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How telling stories about your failures can bring you success

By Rob Starr, Content Manager

Scott C. Hammond, PhD is a Clinical Professor of Management in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. He’s a noted expert in the field of behavior based interviewing and he narrowed the subject down to points everyone can relate to when we talked with him recently.

“Essentially, it’s getting the people being interviewed to tell a story,” he said adding the training sessions have the interviewers decide what kinds of stories will highlight the desired character traits in the applicants they are interviewing.

He goes on to give examples of helping a customer, dealing with a difficult boss, or even making a deadline as templates interviewers use as starting points when they ask for these narratives.

Completing The Loop   

Hammond says while this technique is widely used, he sees at least one shortcoming.

“I’ve always argued stories and experiences that support a particular trait don’t complete the

Scott Hammond

Scott Hammond

loop. It’s not that someone has a had a bad experience with a customer or even that they were able to resolve that experience, but what you really need to look for is how they learned.”

According to Hammond, people all have the propensity to try and make themselves look as good as possible in these interview based stories. He purports there’s more to be gained from an answer where the applicant actually failed in the task at hand.

“In every interview, we always make ourselves the hero of our own story,” he says. “I think you’re almost better finding someone who says: ‘I’ll tell you about the time I really blew it with a customer and what I’ve learned.’”

This kind of honesty also highlights the interviewees learning process and how willing they are to undertake it and, perhaps most importantly, how willing they are to submit themselves to reflexive scrutiny. Hammond says this represents a necessary step beyond behavior based interviewing.

Angel’s View

He also notes success comes from seeing yourself on two different levels, one answering the questions and the other scrutinizing from a detached “angel’s view” where you can gauge your effectiveness. We also talked about how painting yourself in only a positive light where you’re able to resolve everything can actually make an interviewer suspicious.

“People don’t generally pick up on a lie,” Hammond says. “What they do is start feeling uncomfortable and if you’re sitting in that interview for thirty minutes or so feeling that way, you’re not going to rate that candidate very well.”

Along with being factually honest, Hammond coaches his students to practice their stories in the short and long form and all the points therein.

He makes a final point:

“Interviewers will forget self-aggrandizement, but if you embed positive underlying messages in a story that’s not just an argument about why you should be hired, you’ll be remembered,” he says. Hammond’s book,   Lessons of the Lost: Finding Hope and Resilience in Work, Life, and the Wilderness  is available at





















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