To Get a Job, Tell a Story

On the hunt for summer internships, first-year students learn the art of the narrative.

The calendar says January and the trees surrounding Tuck’s campus are bare, but first-year students have their minds firmly planted in summer. More specifically, a summer internship—the three-month experience that can get a student’s foot in the door at their dream job and perhaps set the course for the rest of their career. It’s a lot of pressure to add to the rigors of a challenging MBA program, but students don’t have to go it alone: Tuck alumni, faculty, and staff each play a part in pushing first-years across the finish line.

The most recent example of this was the Recruiting Kickoff event organized by the Career Development Office. In the first segment of the day, Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Tuck, presented a talk entitled, “The Art of the Narrative.” During the 90-minute session, Argenti showed students how to strategically tell the story of their life and career search during a 20- to 40-minute job interview. After that, students met up with their new study groups for peer mock interviews facilitated by alumni and staff, a time when they could practice Argenti’s interview tips and demystify the whole interview process.

The Recruiting Kickoff took place about halfway through the school year, but well after first-years have begun preparing for the summer job search. That process actually starts during the summer before they first arrive at Tuck, when they are encouraged to start writing their resumes and contemplate career options. During first-year orientation, students are briefed on the road map and rudiments of a job search. Fall term is full of company briefings, career treks, networking, and events like Sector Smarts, where alumni speak to students about what it’s like to work in different industries. During the second half of the fall term, students get advice about drafting their cover letters and resumes, and begin applying for summer jobs in earnest. The actual interviews happen on campus in late January and early February, while off-campus interviews can run through the end of the school year. In any event, 100 percent of first-year students get summer internships.

All of which means the Art of the Narrative came just in time to get first-years primed for their upcoming interviews. Argenti frequently consults with major companies on how to tell their stories in good times and bad, and he said many of the rules he uses in that forum also apply to the job interview. Rule No. 1: think strategically. “You need to remember what your role is as a communicator,” he told the students. “Ultimately, it’s to convince them to hire you.”

From the recruiter’s perspective, a flurry of interviews is an elimination process, a whittling down of the pile to a few core candidates. To stay in that pile, said Argenti, you need to organize your life into a coherent narrative with emotional and intellectual resonance.

Fair or not, the interviewee’s chance to tell this story usually comes right at the beginning of the interview, during what Argenti calls the “getting to know you” period. “This might seem like throwaway time,” Argenti said, “but we know from talking to executive recruiters that their decision is made within the first one or two minutes. They make up their mind immediately.”

The best way to take advantage of these crucial first minutes is to have a succinct but well thought out summary of your life before, during and after college, and how those experiences and decisions led you to the interview. “Everything you talk about should be related to one goal: convincing them you’re the right person to do the job,” Argenti said. If you’re successful, not only will the story be authentic and logical, it will fix your interview in the mind of the recruiter so he or she won’t forget you.

Beyond the edict of selling yourself through a compelling narrative, acing an interview also comes down to a few simple guidelines, Argenti said: be positive, be direct, listen carefully, have a few questions to ask, be careful about your non-verbal behavior, and dress appropriately. “This is kind of like a blind date,” he said. “You really want to impress this person and be called back.”