How to tell your ‘career story’ in a way that lands you a new job
If you’re looking for a new job this year, you’ll greatly improve your chances if you craft a narrative that tells your story clearly, honestly, and convincingly.
A powerful story will inspire those you communicate with on your way to landing that dream job. It will help you succeed in your elevator pitches, networking conversations, résumé, cover letter, interviews, and in your thank-you letters.
While its form and length may vary, this narrative will be the script you deliver to your friends, influencers, recruiters, and hiring managers.
1. Decide on your story line
Imagine that you’re a screenwriter, or anyone who creates a compelling story. A screenwriter understands the arc of a story—and so must you. Creating your narrative involves knowing yourself and being able to articulate an overall story about yourself, including where you are coming from, what you’re seeking, why you feel ready to take on a new role, what kind of company are you looking for, and what value you can add to the hiring company.
Each conversation you have—each networking meeting, each interview, each answer you give—should be shaped by this story. This narrative may be a straight line, or it may include some pivoting or zigzagging. Figure out its trajectory and write down a summary of it.
2. Develop your character
Your role as a storyteller is to portray yourself as a winning candidate, so think about the qualities you want to project.
Being authentic is most important. One senior recruiter told me, “I get turned off when candidates tell me things they think I want to hear. They might say, ‘I’m goal-driven,’ but I want to know what makes them goal-driven. I want to find out about them personally. When I do meet with a genuine person who speaks from the heart, they get my attention more than 100 résumés do.”
So figure out what your true and best qualities are. Enthusiasm ranks very high on the list, as well as passion, confidence, resilience, humility, empathy, and respectfulness.
Also show you learn from each experience, and get results. As Google’s Global Head of Recruiting, Brendan Castle, advises: “The number one thing you want to be thinking about is to tell your story—not just your work experience, but also what you’ve learned and the accomplishments you’re most proud of.”
3. Have a message
You’ve created the arc of your story and developed the main character. Now it’s time to decide on your overarching message.
A strong and consistent message about yourself will energize every one of your conversations. The encounters you’ll have on your job journey should not be viewed as one-off events. You’ll succeed only when all those meetings reflect the unity and coherence of your message.
A unifying message might sound like this: “I have a passion for marketing, and through a series of increasingly senior positions, I have grown market share and will do so in your firm.” Or, “I have successfully led software teams and am looking to build on this success with a position of broader scope.”
The scripts you deliver will be shaped by that larger message—and at the same time, each one should be targeted for that specific encounter.
4. Structure your scripts
Now that you have your larger message, you’re ready to write your scripts for each encounter. Think of each episode in your job journey as a scene in a multi-act drama. To be dynamic and compelling, you’ll want the scripts you deliver throughout your journey to be well structured.
For each occasion, design a script that has four parts:
- An opening or grabber
- Your message
- Reasons that support your message
- Engagement or a call to action
Suppose you are approaching a networking contact within your company, as you are hoping to move up the ladder. Your pitch should begin with your grabber: “Thank you for meeting with me.” Then move to your message: “I am applying for a position in our firm’s marketing department, and would love to have a reference from you.”
Now give the reasons to support your main idea. “I’ve been with this company for seven years, and most recently led our high-performance sales team. So I’m well-versed in our product lines, our customers, and our markets. I know you are highly regarded in this firm, and your endorsement would mean a lot.” End with a call to action: “I’d be grateful if you would provide this reference.”
This four-part structure (grabber, message, reasons, engagement) can be used for every conversation in your job hunt. It can also be used for each question you answer in interviews. It will enable you to come across as a well-prepared candidate with clearly defined goals.
5. Learn your lines
Finally, internalize each script, so you deliver your lines with clarity.
Make sure you have a script you feel excited about. Once you’re fully invested in it, learn it. Find a quiet place and mentally review the script. Focus on the structural components. Deliver it to yourself until you can do so without looking at the paper.
Practicing quietly is excellent, but for the most important meetings, it’s best to rehearse out loud. Practice delivering in front of a coach, friend, or family member. Or record yourself with your phone video camera or computer, so you can review your delivery and analyze it. Do all this and you’ll deliver your lines with confidence, passion, and inspirational power.