Wednesday, October 16, 2013

the importance of a narrative in an interview

Originally published:

The Importance of a Narrative in an Interview

By on October 16, 2013 11:38 am
Law Career Services
2013 Travis Wise HeadshotI interviewed hundreds of job candidates when I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating from law school at Santa Clara University.  On campus interviews were particularly challenging, as there would be as many as ten interviews, back to back. By the end of the day, I had forgotten the details of the morning’s interviews, apart from whatever notes I had scribbled on the resumes in between the interviews.
What I always remembered though were the narratives that some candidates told. The narrative arc usually started with the candidate’s childhood or high school experience, what led them to pick their major in college, how that major led to an initial non-professional job, why that prompted them to go to law school, and then how their law school classes and internships made them the perfect candidate for the job for which they were interviewing.  The narratives made an otherwise forgettable interview very memorable, and enabled me to easily go back to the Firm and tell the partners and recruiters why this particular candidate was perfect for a position.
I do not remember most of the people I have interviewed. But I will always remember the roofing contractor who found so much enjoyment from the business aspect of his work that he decided to go to law school and now wanted to practice tax law; or the child who admired his dad’s job as an accountant so much that he had a tiny desk, miniature briefcase, and notepad set up in his dad’s home office, and later went to law school to be a tax lawyer. Actually, that was my narrative.
As you prepare for interviews, consider what your narrative is that has shaped your career and education thus-far, and makes you the ideal candidate for the job for which you are interviewing. String together your life experiences, college classes, law school electives, internships, and anything else relevant in your life, and explain how these are tied together to lead you to the position for which you are interviewing. By telling your narrative to the interviewer, you will verbally encompass the important elements of your resume, without the pain of reciting what is already written on the paper in your interviewer’s hands.
The corollary, as you decide what classes to take, what internships to pursue, and what extracurricular activities to engage in, is to evaluate those opportunities in terms of your narrative: Will being in a leadership position in a certain law school organization fit well into your narrative? How does some element of an internship that perhaps was not your first choice actually work in your favor? Often the unexpected makes our experiences more interesting, and compelling.

Travis Wise (’00) was Director of International Tax Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and is now International Tax Counsel for Google.  He can be contacted at