Tag Archives: business story

Best Job Interview Tips for College Students

The Best of my Job Interview Tips for College StudentsOne of the most important job interview tips for college students that I give involves business presenting.

The job interview is likely the most important business presentation you will ever give.  This is because in the interview, you present for your most important client – you.

And the question I’m asked most frequently with respect to how you present your accomplishments is this:

“How do I talk about myself and my qualifications in a way that is honest and forthright and yet does not sound like braggadocio?”

The Best of My Job Interview Tips for College Students

Few people like to boast.  Instead folks go the opposite extreme of false humility.  But neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.

Instead, try this . . .

Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume.  Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.

Now, the recruiter is looking for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

The recruiter evaluates you for intangible qualities, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.  Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.

But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.

For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield.  Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake.  And so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.  But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”

This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.

Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.  The constitutes the most important of my many job interview tips for college students.

When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.

Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.

That’s it.

Digest that for a moment.

Yes, it really is that simple.  But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way.  It takes practice.

Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set.  In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality.  Translation:

     I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.

Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference.  Translation:

     I get along with a wide range of people.

Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak.  Translation:

     I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.

Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems.  Translation:

     I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.

For an Especially Powerful Interview

Can you see how it works?

You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task.  So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past.  Build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

The very best Job Interview Tips for College Students“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others.  I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being.  This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”

Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:

“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend.  That was pivotal.  It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss.  That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”

With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.

Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life.  And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them.

Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them.  When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them.  Do this, and you achieve an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on job interview tips for college students, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Story . . . Your Secret Weapon

Presentation StoryWe all believe that we should weave a business presentation story.

Sort of.

But most of us rarely do, and this might be a result of simply not knowing how.

Admit it . . . most of us think we’re pretty sharp – we all think we know what a story is, don’t we?  But do we really?

What is a Presentation Story?

A story is a narrative of events, either true or untrue, that appeals to the emotions more-so than the intellect.

Let me emphasize – the appeal is primarily to the emotions.  Here’s an example.

The 1995 legal thriller A Time to Kill is a superb storytelling film that exemplifies how a deep appeal to emotion and to the heart can overcome an appeal to logic and reason.

A Time to Kill is the story of the rape of a little girl and the subsequent killing of her rapists by a heartsick father and his trial for murder.  The story takes place in racially divided Mississippi and the interracial struggle for justice and understanding is the centerpiece of the narrative.

It is really several stories.  A young lawyer’s struggle, Jake (Matt McCanaughy).  A father’s struggle, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson).  And a town’s struggle for its soul.

At the end of the film, Jake tells Carl that he’s going to lose the case.  That he should bargain with the prosecutor for a lesser charge to gain life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Carl rebukes his lawyer, Jake.  He urges him to “think like the jury.”

Know the Audience for Your Presentation Story

This is actually one of the keenest lessons on “know your audience” that I have ever witnessed.

“You’re one of the bad guys, Jake,” Carl says.  “That’s why I picked you.  You’re one of them white folk.  You think like them.  That’s why you can set me free.  Throw out all your ‘points of law’ and talk to them like one of them.”

How does Jake respond?

He responds with the Power of Presentation Story.

Literally.

Jake prepares a closing argument without his “points of law.”  He appeals to the emotions of the jury instead of their logic or sense of duty to the laws of man.  He appeals to their humanity, and to do this, he must tell a presentation story.

It must be the most compelling story of his young legal career.

Jake first apologizes to the jury for his ineptitude due to his inexperience.  He waves away any appeal to “points of law.”  He pauses.  Jake then places his hand in his pocket, and he gestures with his other hand . . . gently, firmly.

He approaches the jury box.  Simultaneously, he utters the magical words, almost like an incantation.

“Now I’m gonna tell you a story.”

His Words Transform the Courtroom

Everyone in the film leans forward.  The prosecutor.  The defendant.  The members of the jury.

All of them.  You feel yourself lean forward.  Perhaps you shift in your seat with expectation.

Why?

Because everyone loves a story.  A story that touches emotions.  A story that makes them laugh.

In this case, a sad and heinous story that makes them weep.

Why does Jake do this?  Because stories touch the emotions in ways that straight exposition cannot.  Jake wants the jury to feel, not just to think, and this scene of Jake pleading for his client’s life is a masterful demonstration of story’s power.

The armor we wear against fact and logic is porous and vulnerable to the gentle probing of a story.  As Jake weaves his spellbinding and horrible story of rape and trauma, the stolid men and women of the jury begin to crumble.  Eyes glisten.  Hard swallowing.

Even the most callous and racist man on the jury is affected by Jake’s tale.

Perhaps even you are moved by the heart-rending summation.

“Let me tell you a story.”

For more on how to tell a compelling corporate presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Six Most Powerful Words . . .

The six most powerful words are key to your presentation success
We in business are awash in great stories . . . use them in your presentations for especially powerful effect

Your business presentation begins to founder.

Despite your best efforts to energize the audience, to convey yourself in authentic and enthusiastic terms, to laser your talk with über focus . . . in spite of all of that, you can’t gain traction.

Here is when you reach into your quiver and pull out your Golden Arrow.

An arrow guaranteed to hit your target every time.

The Golden Arrow

When you find yourself adrift, pause thoughtfully, eye your audience with sincerity, and say this . . .

“Let me tell you a story.”

You immediately rivet attention on yourself.  Why?  Presentation Master J. K. Horner shares the reason with us from 1929:

Probably everyone has experienced the universal interest and attention which results in a dull and abstract lecture when the speaker says, ‘That reminds me of a story.’ Like a dog at the back door waiting for a bone, an audience will prick up its ears at the approach of the speaker with a story or illustration that arouses mental imagery.

Why?

Because such stories are concrete, the opposite of abstract, and tend to arouse pictures which vivify an idea, setting it out in relief with bold colors against a background of drab and hazy abstractions.

Six Most Powerful Words for Business Presentations

“Let me tell you a story” are the six most powerful words you can utter in a business presentation.  If your goal is to grip your audience, entertain them, persuade them, and move them to action, you always generate interest with these six most powerful words:  Let me tell you a story.

“Let me tell you a secret” is just as compelling, but when you think about it, it’s really the same storytelling device worded in slightly different fashion.

The story is a powerful communicative tool.  Let me say it again:  It puts incredible power in your hands, on your lips.

This power of story has been known for ages.  Stories are “windows that let the light in.”

And the story is an incredibly versatile tool.

Presentation Master Katherine Cather observed that its emotive effect is akin to what one finds in high art: “Because the story has power to awaken the emotions and to enlarge the range of experience, it is a tool of universal adaptability.  Its appeal is like that of music, sculpture, or painting.”

We live in the 21st Century age of dazzling kaleidoscopic multimedia.  Right now, a kindergartener has at his disposal more computing power in a laptop than did Neil Armstrong in his lunar module when he landed on the moon in 1969.

In such an age, why speak of an anachronism like “storytelling?”

Just this . . .

A Timeless and Powerful Tool for the 21st Century

Stories still serve as our main form of entertainment – we see and hear stories every day from many sources.

Newspapers are filled with “stories.”  Films, television shows, novels, even technical manuals regale us with stories.  You tell stories all the time.

Stories are as old as man and still hold fascination for us.

In an age of pyrotechnic special effects that boggle the mind, film producers have found that without a strong story populated with sharply drawn and sympathetic characters, the film flounders.  And fails.

Some stories are more interesting than others, of course.  But even the most pedestrian of tales keep our attention far better than dry exposition of facts delivered in a monotone.  Unlike straight exposition, stories appeal to the emotions.  This is the secret of their power.

And it is incredible power.

The Six Most Powerful Words

If you search for a verity in the human condition, a key that unlocks the power of persuasion, then this is it – the appeal to emotion.

Katherine Cather was a master storyteller of her generation, and her masterpiece written in 1925 captures the universal appeal of this mode of communication.  We seem to have left it behind in favor of cynicism and wry gimcrackery at one end of the scale and a barren “newspeak” at the other end.  Said Ms. Cather:

Human emotions are fundamentally the same in every country and in every period of history, regardless of the degree of culture or the color of the skin. Love and hate lie dormant in the human heart; likewise gratitude, and all the other feelings that move mortals to action. They manifest themselves according to the state of civilization or enlightenment of those in whose souls they surge, but the elemental urge, the motive that actuates men to right or wrong doing, is the same now as it was at the beginning of time.

The story has power to nurture any one of the emotions . . . . What is the secret of the power of either the spoken or written tale to shape ideals and fix standards? Because it touches the heart. It arouses the emotions and makes people feel with the characters whose acts make the plot. Mirth, anger, pity, desire, disdain, approval, and dislike are aroused, because the characters who move through the tale experience these emotions.

So use the story device to leaven your presentation with color and spice.  Hook your audience and enthrall them with the Six Most Powerful Words in the English language.

Remember that this secret is powerful because it hearkens back to an almost primal urge we have as humans to share experiences with each other, and this is the ultimate source of its appeal.

When you tap the power of story, you tap into a wellspring of history and practice as old as mankind itself.  So pull the Six Most Powerful Words from your quiver when you desperately need to hit your target.

Learn even more about the Six Most Powerful Words in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Finance Presentations: “We’re Different”

Finance Presentations for Competitive AdvantageWhether the finance presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . .  I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students –

“Finance Presentations are different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Finance Presentations Mysteries

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language.  They seem less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort.  An income statement serves as anchor.

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

But this is an illusion.  And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast.  These demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The Bad News

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.  It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.  Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.

It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.  “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.  “We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all.  If numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these finance presentations shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.

It may be useful.  It may be boring.  It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.

But whatever else it is, it is not a business presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.

The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”   The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium.  The result?

Slides from Hell.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.

Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid.  It should be.  Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.

But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.Finance Presentations can bestow personal competitive advantage

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentations world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.