and values but it’s not an elevator pitch.

The other thing, in talking about a positioning statement, is I have been involved in acting in the last five years, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that good actors, authentic to the role that they’re playing, have intentions, they know why they’re saying what they’re saying, what’s the intention to that conversation? So, a positioning statement has to be based on your value and values. At the same time, it probably is going to shift differently depending on who you’re talking with and who you’re connecting with. Those little nuggets are, to me, around networking and networking by definition for me is to look for the people who are really having nightmares at night. Now you as a job searcher might be having a nightmare trying to pay your bills, and the truth of the matter is, networking really is about finding out where other people – forget companies – individuals are not sleeping well at night because they want to stop the business from bleeding, or they want to grow the business finally. In networking, you as a walking, viable, living solution, is really the effort of ferreting out other people’s problems and then being able to make a connection.

So as far as I’m concerned, a positioning statement sometimes can more often sound like a question than it does a statement. A positioning statement is one that positions to the needs of somebody else.

Peter: Well, it seems to me what you’re talking about here, Judy, is people today really have to heighten their listening skills and hear what other people are saying to them in order to effectively communicate back.

Judy: Peter, I couldn’t agree with you more and what with everything that we listen to, as well as even an email and Twitter and all the things that we’re reading – that’s a listening thing by the way, because reading is an auditory experience – but all too often when people are in job search mode, the noise that they hear in their head prevents them from listening. I call those woodpeckers and they sound like, am I going to be acceptable … do they like me … did I remember everything … oh my god, I hope they’re not going to be talking about me … oh my goodness, I forgot to … and you cannot listen when there’s chatter in your head. It is physiologically impossible.

So, what can take the heat off networking for a lot of people and this goes particularly for introverts as well who are not comfortable at just making light conversation; if you can become a really curious networker and really care about what the other guy is possibly – or other gal is possibly – suffering with or worried about and turn off your chatter and listen to the other person, you’d be surprised how much information you can get, not only by virtue of data, but sometimes the problems that they’re talking about packed in those problems are the solutions that you can see. They don’t see them because they’re in the forest, you’re outside, you have a better view.

Peter: I think that’s a great perspective. When we spoke last week, one of the things we talked about is the power of storytelling, and I’d sort of like to focus on that because you told me a very powerful story. Judy, I love this idea of stories being sticky.

Judy: Yes, just let me define stickiness. The idea of a story being sticky is not like it’s icky like molasses, but sticky like people remember them because they’re authentic and they’re true. Stories that are not true and not authentic are another category.

There was a gentleman in my networking group who used to work for Bernie Madoff. Had this man begun his introduction to twenty-some odd executives with the fact that he had worked for Bernie Madoff, most of those people would have shut down their listening, absolutely positively. However, what he did was absolutely magical and he did it impromptu; he just knew how to tell a story in a wonderful, authentic way.

What he did was he talked about his life, his background. He talked about where he’d grown up and talked about his family and his values and the things that were important to him and certain work ethics, things that made us all really kind of embrace him. Everybody just liked hearing the way he told the story, you could see him smile about his family, you got a sense that you just wanted to hug him. I mean, there was a group kind of warm feeling that he created, and then he said “and here’s the kicker; I used to work for Bernie Madoff.” And what happened, Peter, in that moment was that everybody just took a little bit of a breath or a little beat, and then kind of got passed that because they knew him. They knew him from his story, and the fact that he was employed in a place that would’ve not been so terrific… had he said it first, it them didn’t matter as much, and people started networking with him and trying to help him out to get that next contact in position. It was just wonderful. I’m sure he’s moving along just great now.

Peter: That’s a terrific story and you’re absolutely right. I mean, if he had started off with saying I used to work for Bernie Madoff, I mean there would’ve been the immediate guilt by association, correct?

Judy: That’s correct. In addition to which he wasn’t on the side that really influenced investors but yes, it would have been a turnoff and he would’ve been typecast, and he would have been laser locked in there but by twenty people. As a result, twenty people saw him as one hell of a nice guy and they wanted to help him. And he didn’t say it as “poor me,” by the way, I might add.

Sometimes you have to be careful with stories because with my clients, I tend to be kind of direct and forthright and if anybody says, “unfortunately, I was a result of the big downsizing…” I’ll turn to that person and say, “ No unfortunately! There’s nothing unfortunate here. You’re a walking, breathing, living solution to somebody else’s problem.” So, no unfortunately or “I think I’m good at something;” You want to say, “ I am good at something, I can do something, I have this knowledge..” Keep it all positive. Not blustery, just positive.

Peter: Well, Judy, that really gets back to what you were talking about early in this conversation about all the negative baggage that people are carrying around with them, the ones who have been blown out of all of these organizations and the anger and the resentment that they feel. They really need to figure out a way of releasing that to move onto the next step.

Judy: Yes. There are a number of ways of doing that. I’ve been a big believer in journaling, writing things down. I’ve even suggested to some of my clients that you can write a nasty letter and spit it all out and say all the horrible things and use all the expletives, but don’t send it! Because sometimes it’s good just to get it out that way and out of the way.

A second way to release yourself from it is certainly exercise, I’m not telling anything shockingly new. The reverse of that for some people is meditating and just getting back into yourselves and getting to your core sense of authenticity and getting home again. Sometimes these things bring us so far away, I call that home – that inner you that you know who you are when all that other noise isn’t going on. It’s very hard nowadays to get to that inner place, take some mindfulness, but it’s important.

As a matter of fact, I just heard two actors talk about how they prepare – June Allen and Jeremy Irons were talking about how they prepare for a role, and Jeremy Irons said he has to knock himself out before he gets to his true self. June Allen says she has to lock everybody out of her room to get to her true self and be quiet. So different people get to that quiet place differently. You need to know what yours is. And of course, if you can work with a coach or somebody who can understand that indeed, sometimes you can’t do all this stuff alone, you need somebody who really cares about what you got but also will tell you the truth that you’re in your own way.

I actually had a client this morning who is a super sales executive. He has a background in marketing as well as operations, and I taught him this morning that he talks too much in an interview and tells too many stories. I asked him to behave like an actor and determine what his intention was behind each story. What are you trying to say for each story, what are you trying to do when you’re networking with somebody? When you have a clear intention, then you start building the words and the ideas and the details and the descriptions and the dialogue around that intention.

Peter: That’s some really interesting advice. How do you go about weaving storytelling into a job interview and how much of storytelling should you use in an interview?

Judy: You can’t do it all the time because then you’re doing a series of monologues. However, storytelling starts out with a simple professional language, for example, “Let me tell you about a time when I…” so if somebody says, “You may be over qualified,” your response might be “If you’re concerned about my getting bored with this position, let me tell you that I’ve always been a troubleshooter and I’ve always been able to move things along, even if they’re not initiated by somebody else, for example…,” and then there’s a story. So it makes sense to tell that story.

Recently I had a client who was talking about turning a company around. The firm was in the throes of being sued by a sexual harassment suit and numbers were going down, yet he told the story about how he never was afraid of chaos – and so he built the details around chaos being his middle name, how he thrived in chaos and told his story about how he turned an organization around in 18 months.

The stories have to be to the point, they have to have a theme to it, they have to have some conflict and they have to have some resolution. But just making the claim that “I’m a turnaround guy,” is not the same as telling the story about how you turned it around.

Peter: Right. Back to your point as well, these have to be factual stories; we’re talking about nonfiction here.

Judy: Oh my goodness, yes! We don’t want to presume, right? When we tell a story, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, it doesn’t have to be a long story; it can be right to the point. I think people are drawn into authenticity. People make decisions about things from their first brain and that first brain is emotion, it’s what they do. We’re animals after all. We decide whether it’s safe or not, right? Fight or flight. So, if emotions are our first brain, then stories go to the emotion of things, and true ones indicate good intentions, trustworthiness and again, authenticity. With the virtual world that we have now, being authentic is highly prized.

Peter: And when you’re not, it’s very easy to discover that it’s not.

Judy: People understand that and you know what? For those who are listening, there are ways to start creating your story, and one of the ways to do it is to think about the three top skills that you have, the three things that you carry with you no matter what. It may be a hard skill that you learned in business school or it may be a talent or a proclivity, and think about those three things because those three things are the anchor around which you are going to be networking and interviewing for that matter. So, those three skills then, those three chunks, those clusters of talents, each of them probably have at least three stories attached to it, right?

Peter: Right.

Judy: And then when you take one, for example, let’s say one of your skills is making a difference; that’s one of mine. Then I would think about times in my life that I’ve made a difference in somebody’s life or in some team’s life or some company’s life or whatever. And then with that story, I would write it down and say “When I did that for Chemical Bank years ago…,” then I would write down first what happened. Then I would take the “what happened” and asl myself, well is there any way of maybe putting a little dialogue in there? You know, like maybe what somebody said, maybe there was a buzz phrase, maybe there was a catch thing that would remind people of things or whatever, and then maybe a little detail – how big, how wide, numbers, statistics.

So I now have what happened, dialogue, details and then catch the conflict, because only good stories have good conflicts, and then the resolution. Then you’ve got yourself a story. So you have a story about making a difference and you pile that under one of the three key strengths. Those three key strengths act as an anchor.

What I mean by that, when you’re in an interview, it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to drift around, it’s easy to – if you have that woodpecker in your head going all the time, kind of get lost. That anchor, if you think about an anchor for a boat or a ship or a sailboat or whatever, an anchor isn’t straight down, straight from the boat. It gives enough leeway so that the boat can move to the left, move to the right and go up and down based on the wind and the tides in the water. Those three key strengths that you have, that you have stories attached to when you need them, those three strengths and anchor hold you at least in place while the stuff around you moves about, but you never lose your place because you’ve got your anchor of those three key strengths.

Peter: You know, in listening to this, it seems to me that this would be a terrific way of approaching, writing a cover letter along with your resume, and I’m wondering if you can incorporate any of these storytelling tools into a resume itself.

Judy: I think resumes are tidbits of stories; everybody knows the PAR (Problem Action Result). What was the problem, what was the action, what the result is. And I think, yes, the story is contained in there. Most people are looking for quick bullets or just little snippets of things.

On the other hand, if you’re talking about letters, if you’re talking about unsolicited letters or even those to job posts, there I think you can tell a story. So that if for example, if it’s a targeted mailing to a firm that is not advertising for a position but you’ve done your research and you’ve done your due diligence and you know that that industry is struggling with something right now, or for example, the healthcare industry that’s like burgeoning and will continue to do so, and you know that you’re a walking, breathing, living solution to a particular area of that industry of that company, a targeted mailing, the first paragraph in that letter should be to the reader’s attention, not about me, the writer.

If you think about unsolicited junk mail, who reads that stuff, right? None of us, except some of us do… at times, when it is focused to my need, timed right, the spelling of my name is not “occupant.” And so a letter that comes to me now, as Spring begins, about gardening is going to get my attention because I’m ready to go because that’s one of my interests.

So a targeted mailing for an executive writing to a company unsolicited needs to know what are the issues that are burning in that particular area department and that first letter addresses the readers needs because, Peter, research has indicated to us that the most powerful word in the English language is you – you, meaning the reader.

The first paragraph, all the clients that I’ve ever worked with have all their work reworked by me because most of the letters that they send are about themselves first, and it’s absolutely not as effective as writing to the reader first. Then the second and third paragraphs might be those stories that have to do with what? Have to do with that orientation first paragraph about the issues that they’re struggling with and then of course, the last paragraph would be about, well if you agree that you’re needs would fit my qualifications, I’d love to speak with you. I’d follow up this correspondence with a telephone call.

So if you picture it, the first paragraph is about you, the second and third paragraph is about me and the third paragraph is about us and if you see you, me and us, I kind of put an imaginary heart around that and I don’t call them discover letters anymore; I call them love letters.

Peter: This has been a fascinating conversation, Judy. Is there anything you’d like to share with the audience that we haven’t discussed?

Judy: I think the most important thing when somebody is looking for a position is to know that indeed even though they’re in between positions, you’re still valuable, you still have what it takes. It’s a matter of making the effort to get from here to there. Finding a job is harder than doing a job. Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. Find the right support for yourself, put action teams together and know that while things might be tight now, this is the perfect time to work on your story, to work on your value, to work on your values and put a brand together because boy, when this place opens up, you want to be the one that they’re going to hire.

Peter: Judy, on that note, thank you so much for joining us again on total picture radio. It’s been great to have an opportunity to speak with you again.

Judy: Thank you so much, Peter. I look forward.

Peter: We’ve been speaking with executive coach, Judy Rosemarin, who is the founder of New York-based Sense-Able Strategies.

Be sure to visit Judy’s feature page in the career transition channel of Total Picture Radio, that’s for resource links and lots more great information.


2 Responses to “The Magic of Story Telling”
  1. jan says:

    Excellent ideas extremely well presented & inspirational!


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  1. […] Judy has also done a terrific podcast, “The Magic of Storytelling for Job Search,” the transcript of which you can read here. […]