A New Job Thanks to the Elephant

When I interviewed for a business developer position in the early 1990s, I answered one question that I credit with getting me the job. At the time, I thought it was an odd question, but I answered it instinctively – and it was the response the interviewer was seeking.

What was the question? "If an elephant showed up in your front yard, what would you do with it?" My immediate Elephantresponse was that I would sell it to a zoo. I discovered later after I was employed in this organization that other candidates had responded with "donate it to a zoo" or "find a home for it where loving people would care for it." These responses were more philanthropic oriented than what the interviewer wanted to hear.

My instincts had guided me correctly – this organization was looking for someone who knew how to promote and sell, even though they were a nonprofit. Once on the job, I bought a small ceramic elephant that I sat on my desk. The interviewer, Ron, and I would chuckle whenever he dropped my office to visit, referring to the question he had asked me about what to do with a surprise elephant.

Even in the 1990s, behavioral/situational interview questions – like the one I answered – were popping up in job interviews. Today, it's all about behavioral and situational interviewing. Furthermore, storytelling is now woven into the process. For example, instead of just explaining how I'd sell the elephant to a zoo, today I'd go further and say, "In fact, let me tell you about a time when something similar to this really happened." Interviewing is all about positioning yourself, about selling yourself, about proving your uniqueness.

Storytelling creates pictures in the minds of interviewers that help them remember you and your brand. Storytelling helps you create bridges from what you did that provided value for former employers to how these experiences can help a potential employer solve their problem(s). Storytelling also offers you a way to demonstrate what you've learned from possible negative situations about which hiring authorities will inquire.

Marketing Master, Patsi Krakoff, discusses the art of storytelling on her blog. Her post has many elements in it that can be applied to job interviewing. I love her quote, "Stories impose meaning on chaos and organize and give context to our sensory experiences." My advice to you is to remember that job interviewing is your opportunity to sell yourself, so most of what works in sales and marketing can be applied to your promotion of YOU in your job search.

Anyone in a job search today needs to be prepared for typical behavioral and situational interview questions. However, no way do you want to memorize responses. In a job interview, you must appear conversational and have knowledge of your topic, never spouting off rehearsed responses. The key to job interview success is mastering the storytelling process. Train your memory to bring the right responses forward based on keywords you have embedded in your answers. Although not a quick skill to master, storytelling in job interviews does produce positive results and worth all your effort to learn.

One of my career coaching programs with the biggest demand is Job Interview Preparation. A two-session program, it all takes place by phone and customized to a job candidate's needs. Homework is offered to help you develop your own storytelling skills. You may learn more by visiting my website

Wishing you career success in 2011!