top of page
  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E33. Tell Stories to Land Your Dream Job with Ben White

Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.

Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Ben White. Ben is a director at Titus talent strategist. And he's an expert on all things recruitment, is making a name for himself on social media as a respected voice on talent acquisition, retention, leadership and culture. As you might have noticed, Ben is not a storyteller, a professional speaker, a marketing or branding expert. So what the hell is he doing on my podcast? Well, he's here because I wanted to explore how storytelling fits in someone's career. From the story told by your CV and past experience, all the way to the stories candidates in recruiters tell about themselves and the companies they represent. And also, because Ben has the most piercing green eyes I've ever seen, so I need an excuse to stare at them for an hour. Ladies and gentlemen, Ben White. Ben, welcome to the show.

Ben White 2:02

Thank you. What a what an intro. How could I not be enthused now? I'm ready to go and be here excited to be here.

Francisco Mahfuz 2:12

So I've not had to interview for quite a while. So how about this for for a strategy? Can I just sit down in front of an interviewer and say, you know who I am? You know what I've done? Let's do this.

Ben White 2:28

It's a bold strategy, I probably wouldn't recommend. Probably wouldn't recommend that.

Francisco Mahfuz 2:36

Oh, man interviews. I don't miss them. I think that even when I did interview, and this was very long time ago, but when I interviewed it was, you know, a referral from someone else. I was doing the exact same job. So I think I've missed most of the bullshit that seems to go on nowadays. We know this, like, tell me about yourself. And, you know, strengths, weaknesses, all this all this Malarkey, that that seems to be prevalent in today's interview in the interviewing culture today. So the very first thing I wanted to ask you was when it comes to someone's CV, so what is best practice today for how you put together a CV? And how much does someone need to figure it out? What what story that CV is telling other than just I mean, writing down everything that that is that they've done?

Ben White 3:30

Yeah, you know, that's a great question. And I remember when you and I first started talking about me coming on, and I started thinking, like, what do stories play? What role do they play in interviewing, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that they play a massive part. And that starts at the CV. So when you're talking about a resume, you know, I think storytelling might be a little bit different, you know, depending on the medium, but in a resume and a CV, the story is quantifying your impact, right? I think a lot of people said, Hey, I've done this, this, this, this, this, but when I think of a resume, when I think of a CV, the story is, well, in the first 18 months, I was there. By implementing blank, I was able to reduce downtime from 50 to 20%, resulting in a cost savings of blank. And that's, you know, it's not avatar, you know, that's not like an amazing, compelling story. But for a resume, that is so important to say, this is what I did. I think so many people miss that on a resume. You want to make sure it's grammatically correct. You want to make sure it's accurate. You know, you want to make sure that people can follow it and see, okay, this is this is their career arc. If you really want to be effective. I think it's important to show this is how I have positively impacted my previous employers. And that's kind of the story of a CV to me.

Francisco Mahfuz 4:52

And how much are you? I mean, would you would you just put everything in there If the progression from one thing to the other is not logical so, so if it's, if this is not telling a clear logical story of, you know, I, I started doing this and then I was I did this sales job and then I became a manager. So for example, my, in my case, I started with a sales job, I was on the phone, and then I became a manager, and then I became an account manager, then I became an operations manager. So when I moved from, from that type of work to, to finance, you can make that you can just about make a direct connection between a sales type role and a financial advisor type role. And then no more management, things like that. And then eventually, I started doing what I'm doing now. But if the progression is not very logical, but that there was no clear story being told there would do you ever advise people to omit certain things to make it us to make it a simpler story?

Ben White 5:55

Yeah, that's a great question. And I probably wouldn't, but if you look at your, your resume or your CV, and you go, you know, I know this makes sense. But Will someone reading it? No, it makes sense. Those are one of the few times where I'd advocate for a cover letter, you know, and so you can actually tell them, hey, this is what happened, here was my journey. Here's why it makes sense. And here's what I bring to the table. You know, I, I'm one of those people that I always, you know, I say, hey, if they can, if it comes out for the background check if they can do you know, that kind of research and, you know, show you we're at a place, you want to throw it on there. But you do have the opportunity with a cover letter to kind of tell your story and say, Hey, this is why I went from sales to finance. This is why it makes sense. And again, you're right, that one is probably a little bit easier to explain than, than some people. But yeah, I would include it. And I'd have a cover letter,

Francisco Mahfuz 6:47

and how important is it for someone to have clearly thought out what their career story is. So you know, is this something if you don't put it on a cover letter, if you don't actively try to explain, you know, this is how I've gotten to be doing what I'm doing today? Yeah, is always going to come up, he's going to come up in the recruiters or the interviewers mind, and you're just not addressing it. So how does that work? In your interview?

Ben White 7:18

It depends on the person story, it depends on their career, I would say the more outside the box it is, the more like, you look back in your career and go, Whoa, that was a crazy turn, the more it's going to come up, you know, if you have a pretty standard career that follows a very linear pattern, then it probably won't come up. But if there's a gap, if you made a big career change, if you took what is perceived as a step back, they are always going to be thinking it because every hiring manager will ask a recruiter, Hey, why did they do this? And as a recruiter, one of the last things you want is to go I don't know, because then you look like an idiot. So you know, everyone's thinking it. So the more the more outside the box it is, the more it deviates from what you would consider to be a standard career progression, the more I would advocate for having some sort of story to explain it.

Francisco Mahfuz 8:06

And if that's the case, how much would that story would would, how much would that started? Just be? Well, this was how much would it be just a truth? And how much would it be something that perhaps you might want to apply some creativity to? And I don't mean making stuff up. What I mean, it's an in this is this is something you see a lot on people who I mean, anyone who's done any type of storytelling works either because people in the storytelling field or someone who's sat down with with ghostwriter type of person or someone I'm thinking of Amy Blasco, who you probably know from LinkedIn, you know, so Amy will help people figure out their career story. Yeah, when you do that exercise, you find reasons that perhaps you never thought about before. And maybe they're perfectly correct reasons. And sometimes it's just, well, if I really look for a reason why I went from here to there, I'm probably I can probably find one, even though when it did happen. It was kind of random. So my question is, would it just be, oh, I was doing this job. And I was looking for a new challenge. And then my cousin told me at Christmas, there was this opening for this thing, so that you know that, would you would you work craft a story that, in a sense, implies a sense of purpose and direction? If that wasn't there to begin with?

Ben White 9:33

I mean, it sounds a whole heck of a lot better, right. I mean, so yeah, I mean, I think the big thing is that you want it to sound like it was intentional. And and you want to know you want to know going into the interview. The last thing you want is when someone asked you the question to them on the spot, try to come up with a reason that makes sense. You know, if you have it, if you know what you're going to say. I think that's half the battle, the more common Telling the more you've kind of like, you know, juiced it up. So it's, it's interesting, and there was like some guiding light bringing you to your next opportunity. That's really up to your discretion. Um, but yeah, I do think it makes sense to have reason and to know what it is ahead of time, you know, because there's truth. And then there's context to that. And I think you just want to be able to speak to that in the moment.

Francisco Mahfuz 10:20

So what you're suggesting is that people should practice they shouldn't just wing this stuff.

Ben White 10:27

Yeah, yeah, I would, I would say that's a, that's good advice pretty

Francisco Mahfuz 10:32

well, I like the idea of always trying to find purpose or a narrative thread into things, you know, for example, so my wife is my high school sweetheart. But she's, she hasn't been my girlfriend all along. We know, we were together for a couple of years. And then how I remember it happening was that she got tired of me and dumped me. And then we weren't together for five years, and then eventually, we got back together. But if I try very hard, I can say that, you know, it wasn't the right time for us to stay together forever, when we were 18. And then it was, you know, clearly written in the stars that we would separate. And we'll come back together again, when the time for that was right, that that's better than she just dumped me and went partying for five years. And then when she got tired, she's like, ah, you know, that's a sure thing, or just go back there.

Ben White 11:28

Yeah, they're not making that first story into a rom com, I think the second one's got a shot.

Francisco Mahfuz 11:36

Maybe I need to, maybe I need to rethink how I'm telling my relationships. Okay, so, so one of the reasons that I wanted you, I wanted you on the show, was because I have been working with an MBA. And one of the things the NBA does is they have this, there's the communication scores, which is the one I'm really involved with. But there's also the careers part of the course. And this is just a whole bunch of different things to to help you in your career. And that includes recruitment. So some of the exercises that they had the students do, and some of them I helped facilitate war, preparing them for talking to interviewers, and answering some questions that are, I guess, fairly basic, like, for example, tell me about yourself, or, you know, strengths, weaknesses, you know, achievements, that type of thing? Yeah. First, I wanted to ask you, in your experience, how common those questions, the war, I mean, the people, most people commonly sitting down in front of an interviewer in being asked, Tell me about yourself.

Ben White 12:40

I mean, that's incredibly common. I think if you've got 10 interviews, you might get asked that question and nine of them. And the reason I think it's it is that common is it's such an easy introduction. I think when people interview that, you know, people don't like interviewing first and foremost, they don't have to do it that often. And most people aren't expert interviewers. But the thing that most people don't think about is the people interviewing you. Often they aren't experts, either. Maybe your recruiter is but if you get to a hiring manager, it's a small part of their job, you know, a bigger part of their job is actually doing their job. And occasionally they add someone to their team. So when they ask you a question, like, you know, tell me about yourself, it's just an easy question for them to ask when they go, Okay, how do I start this awkward one hour conversation and learn a little bit about this person in the process? I think that's what it comes down to. So I think it's pretty common. I always tell people, if someone asks you tell me about yourself, the perfect way to respond is okay, where would you like me to start? Because you don't know if they want you to be like, Well, I was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts. From there, I had a harrowing journey across the Midwest, or do they want you to say I graduated from Parkside, with a business degree, I went straight into recruiting? Here we are 10 years later.

Francisco Mahfuz 13:51

So do you think that when when people ask that question, it's not they're not expect this is their version of, you know, how are you? How did you get here? Do you think it's more like an icebreaker than a genuine question where they're looking for any real insight into the candidate.

Ben White 14:14

So I would say it's a little bit of AMD, it is certainly an icebreaker. It's an icebreaker of questions. But it's also a great chance to assess communication skills in a low pressure setting. In some ways, if I was an interviewer, I view it as a warm up pitch, you know, like, Okay, let me get my bearings here. Let me get used to talking without messing up or saying something and put my foot in my mouth. It's a it's a, you know, when I ask questions like, Hey, tell me about yourself. And I don't do it that often. But if I do, I'm assessing, okay, how strong is their communication skills? How directed to the point, are they? So I'd say yes or no, in a little in some ways. It's a warm up. But you can you can definitely ruin an interview if you start that off the wrong way. So it's not without consequence.

Francisco Mahfuz 14:55

So what is the wrong way? What is the wrong way to start that?

Ben White 14:58

Yeah, I mean, there's probably Lots of wrong ways. If you said, Ben, give me a really wrong way to ask it, you could start off talking about something inappropriate. So the political, I mean, you could go well, where the hell do you want me to start? You know, that might be?

Francisco Mahfuz 15:11

I'll get started soon. I'm just a bit gassy today. Just give me give me a moment. Oh, I shouldn't have had a taco. Yeah. So I mean,

Ben White 15:19

yeah, I mean, they might be able to relate, they also might perceive that as a bad way to start.

Francisco Mahfuz 15:23

Yes, I would, I would guess so.

Ben White 15:27

Most likely,

Francisco Mahfuz 15:28

right. Okay. So the reason I'm asking if about that question, particularly, because so in the MBA, what they what we were training the students to do is to have a story, or you know, a story that they would have adjusted to that role specifically, that showed them in in a light that they thought was favourable. So we were telling them to do things like, Okay, you probably just have, you know, between one and a half to three minutes here before it starts getting out of hand. So you need to be able to say something meaningful about yourself, that sounds natural, but also impart some useful information. So I didn't leave you applying for a for a leadership position. So you would say so you could say something like, you know, I started working straight out of college. And, and I was really interested in the jobs I did. But in the, in the first couple of companies that I worked at, what what really got me inspired wasn't so much the job. It was it was the managers I had, because I was very lucky to have some very good managers that, you know, took me under their wing and taught me a lot. And in, I have spoken to many people that have had the opposite experience. So I am very aware of how important that part of the job is. And as of as I've grown in my career, I've always felt passionate about that. And it's a direction I definitely want to go into now. Something along those lines. So would you ever train or suggest to candidates that they need to have a story like that? Yeah,

Ben White 17:01

I first of all, let me just say, I love everything you just said, I love that the MBA courses is teaching this I completed my MBA, like a year and a half ago, not a single second was spent talking about how you could answer a question like this. I love that. And the the length of which you have to be effective and impart your story. Perfect. And then yeah, I mean, I completely think that hits home, right? It kind of positions you and shows your motivation, your passion, your interest, and your why behind it. And then if you can finish it up with some of the relevant information about like things you've done in your career. Yeah, that's, that's perfect. I love that if people can do exactly what you said, and then three minutes, one and a half to three minutes at home about, hey, you know, this is a little bit about me, here's what I want to do. And here's my experience. That's a perfect recipe for nailing that question.

Francisco Mahfuz 17:54

I love it. It's good that your answer that way? Because if you said no, that is complete Tosh, there's absolutely no use to that. I might have to edit that out of the episode. Otherwise don't have the MBA students going. Um, I've just heard your podcast and I would like to talk about my tuition.

Ben White 18:11

Yeah, no. I love it. That is honestly, that's such a, I think that's such a benefit. I, you know, I don't know what, you know, coursework is over, you know, in Spain, but in you know, in America, sometimes we have all these different courses. And I'm like, What about some of these really valuable life courses you could probably do, and, you know, like, different realistic finance courses are interviewing and stuff like that. And that stuff is so actionable. And we just don't have any of that. And I, and I love that.

Francisco Mahfuz 18:40

It's awesome. I'm curious about how how common that is. I mean, ESA, which is the MBA I'm involved with is one of the top at least as of last year, one of the top 10 MBAs in the world. Now, I don't know if their approach is very common in India MBAs have that level or not. But But I, I was pleasantly surprised when I started working with them in how, you know, when they talk about communications, they understand that that involves public speaking, and that involves storytelling. So the fact that this, these things are being taught at the very beginning of the course, I mean, this might have been, I think it might have been the first course that the students have taken or at least one of the first courses because they expect that as they go through the MBA, they are going to use these skills, somehow get them, get them practising them straight on. So So tell me about Tell me about yourself was one of the questions that they practice for the and then everybody was expected to do that. And then the other ones that they got shown, but then ended up practising, I think, more than one they felt less comfortable about was the whole, you know, strengths and weaknesses. Okay. And you and I had a quick conversation about that. And is, are these still being asked? Yeah,

Ben White 19:55

I would say they definitely are. I think the question, you know, What is your greatest weakness is asked in a variety of different ways to I mean, there's a handful of different ways you can ask that question. You know, if you want the remix, if you want a different version, they have it. And it's still pretty common. And I would like to go on record publicly saying that I hate that question personally. Because I don't think it tells you does a person do the job effectively? You know, is this person able to come in and perform? You know, I think it's one of those gotcha questions, but they are still very commonly used, so you have to know how to answer them. That's the reality of it.

Francisco Mahfuz 20:32

I must admit that that weakness question was my favourite one of the ones to try. Because this trans question is kind of obvious, right? You're going to talk about stuff, you have to brag in a nice way. But the weakness question is a horrible one, because it's very difficult not to fall under one of two camps. One of them is the humble brag. You know, my weakness is that I focus too much on work or whatever. I take work too seriously. In the other camp is where you said something horrendous, without realising that you've said something horrendous. I can imagine you probably have lots of stories about this one, but I had I had one of those students. He said something like, Well, I'm, I don't find necessary, I don't find it very easy to connect with people emotionally. So so sometimes there'll be something I'll be, I'll be upset about, or I want to be a little frustrated about and I won't find it easy to talk to people about that. Up until this point, I'm thinking, Okay, fine. This is a fair thing to be saying as a weakness. And then it says, you know, and I just want to talk about it, and then I'll talk about it until until I kind of explodes. It, you know, anyway, none of it at that point. And I so I was asking everybody at the end of the the feedback sessions, okay, was there a humblebrag? And we were like, definitely not. What's the worst possible interpretation of that? And someone said, Wow, he was probably you probably very difficult to work with, because he would be a drama queen. And he would just be, you know, having a hissy fit or a nervous breakdown on all the time and people and the guy was like, really? Is that what you got from that? I was like, yep. Oh, yeah.

Ben White 22:19

You know, and I think one of the things that's interesting, too, is there's been a bigger emphasis recently, I think, in hiring, on making sure that people are good for your team. You know, they're good teammates. And you look at some of the popular books that are more widely circulated now, like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and, you know, the ideal team player and some of the Patrick Lencioni books, which I think more and more people are incorporating into their hiring practices, a lot of that comes to like, Are you a good teammate? Are you someone that we can work with without wanting to bang our heads against the wall? So I think you do have to be careful there. But you're right. It's about threading that needle. You know, it's about saying something that isn't ridiculous. Like, my greatest weakness is I spent too much money buying gifts for my coworkers. Like that's a ridiculous thing to say. Or, you know, well, I have a problem with getting things on fire. You know, it's finding that sweet spot, I mean, realistic, but isn't damning, in terms of your ability to do the job. And Every job is different. You have to find out what that is. But it is it is a challenging one. It's why it still exists is it is hard.

Francisco Mahfuz 23:19

You talked about lighting things on fire. And I remember that when I was working at the, at the at a call centre, and I think I was a operations manager at the time. And I had this habit of calling people into into my office, usually because they were doing well and I wanted to congratulate them, but I would never tell them why I was calling them they just called them in. They say well, my my boss's boss has just called me in and they would walk in and I'd say, Ben, why have I called you in here today? And I would just shut up. And the way this stuff came out one day when they a guy said, Oh, I'm really sorry, I didn't really mean it. I was not really going to firebomb that old lady's house. And it turned out that he had gotten flustered in a sales call. And and then the code the argument escalated with human this old lady and then he has he actually said, I know where you live. I'm going to come around and fire bombed your house. Wow, that definitely their weakness that one I'm saying?

Ben White 24:28

Yeah, can threaten Old, old women that's usually frowned upon and just about every work works.

Francisco Mahfuz 24:34

But But what is what is a good weakness because because it's very difficult to find something that you couldn't blow out of proportion. You know, like I could say in this this is a genuine weakness is one of the reasons I'm less interested in managing a large team myself is, Well, I I like to give people autonomy and I like to treat people as adults and and know that they have, you know, I expect results. I don't expect to micromanage them. I don't want to micromanage them. But that doesn't always work terribly well, because not everybody thrives under a manager that lets them get on with stuff. Sometimes people need closer monitoring. And that I mean, that's all true, right? And that that's a genuine weakness. I mean, I could, I would consider it a weakness of mine. But if the job involves managing a large team, it's very easy to to hear that and go was essentially saying, you're going to let your people get on with it. And if they're not doing the work, then then Tough luck for a company. You know, so what is a good weakness?

Ben White 25:44

Yeah, and, you know, it's funny, because it's kind of like a key, you know, it's like saying, what's a good key? Well, it depends on the door, you know, it depends on the lock. So my advice here is to find whatever profession you're in and find a commonly accepted weakness of people who still succeed in that role, right. So if you're a salesperson, salespeople don't always have the best attention to detail, because they're more driven, and they're more aggressive, but you're willing to accept if Oh, they forgot to mail in this, you know, this expense report. So I would say you find something that is a reasonable, but commonly accepted weakness in your chosen profession. And talk about that, you know, and for me, I, you know, I'm a leader of people, I work in recruitment. And, you know, my profile is one that happens to have a, not a great attention to detail. And I can say, you know, for me, I'm always focused on big picture, I'm moving quickly. So sometimes some of the small details, I don't do the best job of staying on top of them. So what I have to do is really building systems so that I don't let that get out of hand, whether that setting calendar reminders or having notes for myself, that's what I need to do to mitigate any possible negative, you know, impact of me having bad attention to detail. So I think that's the key, find something that in your chosen career field isn't terrible, is accepted, and talk about how you're managing to, you know, offset that issue with another positive behaviour,

Francisco Mahfuz 27:06

the weakness that they they gave gave as an example in the course. And then most people ended up using that as their own weakness, because I don't know they struggled finding something that was more original, and not terrible, was something like, I sometimes struggle to make a decision, if I feel I don't have all of the necessary information. So which, again, yeah, it to me felt like that was like focus grouped. Like you're not, this is definitely not a humble brag, you can really take this the worst possible way. But it didn't, it didn't feel like much like something a normal real person would say.

Ben White 27:49

Right? Well, and I would say that interviews are never won with that question, but they are lost with that question. So finding something like that, that's relatively vanilla, and like, you know, isn't going to wow, the person but also isn't going to, like, get you kicked out of the interview room is probably a safe way to go. You know, they go Okay, let's move on. Nobody hire someone based off the answer that question. But people do get ruled out because they say something that is one way or the other on either side of it. So I'd like that one's a good one.

Francisco Mahfuz 28:15

So let's swing back to two more of the story based stuff. And one of the so one of the ways that we tended to we tended to describe it to them or teach them to do this was this, they made a distinction between achievements and strengths, I think if they consider strength as, as something you have, so say you're a tent, you have attention to detail, you have initiative, view, whatever. Whereas an achievement was more on the basis of you know, something, you've something you've done, right. And when we were trying to use storytelling for those things, what we quickly figured out was you we wanted to give them as specific a moment or details as we could for both the strengths and the achievements. We didn't want them giving. We didn't want good storytelling for the weakness, because you know what the one thing storytelling will do for sure, if you do it properly, is make things more memorable. So the last thing you want this to describe a perfect situation where your weakness came to the fore and you you know, screwed something up, because they will definitely remember that. So in essence, I said, guys, this is the one moment where you can use corporate bullshit speak, because you want that to be vanilla and bland. But for the strengths and the and the achievements. What we said was, Okay, give me the exact same one exact situation where the strength was on display. So if you're going to talk about leadership, what we say to them is don't say, you know, I've led teams for many years and blah, blah, but you can say that but then say, this happened in my last job. And this this is what to me leadership is is about that the project was running, was running late. We had this problem or that problem. And then I was talking to John, who was my, my, you know, one of the people working for me in blah, blah, blah, right? And then this has happened and this, and then that we tend to say no, don't don't give overviews, if they ask for a strength, because the story will make it more memorable thoughts.

Ben White 30:19

Yeah, I agree. I mean, that's gonna stick in your head. Yeah, you don't want to elaborate too much on weakness, like a long, drawn out story, there is not going to help you. But I agree. I, I asked a lot about, you know, strengths. And I asked a lot about most significant career achievement. That's a question that I always ask. And I always then break it down, I peel back the layers. So I love the idea of having a story. Because if someone says, Hey, this is my biggest Career Achievement, it doesn't end there. Not with me and not with a lot of good interviewers gonna go, okay. When did that happen? Who was involved? What went wrong? What did you learn from it? If you could do something different? What would you do? What was the very specific outcome? And I think having a story in which it's rehearsed, you know, what you're going to say? It, it gives a broader picture of what exactly took place helps you answer that question effectively. I agree completely. I think that's good strategy.

Francisco Mahfuz 31:12

Yeah, what we decided they should do was, again, they should make it a story. So it's not well, I ran this project, which won whatever award, and I was like, Okay, fine. It's, it might be impressive on its own, right. But it's a lot better if you say. So when I joined the company in China, they were trying to win this big contract. And the reason why this was so important was because if you don't have, you know, this type of benchmark project, and the agency is not taken seriously. And they hadn't really won one for years, which was starting to look a bit shifty. So when I came in, that's what they landed on my plate. And then I looked at my team, no one had any idea what to do. And then blah, blah, blah. And then I did this, and then I did that, and then it almost went wrong. But then right, and eventually, we got it. And then after that, we won three projects in quick succession. Not me, but the agency. But on the back of being able to use the one I won as the as the proof of concept of for work or something like that. And so that was the type of stuff we were saying, you know, and in, find one moment where the thing turned, right, so the one moment where you're talking to John, or Sally, or Jan, or whoever, you know, whoever just created the cabin, or someone else to die or have dialogue with, because that will make it memorable, because otherwise you just give you an overview with more detail.

Ben White 32:41

Yeah, and you know, when interviewers are asking a question like that, one of the things they're looking for, they're using as the STAR method. And that's Situation, Task, Action and result. And it sounds like from what you told me, I mean, you're covering those bases. Here's the situation, you're, you're providing appropriate context, here was the tasks that need to complete it, here was my specific action. And then here was the result. Whenever you're telling a story like that, it's important you do that. And I think the last thing about those the stories of why it's so important, is it makes it believable. So many times when you ask someone, what was your most significant accomplishment in your career, the concern from someone interviewing them is that they're not being entirely forthright, or they're taking somebody else's achievement, or a team's achievement and making it theirs. And when you're, when you're bereft on the details, when there's not a lot of information, you know, you tend to believe that, but if you turn it into a story, I think it gives it a lot more validity. You know, I would hear that and go Yeah, he definitely did that that happened. So I think there's value in it in a lot of ways. You know, from someone who asked that question a lot. I love it.

Francisco Mahfuz 33:44

I guess the problem that a lot of people face when they're trying to describe achievements is they Well, they they're not telling you a story for one but also they're not using the elements of story that will tell your brain you should pay attention to this and the elements are this the most commonly agreed elements are a time and location stamp. So we know it was this year it was this place, you have people doing things so it's not a company, you have one thing that leads to another and there is there is some element of surprise or a ha or whatever something along those lines at the end and when it comes to structure you know you talked about star but most stories you people talk about like a three act story, which is always going to be the setup and then the problem in the in the outcome you know the consequences I had John lever say it was the first ever episode on the show and he likes to describe I think he calls it exposition problem solution resolution, which basically the same thing. Yeah, it if you follow that type of structure in you put in the right details, then you end up with something that feels real. If you don't have it, then I think the brain just doesn't quite get that this is an experience you're sharing because Right. It's not following the right format. And, you know, true or not the you're just not getting the same effect, I would guess. Right?

Ben White 35:08

When one of those annoying things like just to be candid when you're interviewing someone is you're asking them questions. And they just, it's so it's so vague, and they're just missing details. And then you've got to dig in. Well, what about this? Well, what about that? What about that? If someone can answer a question in a way that already accomplishes all those things, it's just so much better, I think, for the flow of the interview. And I think overall, it will give the person interviewing the candidate a much stronger perception of them. So yeah, I think generally speaking, if people can incorporate that, it'd be so much better for the answering that question.

Francisco Mahfuz 35:44

Yeah, the specifics are key in there's something about the, the lack of specifics, which is probably why corporate speak becomes corporate bullshit, which is, you know, he just, he just never sounds like real life. You know, we we've, we've worked really hard to align our priorities, and you know, the lever the project in whatever, it's just like, Okay, fine. But how much better? Is it that you say, Well, when I came into the project, we were spending most of our time doing this, and not that in, we're just not getting the results we needed. So when we stop, you know, we kind of focused on the right things. And then we did this, and we did that. And then within a few months, this happened, you kind of go, Okay, fine, that that sounds like something that actually happened, not something out of a brochure or corporate brochure,

Ben White 36:38

the communication is so much stronger in the example you gave, I mean, it's just it's so much better. And I think communication in so many roles is key. And as, as someone who's involved in interviewing, I'm always assessing communication, because it's so important, you know, you're going to be talking with, you know, your team, internal customers, potentially external customers, the strength of communication is something that is always valuable, in my opinion,

Francisco Mahfuz 37:02

what is the achiever pattern? Yeah,

Ben White 37:05

the achiever pattern is something I look for, and a lot of hiring managers look forward to, but it's someone who has shown and demonstrated success in prior in prior roles. Now, one of the dead giveaways is if someone is promoted, so they're at a company, and you see they were promoted two times in a five year period, that doesn't happen if a person is doing a poor job, if they're showing up, they're mailing it in. They're getting in fights with their co workers, they're firebombing old lady's houses, they are not demonstrating the achievement pattern. But you see someone making progressions making a significant impact, you know that that is the achiever pattern. And, you know, I think when I think about storytelling, and how it can improve someone's chances of landing a job, we as recruiters can look at a resume and see achiever pattern, but you have the opportunity to talk about your achievements on a job, and fit yourself into that narrative of being someone who fits the achiever pattern, if you can adequately share your story. I got this

Francisco Mahfuz 38:03

thing the other day, or mass WhatsApp or whatever. And they it was a it was a CV. It was on LinkedIn, it was someone's work experience only then from McKinsey. And the way the person described his experience was, he was an associate. And then his other responsibilities he wrote, I make previous slides. And then his next position was associate manager. And he said, I tell people to make previous slides. And then and then he became whatever comes after associate manager, McKinsey. Anyone else. I convince clients previous slides generate real results.

Ben White 38:44

Pretty straightforward.

Francisco Mahfuz 38:47

I mean, that that the story being told there is very compelling.

Ben White 38:51

It really draws you in. Yeah.

Francisco Mahfuz 38:54

But let's turn this around a bit. So we've been talking about the questions you're asked and how you respond to them. But when it comes to both your role as a recruiter and the company side, do you have to tell or should you tell stories to two potential recruits about the companies they might be joining that does the company tried to do that when they're offering roles or when they're presenting roles to interesting candidates?

Ben White 39:23

Yeah, I feel super strongly about this. Actually, every company should, every time, one of my clients says to me, Ben, I need you to help me find blank. I talked about the role, but I always tell them the second most important thing we're going to talk about during the entire call is your EVP and that's employee value proposition. And that's why someone should want to come work here. The reality is the best candidates will always have opportunities. And oftentimes it's going to come down to your story, the role will be similar. The impact will be similar, the qualifications the pay, the benefits will often be similar, but what is it that makes your company worth working. And that's a storytelling, all my recruiters on my team that I manage, we all have to tell stories about the role about the company, about why someone who isn't looking for a job, because we go after people who are not looking. We go after people who are in their current role, top 25% performers, they're succeeding, and they had no idea when they woke up that day that they might be having a conversation about leaving a job, you need a compelling story to make someone go, Yeah, okay, man, I will talk to you for 15 minutes, and hide in my car in the parking lot and hear about this other company. So, so yeah, companies need to do that. Because if you aren't telling a compelling story, your competition is

Francisco Mahfuz 40:39

how much easier is a recruiters life now that nobody needs to hide under the car in the parking lot?

Ben White 40:46

A little bit easier. You know, it's a funny thing, you know, in the situation, because there are there are less people hiring. But if you can hire, I mean, we are getting a hold of people very easily, people are much more willing to take a call from their living room than they are from their from their cubicle. So yeah, a lot easier. Directly,

Francisco Mahfuz 41:08

when we're talking about stories that companies can use for recruitment, we were talking about that. And I remember something I've heard, I've heard the other day. So it was, it was a guy who had just started in a law firm. And he he saw that as this was in Australia, he saw that as a as a stepping stone. So he had, you know, the he's had his eyes on a bigger law firm for you know, another year or two in his career. And he was working in bankruptcy or insolvency. And essentially, what he had to do was he had to, he had to prepare all the paperwork for, for a large bank to serve insolvency papers to one of their providers. But he got it the wrong way round. So the small provider was serving solvency papers to one of the largest banks in Australia. So he he did the paperwork, it got delivered, the bank received it in then called back the law firm. So as you can understand, this is the type of cup that completely you know, easily cost someone their job, there was a board meeting having to deal with a problem. He, he knew that one of the major partners was flying in from the hair from head office. So he cooks inside the company, and then the lift door opens. And he sees the senior partner come out of the lift, look at him straight, and walk down the long hallway. Know straight at him. And it's like, This is it. This is what I'm, this is what I'm losing my job. In the end, the senior guy just stops in front of him, puts his hand on his shoulder and says, are you okay? We'll sort this out. Mistakes happen. But are you alright? And that was it, they sorted it out the bank was okay. They didn't lose the bank as as a client. And and he said, I'm still there. I'm still in that company. Or Whenever someone asks me why I tell them this. And I heard that. And I thought, I mean, if you had two or three stories like that, that you could tell a potential recruit. And you just say, would that happen in your job?

Ben White 43:23

Yeah, I mean, that's a powerful story. I mean, I was visualising it the entire time. I feel like in my mind, I saw the elevator. I was like imagining a hallway. You know, I I'm a big advocate of asking questions. When you're interviewed when you're a candidate. Asking questions is one of those powerful tools you have. And I create videos all the time on, here's, here's questions you should ask. And I'm just imagining, if someone said, Hey, tell me about a time where you made a mistake in your organisation, and how was it handled? If that is how you're able to answer that question as a hiring manager? It doesn't get more home run than that. I mean, that's, that's a great answer. And it really shows, you know, how they handle challenging situations and the loyalty to their people, which you know, is everybody wants that.

Francisco Mahfuz 44:06

And if you have collected those stories, and you have them as a company, as a recruiter to provide to potential employees or new employees, it will avoid doing this nerve wracking thing that I heard you talk about the other day, were you saying that a candidate could ask, you know, is it okay, if I call some people in the company to just you know, get their feel for how it is working there. Now, I imagine that a lot of larger companies would not feel comfortable with that at all. Is it a common thing for candidates to ask for that? And if it is, is it is it common for the Congress to go? Yeah, sure. Speak to whoever you want.

Ben White 44:49

I don't think it's a common tactic at all. I think it's a good tactic, but I think it's underused, and you know, I put in my videos like you should ask them and I think asking them is nice because it's a tell if the hiring manager goes, Oh, yeah, go ahead. It means they're probably a pretty good manager. And they're people that hate. It's pretty obvious. If they're a terrible manager, they go, oh, man, if they call any of my people, they're gonna tell all these terrible things about me. But I don't think enough people do it. But the reality is, you don't have to ask. If you genuinely just want the information, you can message people and say, Hey, do you have a minute? I wanted to talk about your organisation. I've personally done that. I've had people do it with me. But yeah, I don't think it's common at all. I think it's good. I don't think it's common.

Francisco Mahfuz 45:29

I had a friend who, who let's just say he didn't, he didn't behave himself perhaps the way he should when he was out and about. And every time one of us was talking to his to his girlfriend, he would go over you're talking about, but it was it was just say, Oh, she was just asking, you know, about know when you know, the barbecue that day, cuz you know, it was just the guys And why'd you say but don't start going out afterwards? Yeah, she asked. And I said yes. Like, oh, no, what did you say? Oh, please. It's it's not it's it's uh, that's the biggest tell is if your friends are talking to your, to your partner, you are very concerned about what conversations are taking place, or you know, if your employees are talking to that, that suggests that maybe you should rethink some of your practices. That's a

Ben White 46:26

dead giveaway. They're dead giveaway.

Francisco Mahfuz 46:30

And then the last one, I the last question I have for you was with regards to references. Do you have some bizarre stories about about people who gave references that perhaps they shouldn't have given? Or people or people whose background when, when checked, didn't turn out to view what it what it was supposed to be, you

Ben White 46:54

know, over the course last decade in recruitment, they all kind of blend together, you know, but I, I can't tell you how many times someone gives gives a reference. And then you call that person. And they're like, Oh, I would never hire this person. This person was terrible. They were not a good employee. They were lazy. I wouldn't hire them back. And it's, it's so puzzling. To be like, are you telling me that you don't have a single person? Well, you don't have three people after your entire career, who will only say positive things about you. But it honestly happens all the time. It happens all the time. You got to check in with your resource, your your references, people, before you give them to someone, call them up and go, Hey, I've got a new opportunity. I am really excited about it. It's really important to me, I really enjoyed our time together, would you be a reference for me? If there is any hesitation, do not put that person down? Find somebody else.

Francisco Mahfuz 47:48

I used to work in a company that had had a lot of turnover. And then we would get called in and asked for references about people. And now I don't remember if I did this, or if I just wanted to do it. But sometimes they would ask about, you know, how was banned in my first reflex was just go. And I'm pretty sure some people did that. And that's why the company at some point said, I can tell you, he worked here. You can you tell me now I can tell you he worked here between this time and that time? That's all I can tell you. He was a great guy. Nope. No, either we do that for everyone, or we do it for no one. So So you know, no proper references of behaviour or anything like that. Which again, the fact that the company had to implement that policy suggest that perhaps I should have spent less time working for them?

Ben White 48:45

Probably Probably,

Francisco Mahfuz 48:47

right, where if people want to know more about, about the stuff you're doing or watch any of the of the many things you put out about recruitment and talent and interviewing? What's the what's the good place to go?

Ben White 48:59

Yeah, you know, my, my YouTube channel is actually relatively new. It's been tox talent. And now I put all my videos there. So it's a great way if you want to access my entire library of interviewing and hiring advice. You know, they're all three to five minute videos, and they're all there. So I would say Ben talks talent on YouTube. Or to find me on LinkedIn. I put out content every single day,

Francisco Mahfuz 49:18

Ben, it's been a it's been good fun. And we've gotten we've gotten quite a lot out of this one. So thanks very much for your time, right.

Ben White 49:25

Yeah, had a great time. Thank

Francisco Mahfuz 49:26

you for having me. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time. I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars. I'd really appreciate it and he does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website Storify

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page