(The following is a presentation I gave to the Pro-G Networking Group on November 20, 2020.)

           Two people who did not like each other were Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Shaw had a play opening in London and as a backhanded compliment he sent the Prime Minister 2 tickets with the following note: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…if you have one.”

           A battle of wits with Churchill was never a good idea. His response: “Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”

           Churchill’s retort was insightful in that the ruling of an audience is final and, sometimes cruel. Shows close opening night. Movies play to empty theaters. Comedians stare at a sea of blank faces. And it is never the audience’s fault. It is always the fault of the performer. 

           When you meet with a prospect, you are the performer, and they are the audience. It is your job to catch them, hold them and reel them in. If they fall of the hook, it’s on you.

           I am certain that you have all, at one time or another, looked at someone, frustrated, pointed to your head and said, “THINK!” You did not say “STORE!” And that’s the whole story behind storytelling.

           Our brains were never created as data storage devices. They are only supposed to hold vital information: such as how to do what we need to do to stay alive, and to recognize that a rattle snake is not a puppy. Our brains are for survival and the analysis of data, nothing else.

           That is why, almost literally since man started to walk, we have created external storage devices on or in which to store information so that it is not forgotten. That is why there are cave drawings and thumb drives. 

           For present purposes, it’s the cave drawings that are most important. They told stories. See saber-toothed tiger. Take club in hand. Hit tiger over head. We learn from stories. That is what we are wired to do. It’s in our DNA.

           I became interested in this subject when a plurality of career counseling clients came to me with the same question: “How do I respond when they ask in an interview, ‘Tell us about yourself’?”

           My immediate response is always the same, “It is not a question; it’s an opportunity to tell them something about you that is not on the resume, something about you as a person.” I’ll get back to that in a few minutes.

           There is absolutely no difference between someone looking to get a job offer and someone interested in getting a new client or customer. It’s the same thing. They have to like you. For them to like you, they have to listen to you. What you say has to be relevant for them. So you have to listen to them and know what they want. As I said, not rocket science.

           I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to find out what they want. But once you know, the brain surgery, so to speak, comes into play.

           In order for a story to be effective, it has to be heard. In order for a story to be heard, it has to be interesting. In order for it to be interesting it has to hold the prospect’s attention. And for that to happen you need two hormones and one neurochemical.

           The first hormone is cortisol. Our brains produce cortisol when we are stressed. That’s why we stay focused on the rattle snake and don’t move. Nothing distracts us.  We are panicking. And that is what you want your prospect to do, but in the positive sense. You want the same intensity – they have a problem, you have the solution. If there is no cortisol, there will be no interest. You have to have their undivided attention.

           The story you tell them has to show knowledge. It has to show understanding. You can solve their problem and that’s all they care about. You’re a good rattle snake. You have their undivided attention.

           But the story also has to show empathy. This is where the second hormone comes into play: oxytocin. Stories have characters. The prospect has to relate to the characters in your story.  When you have an emotional response to a story, you have oxytocin. 

           You grab your prospect with cortisol. You keep them in your embrace with oxytocin. Which brings us to our neurochemical: dopamine.

           Dopamine is what makes us feel good. Dopamine (along with norepinephrine) is what is called “love.” You want your prospect to “love” you. If the story you tell ends well, dopamine will give the positive feeling that will result in the prospect wanting to do business with you. And, of course, your story will always end well because you are the solution provider.

           The important thing to remember is that it is dopamine that determines our behavior.

Let me give you three examples:

           The first is the one I use with career counseling clients. Again, their question for me is, “How do I respond when the interviewer asks me to tell them about myself?”  This is what I say:

           It’s an opportunity, not a question. Tell them something about yourself that will differentiate you from your competition, that is personal to you, yet professional. In my case I always say the following:

           I’m going to tell you about the best day I ever had on a job. At the time, I was a fundraiser, marketer, community relations and media relations professional. So the first surprise is my story has nothing to do with the job I had or would be applying for. The second surprise is the ending.

           When I was working at a Jewish Community Center, we wanted to have a community fair for Hanukah. Not a fundraiser, just a fun time. If we made a few bucks – great. If we didn’t – no problem.

           The first year I was volunteered to dress us as Barnie the Purple Dinosaur. He was very popular at the time. We were certain the little children would be thrilled. We were wrong. I was a good 7 feet tall and so fat I had to enter and leave rooms on an angle. They were used to Barnie on the television and the dolls they had at home. They were scared of me.

           It was a good idea; just the wrong character.

           The following year, I was Big Bird. Big Bird is supposed to be big. It’s in his name. Long story short, from the moment I arrived at the gym where we were having the fair, to the moment I left, four hours later, one little girl never left my side.

           At the end of the fair, I asked her father to pick her up so I could give her a hug. (If I had bent over, the head would have fallen off, which would not have been a good thing.) She gave me an intense, passionate hug. It had nothing to do with me; she loved Big Bird. (And I am certain, her brain was full of dopamine. – That’s for your benefit; I have never said that in an interview!)

           Her father pried her off of me. I waved good-bye. She said, “Bye-bye Big Bird.” I waved to everyone else and left.

           I went back to my office, got out of the costume and went into the lobby. I saw the little girl’s mother. I went up to her and said, “No one has ever hugged me the way your daughter did.” She looked at me like I was the biggest pervert on the planet. I assumed everyone knew who I was.

           So, I introduced myself.  I said, “I’m Bruce. I’m the assistant director of the Federation. I was Big Bird.” Her expression totally changed. Then she got misty eyed. She said, “Bruce, my daughter has autistic tendencies. When she said, ‘Bye-bye, Big Bird,’ to you, that was the first time she ever spoke to anyone outside the immediate family or her teacher.”

           And that was my best day on the job.

When I tell that story, I have three-quarters of the women and half of the men in tears. They never forget it and years later people still come over to me and comment on it. It is referred to as “The Big Bird Story.”

           Naturally, I had no idea that the little girl was autistic and had no intention of getting her to speak to me. But the second story was intentional.

           I needed a new computer. I went to Best Buy. The first thing the salesman said was that he does not work on commission. Then he asked me, politely, how he could help me. I told him I had a feeling that my current computer was going to die so I wanted it to become my spare and buy a new one. He then asked me what I did for a living. He immediately said that I basically needed a computer for document creation. I agreed but then I added that I also have a podcast, so the camera, microphone and storage capacity were important to me.

           He then said document creation was not a big deal; all computers are the same. But the podcast was different. He then showed me three computers, explaining the pluses and minuses of each. He ended with a moderately priced computer that has a very good camera and a very good microphone. He said there was no need to waste money on a top-of-the line computer and it wasn’t worthwhile “going cheap.” 

           Then he shared a story with me about how appreciative another podcaster was for the computer he was recommending. That convinced me, along with the service package and the deal on Office 365. I bought it. Happy story. Happy ending. Easy sale.

           Third story: Does not start well.

           The greatest threat all of us face today as business owners is a cyberattack. Small businesses are targeted because they are easy targets. The “It won’t happen to me” mentality is wrong. It can and it does.

           One former client told me the story of how he received a panic call (Remember cortisol?) from a solopreneur who was the victim of a ransomware attack. He did not know what to do. Long story short, he had to pay to get his data back. And then he hired my client to make sure it would never happen to him again by installing the necessary software and protocols such as – don’t click on links from unknown sources! That is the story he tells his prospects who then become his clients.

           These are stories people remember. And that is what makes a story good. You want your stories to be remembered because that will result in a prospect, not just becoming a client, but also becoming an unpaid salesperson. They will repeat your story to friends and strangers who are talking about the situation they had to deal with before they decided to work with you. And that is the ultimate result of a good story.

           So, to summarize, a good story is one that relates to the individual’s needs, has characters with which they can empathize, and solves their problem. 

           Thank you. 



The Silver Lining in this Very Dark Cloud

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed on the Employment Law Today podcast. At the end of the show, the emphasis was placed on candidates and I discussed some of the positives for candidates in the age of COVID. I’d like to recap them for those who did not see the show.

1) Candidates are concerned about how to explain why they are unemployed. Today, it’s not an issue. It is not the candidate’s fault that they were laid off. Everyone understands what COVID has done to businesses. Candidates do not have to defend themselves. They have done nothing wrong. They are victims and everyone knows it.

2) An ironic concern that job seekers have always had is how they are going to interview if they are employed. It’s ironic because at first they are worried that they are not getting any interviews, and then they are worried that they are getting them! Can they interview doing their lunch hour? Will the employer see them after work? Thanks to COVID, this is no longer an issue. Since most people work from home, candidates can easily schedule a video interview at a mutually beneficial time with the boss being none the wiser.

3) Until they actually meet the employer in-person, the candidate is on their home turf, so to speak. No worries about being late for the interview. No worries about being in a room with other people making them feel like they are being drilled in a legal deposition. The interviewers are just little-bitty pictures on a computer screen. For shy people, this is a huge advantage.

4) Candidates can show off and send subliminal messages. We all know about “virtual backgrounds.” When I am on a Zoom call, some of the participants use them to show off their work. A photographer displays his photos. An architect displays her buildings. But if you have nothing to show that is work-related, if you use a virtual background, people (like me) will immediately think you have something to hide. Usually it it is a messy room. Employers don’t hire messy people.

This means that you can use a real background and display things that may lead to more in-depth conversations that otherwise would not have taken place. For example, I have had numerous veterans as career counseling clients. They had their medals/citations framed. They did not like to talk about them. I told them that modesty was the last quality a job candidate should reveal in a job interview. The compromise was that they hung their framed medals on the wall behind them when they were interviewing. Employers always asked about them and that always led to more in-depth discussions and, in many cases, job offers.

Of course not everyone is a war hero. I certainly am not! But I always do video calls from my home office which is a room lined with books. It is amazing how many people recognize books that they have also read and, as a result of finding that we have something in common, a relationship develops. In my case it may not be getting a job offer, but there’s no real difference between looking for a new employer and looking for a new client. Establish a personal rapport with an employer, and you are more than half way to a job offer.

What if you have nothing to display? Simple. Display a clean, well-organized room. That sends a very positive subliminal message.

To conclude, let’s consider some of the “musts” when it comes to video job interviewing:

Be early.

Make certain your computer is working properly.

Don’t sit too close to the computer. If you talk with your hands, your mannerisms are magnified and that can be a distraction. The same is true for facial quirks. We all have them. There is nothing you can do about them. So don’t obsess over them.

Practice. Use your computer’s video camera. Record yourself so you can see what you do well, what you want to avoid doing, and that the room looks the way you want it.

Make certain there is no bright light behind you. That will cause glare. And if you are sitting in front of windows that look out onto the street, close the blinds so you won’t be distracted.

You need to be dressed professionally, but it is silly to wear a suit and tie when interviewing for a job from home. It may be a nice touch, and the effort may be appreciated, but I doubt it will be held against you if you don’t. (Ladies, sorry, but I can’t think of the female equivalent of a suit and tie. You are on your own!)


Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS. He is an honors graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from where he received is doctorate in International Relations majoring in International Law.