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October 21, 2013

Why Should I Care?

By Linnea N. Meyer '14  |  october, 2013, Issue 2
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Linnea wants to know: "What's your story?"


Odds are you're telling a lot of stories these days. From corporate conversations, to networking nights, to actual interviews, you're telling the stories of your lives. You're trying to convey why you're a leader, a team player and a perfect fit for the job, plus do it in a way that's concise, coherent and catchy. And you're no doubt discovering that crafting a good story is complicated!

Is there any way to simplify the process?

The answer may come from the realm of improvisational theater, where a scenic story is judged by a single audience question: Why should I care?

An improv scene shouldn't be just any old story; it should be one worthy of an audience's attention. Why should they care about these characters during this particular snapshot of their lives? The sooner the improviser answers this question, the sooner the audience feels invested in where the story of the scene is going.

So what's the trick to getting an audience – including real-life audiences of recruiters and interviewers – to care? Improvisers suggest three strategies:

Set the stakes: In improv, we're likely meeting these characters for the first time. To care about them, we have to be calibrated to the norms of their world. For instance, knowing your character is a poor, starving artist puts your loss at the casino – and subsequent hysteria – into an understandable, concerning context.

Setting the stakes is especially relevant if you're switching careers. When talking about the impact of past work, you need to calibrate your counterpart to the stakes of that world. If you helped win a $500,000 contract, I'll care far more if you tell me your annual budget was $1 million or that you worked at a tiny non-profit. Setting the stakes of your stories is critical to helping others realize their significance and, consequently, care.

Drop in details: In improv, concrete details about who you are, where you are and what you're doing help paint a picture of the scene in the audience's mind. And the more they can visualize what's going on, the more they care.

The same holds true when you're telling stories about your professional life. Leading your team through weeks of cold calls resonates far less than rallying them with big boxes of donuts and Katy Perry hits during breaks. Plus, after a long day of interviews, the second story is more likely to stick in a recruiter's memory. (To learn about the "stickiness" of concrete details, read Heath and Heath's Made to Stick.)

Cultivate your character: A rookie mistake in improv is to play a two-dimensional caricature for cheap laughs, not a three-dimensional character for real, deep laughs. To play the latter, you need to show some emotional depth and development on stage; it's hard to care about your character without this human element.

When telling career stories to prove your business savvy, it's easy to overlook your own human character. But you'll be more compelling if you allow some real emotion and self-discovery to come through, where appropriate. If you're asked about a failure, for instance, don't just explain what happened; share your honest reaction of frustration or disappointment and any self-reflections or changes (hopefully for the better!). Whoever is listening will better connect and care, both about your story and about you as a candidate.

So, with all that said, why should you try out any of these tips? Because you care, duh! (And, if not about the author, at least about getting your next job!)

Last Updated 10/21/13
Last Updated 10/21/13