How do I meet people when I don't know anyone?
Multiple Networking Personality Syndrome

What is your story? Developing an authentic and compelling story to advance your career

Your story is the truth, wrapped with your hard work and passion, guided by your dreams, that helps people understand who you are where you are going.


Your story is so much better than you think. The crazy way our lives evolve, the experiences we have encountered, the things we have learned, our achievements, our failings, our dreams--are unique, intriguing and much more interesting than we acknowledge. In fact we tend to conclude that our stories, our lives, are pretty much the same as other people's--translation--AVERAGE and BORING.  I constantly hear this from young and old, new graduates and PhDs, sr execs and mid-level managers. The result is we don't tell our own stories at all or well. This is more than tooting your horn without blowing it. Really this is about pride in who you are, how you got to this wonderful or challenging chapter in your life. As a friend of mine says, "It is what it is." Necessity is a virtue!Tell your story and tell it well.

It ain't brag if you done it. Walt Whitman

As the interviewer, I usually say, "tell me the (your name) story." It is my version of tell me something about yourself. This is where most people do something really dumb they begin reciting their resume or look like the question is about astro physics. They think this is an innocuous question, but it is the easiest sounding hardest question of all. 
Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
  • Give you confidence through self knowledge and awareness
  • Bring humanity to your resume  
  • Make you memorable 
  • Set you apart  
By understanding your story you will be able to talk about the themes, values, and goals that weave together your life so far. When you reflect and remember, the reasons why your life and your career have evolved are clearly understood. Your answer to the question, "Tell me about yourself." Is not a spur of the moment or robotic response--it is your personal and compelling story. 
Here are the basic steps you should take to write and tell your story:
  1. Take a comprehensive inventory of the chapters of your life---Chronological may be easiest. Major events, memories, and turning points that began in your childhood. Times you recall that shaped who you are. Make notes about your feelings, expectations, your frustrations. Each of these chapters may contain multiple stories. Of course, list your jobs/positions, your volunteer gigs and what you learned, accomplished, and experienced. These stories need to have vivid dimensions so people will experience that moment with you. A young lady I work with, described the lessons she learned doing insect research standing in cranberry bogs.  When I heard her say this my mind immediately formed a picture and that significantly enhanced our conversation. It may have been a moment with your mom on the porch, or a trip you took to a far away place, or what a boss or mentor told you. Aha moments that reveal you and that revealed clues to your journey/path. They do not have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. I use a simple excel spreadsheet and start listing things under a time period or a job. Not complete sentences, but attributes and lessons that trigger that story.
  2. What are the themes that emerge from the inventory?---Are you an educator/teacher, a leader, an entrepreneur, a risk taker? Has technology, metrics, research, and/or presentations been your competency? What emerges as your passion(s)-- mentoring your subordinates, pro-bono work, helping a specific type of client, advancing knowledge in your field? What gives you joy?
  3. What defines your career path?--- How did you choose the opportunities and who helped you? What motivated you then and now? Have your motivations been consistent or evolving? Are you someone who likes new projects? Or executes the details of someone else's vision? The SAR method of discussing a situation, action, and response is a great structure to tell your stories. 
  4. Practice Practice Practice---What begins to emerge is your story and an inventory of other stories. Now you have to begin using your story---saying it out loud, ideally to others. You can recite it into a tape recorder or tell it to a confidante for feedback. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, "Tell me about yourself." 
Storytelling for a job interview
Specifically applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Interviews, if you are lucky to get one, get right to the point now. They are competency and behavioral in the questions. Yes, they are also looking for fit with the team and the culture of the employer. But does the candidate have what we need in skills, knowledge and abilities and can he/she apply them is the focus.  
Joe Turner in his article about interview stories recommends you use these questions to shape your story inventory: 
  • Examples of when you either made money or saved money for your current or previous employer.
  • A crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it.
  • A time where you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  • A time in your career or job where you had to overcome stress.
  • A time in your job where you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  • A failure that occurred in your job and how you overcame it.
  • Any seminal events that happened during your career to cause you to change direction and how that worked out for you.
You now have a work in progress story about you and a growing list of other supporting stories. Lining up the stories that apply to the employer and the specific position is critical. You know about the job duties and required qualifications, you have networked to learn more about the culture and environment, you have networked further to get an internal recommendation to insure you get a look and hopefully an interview. Put yourself in the interviewers shoes and pose the questions you would ask the candidate and align your stories. Which ones are relevant to this opportunity? Especially revealing to employers are personal stories about how you handled change, made choices under pressure and lessons learned from mistakes and failures.
For the more confident and sophisticated, you will have stories about different aspects of management that reveal your skillset. For example having a stories about strategic plans, financial models, HR, marketing, change management, dispute resolution etc will be extremely helpful for follow-up questions and when you have committee interviews. To be able to relate how you worked with the various types of departments represented in the room of interviewers can be very persuasive. 
There are a lot of resources out there for you. Here is a comprehensive online resource that will give you much more help and guidance on how storytelling propels careers. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself. Hah! Learning and appreciating your story is a pre-requisite to to any interview process. You can not always rely on your improv skills or "thinking on your feet". You can anticipate the questions and you can have the stories at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability. As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of randomness and serendipity. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes more clear when you understand where you have been. 
We need your story. Tell it!
Thanks for reading. John