When Norah Scott walked into a hotel conference room filled with a buttoned-up, handsome crowd, she felt like an instant celebrity. At this non-descript space in the Hotel Orrington in Evanston, Illinois, over sixty nervous people tried to get Scott’s attention. They surrounded her and her three colleagues as soon as they spotted them.
Petite, blonde and friendly, it’s easy to imagine why Scott was so popular. But the real reason she was so popular was that she was recruiting for Goldman Sachs – and the people swamping her were ambitious MBAs who were trying to get jobs at the firm.
Their admiration quickly changed to something else, though, when Scott began to ask questions to some of the students at their on-campus interviews.
“Why do you want to work in investment banking?”
“Why do you want to work for Goldman?”
Instead of treating her like a celebrity, these bright and accomplished candidates stared at her as if she had turned into a five-headed monster. Many looked stunned, some hesitated, but almost everyone eventually responded to these seemingly impossible questions with answers such as:
“I’m good with numbers.”
“I want more client experience.”
“Goldman is the most respected firm in the industry.”
Corporate recruiters have to combat these superficial and generic reasons from career changers all of the time. It’s not that prestigious firms lack well-qualified job candidates. Instead, their main challenge is sifting through hundreds of thousands of candidates and finding future colleagues whose personal values match with those of their firms.
“Companies are taking a bigger risk on career changers because of their lack of prior experience, so they have to make sure that these are the people we can spend eighty to a hundred hours a week working alongside with,” said Steve Song, a Kellogg 2009 graduate, who switched from technology consulting at Accenture to investment banking with Barclays after business school.
Corporate recruiters like Song and Scott have to process mountains of, “people information.” Song, for example, recruits for his bank and frequently travels to Kellogg to do coffee chats and interview candidates. Each time he speaks with 15-25 interested students within a four-hour period. At the end of his daylong recruiting trip, he returns to his New York office at around 9 p.m. to continue his regular day of work. Scott typically meets 100-200 people at corporate-sponsored social functions at each school, interviews 12 candidates per day, and eventually only invites 25% of the candidates for in-house interviews.
When inundated with data, human beings rely on stories to help them remember and make sense of the information.
Cognitive psychologist, Jerome Bruno, discovered that information is 20 times more likely to be remembered if it is shared in the context of narratives, or, stories. Career switchers, job hunters and MBA applicants would stand a much better chance connecting with decision makers if they understand their personal values and the stories best illustrate these values.
For example, Song recalls when he was going through I-banking recruiting, he had to answer questions related to all the WHYs behind each major moves in his life. Why did he attend Cornell? Why did he go into consulting? Why Accenture? Why banking now? These are the same type of questions that he and his colleagues at Barclays now continue to pound at candidates.
So how do you tell a compelling story?
- Go at least five layers deeper than your initial answer. If one of your reasons for wanting a career change is getting more client experience, ask yourself why you want more client experience. And if one of your reasons is that you enjoy the client interaction, then ask yourself why were those interactions enjoyable to you. Dig deeper and go further, beyond what you think you are capable of.
- Have a thoughtful and insightful friend grill you. This friend should be warm and supportive but absolutely relentless on drilling down to the values that motivate you.
- Remember: A story has a captivating beginning, an engaging middle, and a compelling end.
- Make sure that in your story you also have a relatable hero, a clear conflict, a logical transformation, and satisfying conclusion.
- Listen and analyze your audience. Pay hyper-attention to their needs. Craft your stories accordingly.
Photo courtesy of the University of Exeter (Flickr).
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