Red Riding Hood image

“Once upon a time there was a dear little girl…”

Do you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood, even though it might be a very long time you have last heard it? This is because the story creates images in your head which stay with you and is structured in a way that is easy to remember: it has a start ( describing the situation), middle (with lots of concrete action) and an end ( a happy conclusion with a successful outcome).

In a way, much of what you do when applying for work can be enhanced by storytelling techniques: From how you answer questions about yourself in application forms, what you put on your CV, how you respond at interviews to how you portray yourself on Linkedin:  it is all about telling positive stories about yourself as a student and/or professional.

So which storytelling techniques can you use to your advantage in applications?

The use of concrete details is key to make your text come alive: In Little Red Riding Hood we remember her red hood, the wine and cake, the big eyes and sharp teeth. In an application form, it could be about the place, the nature of the tasks, and exact challenges and specific actions.  For example, this applicant is explaining how they have gained excellent organisation skills

 “My role as a treasurer for the Heads Up Society involved setting and managing the society’s annual budget of £5000 by negotiating and agreeing a yearly spending plan with the 94 active members. I was well organised, kept accurate numbers and records of expenses, kept the board up-to-date on expenses and clearly communicated agreements in writing to all involved. On this basis I have been selected to stay on in the role for another year.”

Concrete details are also great for CVs, here is an example:

“Pharmacy Counter Assistant, Linton Pharmacy, Switon, September 2019 – March 2020

Duties and responsibilities included:

  • Order and prepare medicines, pro-actively contributing to the smooth running of the working processes within the pharmacy.

  • Taking in and handing out prescriptions, hereby developing a high level of accuracy.

  • Clarifying dosages and offering advice to customers face to face or by phone, also selling over-the-counter medicines using my excellent customer service and communication skills.

  • Using computer software APT to generate stock lists developing high level of attention to detail.

  • Receiving, loading, unloading deliveries and referring queries to the head pharmacist as appropriate. Commended for my team approach.”

Also note in the CV and application example the successful, satisfactory ending. Do mention your successes whenever you can give evidence of them.

Similarly, in an interview you can use the STAR acronym to tell a story about how you have successfully taken on a role of responsibility:

    • Situation: “I worked as a Benefit Advice Volunteer at St John’s Advice Service from September 2019 – to June 2020.”
    • Task: “My main task was to support clients with benefit claim applications. Clients were often vulnerable and facing long term barriers to employment.”
    • Action: “In order to support clients with claiming successfully, I clarified the claiming process for them, went through them point by point, helping them fill in the correct information. I also offered advocacy and spoke to local authorities on my clients’ behalf to resolve problems with claims,”
    • Result: “in 95% of the cases successfully, and was awarded the charity’s Volunteer of the Year Award. This experience helped me develop effective communication skills, high-quality client care and significantly improved my negotiation skills.”

With lots of concrete details, this becomes a good story about a competent worker, which the employer can visualise and hereby understand more easily.

The same applies to explaining why you have taken part in a certain activity or chosen a particular masters course: it is all down to you telling the story of your motivations and reasoning and in this way draw out the positives, the relevance and the successes from the activities you have taken part in, for example:

“Having really enjoyed my Business Management degree, I decided to undertake a master’s in Food Marketing Management: this experience has significantly enhanced and developed my professional skills directly relevant to a marketing career in a large supermarket chain like yours.”

I hope you will remember these tips for next time you apply: concrete details, and having a clear start, middle and end, and the successful outcome – if in doubt, just think of Little Red Riding Hood….