When I first took a college composition class, I was horrible--failing constantly--but I learned. My professor helped me cope through a dogged, draining adventure of trial and error. And with every writing exercise, quiz, and exam, I got better and better. I tried, I erred, but darn it, my failures soon flipped. Failure was amazing for me. It drove me to be better.
We all know the common interview question of what are your weaknesses? And we all know the standard response of honestly admitting the weakness but spinning it in a positive way by saying how you are improving the area, blah, blah, blah. But I propose a twist to this; a way to use storytelling to your advantage in a job interview.
Tell a failure story for a chunk of a job interview, and not worry so much about adding the positive spin to it. Just let the natural positive outcome evolve as your story concludes.
A juicy failure story works because it's honest.
People like stories; interesting stories. A story on how you failed can position you as a real person, a person who fully admits weaknesses and frailty. In turn, the interviewer feels empathy. The interviewer may very well relate to you more directly, deep in their gut.
When we watch a movie where someone struggles and fails, the empathy for the character builds. The story proceeds, and often times gets very emotional.
We start rooting for them. We want to help. We empathize. And at the end, when there's some redemption, we feel really, really good.
Be truthful at a job interview and tell a story about a failure you have had in the past. Don't even wait for the weakness question to arise-- find an opportune time to work it in.
People relate to vulnerability, so admit your mistakes.
I can remember telling a story at my interview at Muskingum University about my first time lecturing in graduate school at Southern Illinois University (and I still tell this story all the time). The professor I worked for was at a conference, and for my debut as a teacher, I lectured over a chapter on physical distribution to a marketing class, in a packed, huge lecture hall with 200-plus students.
Of course, I was nervous, and I tend to speak fast when nervous. I ripped through the material in 30 minutes or so, only occasionally slowing down to explain things or crack a silly joke (which also did not go well). I was out of material and abruptly ended the class 20 minutes early, and afterwards I saw some students outside and asked them how I did.
I was crushed when an adult-learner student didn't hold back and totally bashed me. To this day, I remember her statement of "I can't believe I paid for this." Ouch--it stung and the next day when the professor came back from his conference, he was sympathetic, but also said several more students complained heartily about my performance. My debut as a teacher was an epic fail.
But here I am, 20 years later--I survived my epic fail, with a great attitude and a multitude of continual adjustments and improvements.
A failure story can bring some balance to the overly syrupy, excessively staged, positive spin we pontificate about at most interviews. Everything is not always butterflies and smiling babies. By showing your vulnerability, you become a real person, with ups and downs, and that you have taken your lumps in life.
To me, at an interview it's always best to be truthful and to be yourself, and the truth is we all fail.