I’ve interviewed a lot of entry level job candidates. I’ve had plenty of recent college graduates sent to a conference room to meet me with a strong thumbs-up from Human Resources. Bright, well-dressed, great resumes, and eager. This impresses the HR types. However, when I’d ask questions, especially follow-up and off-script questions, I would get one word answers. “How did you like working in the Philosophy Department as a student aide?” Big smile. “Great,” they’d say. “Fun.”
I’d wrap up that interview quickly, because I’d realize that I had already decided who I wanted. My next editorial assistant would be the dowdy, shy book nerd I’d met earlier that morning that HR hated, but who answered my question about what she’s currently reading with a long story about how she decides what to read and when. All the answers to all my questions entertained, revealed, and informed.
With the right kinds of stories, you can sell anything, including yourself.
That’s why the most interesting thing I’ve read in the past two weeks was this short piece by Neil Gaiman about The Moth. He describes the high-wire act of telling a story out loud in front of an audience and what works and what doesn’t. As I read it, I realized that this skill–public storytelling–is one that give writers the upper hand in a lot of situations where everyone else is struggling. Being a writer is never awesome at tax time, but there are plenty of other times when it’s the perfect thing to be.