In this post, I want to share my thoughts about the lack of Storytelling skills in many great candidates which can cause a final rejection in their interview.
I have read multiple posts online recently where interviewers tend to reject candidates with whom they don’t personally feel connected. One complaint is about the lack of theme and scripting answers, which makes the interview a bit one-sided and often causes the interviewer to tune out. In this post, I want to share my thoughts about the lack of Storytelling skills in many great candidates which can cause a final rejection in their interview.
Storytelling is one of the most important skills in any career. The higher level you are the more important this skill is, especially on the management path, since most of your interviews will switch from the technical side to more of a leading/managing role. Even in a technical role, when you reach the level of Staff/Tech Lead, most of your interview questions will also be about telling stories when you lead certain projects.
What are interviewers looking for?
From the interviewer’s perspective, there are certain characteristics we are looking for in a candidate, i.e. diligence, teamwork, willingness to learn, self-motivation, culture fit…etc. And the best way to collect these signals is through a sequence of questions about events in your career. This is best captivated in any hero movies/stories where the protagonist and the villain have certain characteristics that set them apart. Next time watching your favorite hero movie, just spend some time asking yourself “What virtues does the character have that make him transcend above others?”
Personally, I feel it is easier to catch red flags in behavior interviews compare to technical interviews. Only less than 10% of all candidates can make it to the final onsite, and most of them tend to be very strong in technical skills. The only thing to make the candidate stand out is with whom the team feel connected more. In the past, I had outright rejected candidates even though they passed all the technical questions. I have also been moved by their stories that I decided to fight for them until they can get an offer. Lack of experience is not a strong signal to reject, but lack of manner is. It sounds a bit cliche, but at the end of the day, interviewers are still human, they have emotion, and they want to work with the person they like. Who doesn’t like a person who is easy to work with, self-motivated that you can rely on to be on the team.
How do you prepare for these questions?
How do you prepare for these behavior questions? While I don’t encourage scripting, for inexperienced candidates, the best way to prepare for these questions is to write your answers down on paper and start constructing your story from there. Since 80% of these questions are quite common:
- Talk about a project that you are responsible for.
- Tell me about a time you have conflicts with others.
If you want to look for an example of Storytelling, look at the post about “con đường thành kỹ sư” của anh Dũng Ngọc Nguyễn (Staff Engineer at Doordash), especially on the part “Công ty thứ ba” and “Công ty thứ tư”. Through his story, anh Dũng has shown multiple virtues:
- Self-motivated: Besides main work, he spent time working on 2 open source projects resulted in 9k downloads monthly and another in 30k downloads globally.
- Leadership: lead big and challenging projects until the team can operate without him.
- Teamwork, willingness to help others: work with other engineers in the core team to increase the productivity of more than 50 engineers.
- Ownership: before leaving Rakuten, he finished the project with an improved web server version, and removed legacy code.
These are all great characteristics of an ideal candidate that any company is willing to fight for. And I believe that is one of the main reasons for anh Dũng’s success. So I urge you to start sitting down and writing your own story, not just for the sake of interviewing, but it will help you so much more in your career.