What a Women for Women workshop taught me about storytelling

two women chatting

Yesterday I attended a workshop titled “How to shine at an interview”, which was jointly organized by Women for Women workshop Finland, Women of Aalto and EITWomen. And while the interview tips were not really new to me, the format and exchange with the other participants inspired me greatly and led to an surprising insight. But let’s start from the beginning.

The idea behind Women for Women workshops

The idea behind this kind of workshops is to gather a group of women that exchange their expertise to teach each other new skills. I really liked the atmosphere at the event. Everybody was so open, friendly and willing to help each other. And it was a great experience to bounce ideas with women from many different backgrounds, not just science.

The workshop had two parts. First, two HR managers gave a presentation about how to prepare for an interview. They gave examples of common questions, one should be prepared to answer. Things like: “Tell me about yourself.” or “What are your strengths/weaknesses?” Most of the information are readily available on numerous career sites across the internet, so that wasn’t really new to me.

The second part of the workshop was a practice session on how to answer the questions. Therefore, we divided into groups of 4 or 5. Each group member had to answer questions for 5 minutes and then received feedback from the group. We tried to use the STAR method to answer the questions. That means, you have to find a specific example for each situation and then tell a story following the structure: Situation – Task – Action – Result (=STAR).

My surprising realization

Now, what was really valuable for me was to hear the answers of other women. It made me realize that:

There is no great story without personality.

So far in my scientific career I have always paid great attention to a clear storyline in my articles and presentations. I think it is the most important aspect of successful scientific communication. If the audience doesn’t understand the context, they won’t be able to follow your explanations. And they won’t be convinced of the relevance of your research.

But in scientific communication the stories can be quite technical. You focus on the problem at hand and on the data, rarely on the person conducting the research. In contrast, you might even think that showing the struggles and emotions that went into producing the data takes away from your authority as an expert in the field.

So, when I listened to other women, I realized that maybe my answers to interview questions were too technical. Maybe it is not just about listing your skills, but also about injecting some anecdotes into the conversation and giving little bits of yourself to make a human connection with the interviewer. In this way, you might become more memorable as well.

How to inject personality

Interviewers are not just interested in finding employees, who can do the job. They are also looking for people that are pleasant to work with. For people that inspire and motivate the colleagues around them. I feel that many companies are looking for individuals to increase the diversity of their teams. So, it becomes more important to tell your personal story.

Where did you come from? What motivates you? What path did you follow to end up where you are right now? This shouldn’t be difficult at all, because everybody is inherently different. So, I guess all it takes is being proud of who you are and communicating your values and believes with confidence. To me, it is a powerful realization that everybody’s got a story to tell and every story can be interesting. Be curious about other people’s stories as well and you found a great way to connect.

Now coming back to the perfect story. Here are the things I learned:

  1. Other than a scientific story, an interview answer needs personality.
  2. Interviewers want to get to know you through personal anecdotes.
  3. The most engaging stories are about people and their emotions.
  4. Being human will not undermine your qualifications.
  5. Everybody’s got a story to tell.
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