ORG-A(r)TTIC: Murakami and the art of interviewing - 4 tricks to tell better stories
Org-A(r)ttic is a room of requirements where you can find ideas, suggestions and newer perspectives that art can bring to the world of work and careers. In this post, based on my tryst with Haruki Murakami’s hypnotic writing, I share 4 ideas to tell better stories in your next interview!
‘So, Tell me something about yourself’
Inevitably, it is one of those questions that we all have answered at least once in our lives while sitting in one of the posh offices or in the virtual worlds of zoom meetings.
Personally, I have struggled with this question more often that not while giving (or sometimes even taking) interviews. Depending upon the role that I am interviewing for, I would refer to plenty of self-help videos that ask us to build a unique ‘story’.
Infact ‘Storyboarding’ or ‘Story writing’ comes at the core of any and every meaningful human interaction, however, it truly becomes a game changer in case of an interview.
In my seemingly long and exhausting career of 8 years with 4 global companies as a People & Organization (some still call it HR) Consultant, I have taken and given 100+ interviews. Clearly, my advice on making career choices can be ignored but I hope my word on interviewing does carry weight.
Like most of us, I was tired of crafting unique ‘stories’ while I was practicing ‘interviewing’ in my last semester at B-School. So, when I dug deeper using a helpful technique called 5 Whys (as a part of design thinking course in my university), I figured out that I really need to learn more about storytelling itself.
This was an appalling self-revelation to someone like me who breathes stories through books and movies. I became curious to find out how best of the authors conjure hypnotic storytelling.
As a determined student of literature, I picked up a copy of ‘Kafka on the shore’ by legendary Japanese author – Haruki Murakami and read it for the 3rd time but only to interrogate the book on its storytelling approach.
For next couple of months, I read everything that Murakami had written and made copious notes. With this new lens of exploring storytelling, I could uncover the gold underneath his words. My braincells did yell ‘Eureka’ a few times in this journey!
Based on this personal research and experience, I could discover 4 ‘aha’ elements that stories could be crafted around. From thereon, as a part of my toolkit, I tried including these in every interview I appear for :
1. Show rather than tell
Visual imagery is a powerful technique to describe life events/achievements/challenges which are often expected to be a part of an interview.
Murakami has a lot to offer in that domain. He takes the reader by the hand and walks him right into the middle of the ‘scene’. Take this sentence from his short story ‘Drive My Car’ (which has been adapted as a fantastic movie in 2022) –
'His Imagination, like a sharp knife, constantly chopped him without mercy.'
Rather than simply mentioning about the pain that the protagonist suffered on account of his wife’s infidelity, Murakami creates an excruciating ‘imagery’ of the suffering. Doesn’t it feel more real?
While in professional setting such as an interview, it is important to have a coherent structure through frameworks such as STAR (Situation, Tasks, Action and Result); what really puts a candidate in top tier is the ability to make the interviewer see and feel the journey and impact – much like how he/she would see a painting in a gallery.
Consider two candidates:
Candidate A who says – “Two years ago, I led a project on financial transformation for XYZ corporation wherein I managed end to end process design leading to a 30% fall in turnaround time for the employee requests and an increase in employee satisfaction by 15%.
Candidate B who says – “In the third year of my career at XYZ, I got an opportunity to transform finance function. Now imagine the status quo to be a request ‘depot’ receiving 5000+ requests everyday for invoices via different channels – Emails, Calls etc. On an average we used to take 4 days to resolve requests at the ‘depot’
Along with my team, I studied this mechanism with associated workflows carefully and we designed a hub and spoke model which received requests from a single defined channel in the spokes and helped us deliver streamlined solutions within 1 day.
Our employees loved it – we saw an uptick of 15% in our satisfaction scores and encouraging testimonials on the intranet”
While candidate B might be a little more descriptive but the focus is to show the journey of transformation than merely talk about it as a statement of work. Prima facie, it might appear difficult to ‘show’ but remember – A picture is worth a thousand words.
2. IQ makes you good but EQ makes you great!
The interviews test you heavily on your ‘skills’ required for the job however do remember that at the end of the day what really makes an outstanding candidate (and distinguish from an AI like ChatGPT) is the ability to be also demonstrate a humane approach and strike an emotional chord with your story.
Aim at establishing an emotional connect with your interviewer early – Talk about your achievements, lessons learnt and future aspirations with a matching emotional tone and body gestures. Most of the interviewers reciprocate the emotional energy as well!
At times I found this to be challenging since I did not want to come across as someone with lack of balance but in time I realised that if Murakami can make readers believe in magical realism (one of the characters in 'Kafka on the Shore' simply talks to cats) using emotional connect as an anchor, I can definitely present my story with ‘Emotional Liberty’
3. Make your story ‘Ask’ questions!
In my favourite book – Sputnik Sweetheart, Murakami writes,
“In the world we live in, what we know and what we don’t know are like Siamese twins - inseparable and existing in a state of confusion”
Not only this quote but most of his work questions the readers – their emotions and their understanding of the world that he weaves.
In terms of interviews, it could mean that even as the best candidate you cannot know everything about the organization or role. It is wise and always helpful to include questions as a natural progression and part of your stories (and you might not always wait till the end when interviewer prompts you to ask). Irrespective of the type of interview (technical or personality based), asking more questions as a part of the story / problem solving approach always keeps the interviewer interested and displays inquisitiveness.
See example: I have leveraged design thinking to improve employee journeys to resolve employee retention pain points in my previous role, would the current role involve user journey transformation projects?
4. ‘Imagination’ is your secret sauce
What distinguishes Murakami from a lot of authors is his ability to imagine worlds, merge realities and evoke feelings while living in those worlds. All his fiction work rides a wave of vivid imagination (sometimes referred to as weird :P). Now, while you might not need such vivid imagination in your stories or in the ways you present them but depending upon the role, varied levels of imagination could make your stories more appealing.
I experimented being imaginative in one of my interviews with an emerging e-commerce tech unicorn.
The role demanded career path design and management so I actually drew a tree with branches showing career advancement possibilities when I was asked about how would I do so in an early stage tech company.
It wasn’t a perfect solution but the imaginative way to explain it established credibility about my creative thinking skills to design such kind of journeys and earned me a job offer. Long story short – Always err on the side of being imaginative.
Now, I understand that we are no storytellers like Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez but we all could be imaginative and inquisitive readers who could cross pollinate ideas to tell our stories better – especially to ace interviews and land that ‘dream’ job or that coveted b-school spot. All the best!
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If you would like to discuss more about how art influences work and organizations (or about stories and storytellers – from Murakami to Bergman), feel free to write to me at [email protected]
About the Creator
One of those members of the human race who carry milder version of stendhal syndrome within them, I breathe poetry, cinema and stories. Sometimes, all that I exhale finds its way onto paper :)