Employment Evergreen

This Is The One Skill Your Career Hinges On More Than Any Other

public speaking tips shouting in a microphone
Written by Tom Staunton

What is the one single factor that will determine your success or failure for the next role you apply for? Whether you are applying for work, postgraduate study or setting up your own enterprise, one and one thing only will determine your success. What is this one factor? Someone else’s perception, how someone else views you, normally in contrast to others. Whether it is a hiring manager, admissions tutor, bank manager (assessing a business loan) or a customer, someone else will decide. You are not learning a skill, a set of facts, changing a habit or building something (though your career may involve all of the above); above everything else your future is a key held by someone else who will decide if they will give it to you or not.

This may seem unfair, it may make you angry, it may make you scared but you can not get away from it. Because of this one single factor there is one skill that your career hinges on more than any other: your ability to tell a good story.

Stories determine other people’s perceptions; it is your ability to tell a story that will determine the outcome. Or as Annette Simmons says, “whoever tells the best story wins.”

speaker story telling

This is the third and final post I am aiming to write around the theme of stories and careers development and it will explore the issue of how to tell stories, how to communicate yourself. I am going to focus on two main types of story that are likely to come up in an application process, what you can do (your skills) and what you want to do (your motivations).


1. How Stories Might Have The Key To Your Future

2. Why Your Career Might Be Stuck In The Past

3. Personal Development: Finding Out What you’re Good At


Skill Stories

You may be aware of the STAR technique, it is a well used technique which focuses on how to structure answers in interviews, especially for competency-based questions, questions about what you can do. My problem with this technique is that it is often used in a fairly dull manner, students I hear using it often fail to catch my attention. This is vital in any application process, you want to catch someone’s attention. I feel a little focus on what makes a good story can go a long way to helping you catch the attention and ultimately persuade an interviewer.


Classically, when STAR is discussed the Situation step is about setting the context so someone knows what you are talking about. I feel that this stage should do more than this, it should also build resonance and empathy with your audience. It should allow them to begin to step in to your shoes. One technique to do this is to use the second person “you”. Explicitly draw a link between the interviewer and the situation. Say something like “A situation you may be familiar with is…” or “You may have…” or “I’m sure you have…” this will firstly draw them and start them imagining themselves in your situation and it will shorten the gap in their mind between them and you, which will make it easier for them to feel positive about you and picture you in their team. There maybe be other ways to do this; this is just one idea.


Secondly, the task, this classically is about what you had to do (work as a team, communicate, be organised etc.) But I feel it can do more. In a story it should make you care about the character through seeing their plight and draw you in further as it makes you want to know what happens to the character. You can do this by highlighting the task not just as a duty but also as a quest, something of importance to be achieved. You do this by showing why something mattered, what was at stake. You can do this by describing the benefit that would be achieved by completing the task or the negative consequences of not completing it


Thirdly, describe what you did. This should show that you took appropriate actions to resolve the situation. In terms of telling a story this should be your focus. Situation and Task should grab attention and set the scene but most stories are dominated by the hero doing stuff to overcome the obstacle they face. Secondly, stay on plot, make sure you are showing how the problem that you described was resolved by your action. If you’ve described a situation that would require good team working, then don’t get drawn into discussing your IT skills, stay focused. There should be a question that is raised in the task and answered in the action, and as I was always told in school, “answer the question!”


Results are about showing what came out of the action that you took, it is about proving that your action bore the results you were looking for. This links in with how endings work in stories. In them we find ourselves asking if the story was complete. Did the hero win? Was there a happy ending? In results you need to show that the “world” you live in is now a different place. Refer back to the task and situation and describe the situation differently, show how you affected the situation. Show that things were better after your action.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of how to start telling better stories. As with anything, practice and practice with someone else. Storytelling is more art than science. Particularly try not to make it too long, the real trick is simply and succinctly get these ideas across so others can understand them and engage with them.


1. How Stories Might Have The Key To Your Future

2. Why Your Career Might Be Stuck In The Past

3. Personal Development: Finding Out What you’re Good At

About the author

Tom Staunton

Tom works as a HE careers adviser, he is particularly interested in how creativity, narratives and digital literacy can be used to support students career progression. You can read his blog and you can follow him on twitter as well at.