Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to Tell a Compelling Career Story

Everyone LOVES a good story, especially people who interview you. This tip is for all job-seekers out there who feel, shall we say, inadequate at telling stories.  Let’s face it: great storytellers are few and far between. We know when someone’s telling a compelling story, right?  It’s snappy, attention grabbing, relatable, and maybe even funny. So, quickly, I’d like you to assess your storytelling competencies right now: great? so-so? awful? (Full disclosure: I’m an awful storyteller).
Last month, however, a string of bizzare events happened to me on the way to the Rose Bowl that helped me tell funny and compelling stories: missing luggage, acute bronchitis, stolen purse, and two very serious TSA agents, to name a few.  I was able to tell a story about each incident with clarity, swiftness, and humor. I kind of amazed myself!

I got to thinking: if I can tell stories about myself so effortlessly, what’s the secret? When I thought about  the specific parts to my stories, I had an "a-ha" moment. I recognized that they are the very same elements I use to teach and coach job-seekers.

Why do you need a few (3-5) compelling career stories? Career stories, or short compelling messages about your strengths or accomplishments, are essential in order to grab your interviewer’s attention. Storytelling is an art, but like art, it can be taught and appreciated. It also must be practiced. There are several acronym- formulas career coaches like to teach so that you’ll remember the primary parts to a good story, but essentially, it’s nothing different from telling your friend about your stolen handbag using the acronym S.T.A.R.

Situation: 18 year old meth addict steals my purse at an outdoor café in Palm Springs, CA
Tasks:  Call police; run after him; get others to assist
Action taken: Found serial number of purse; contacted detectives; contacted credit card companies, and home state’s driver’s license bureau; replaced phone; replaced purse
Results/Lessons Learned: Fully compensated for loss through insurance company; always have two pieces of a photo ID packed; don’t be intimidated by a stern TSA agent who thinks you might be a terrorist

Even if you believe your storytelling skills are sub-par, believe me, if I can do it, so can you. I managed to tell my stories quickly, with humor, and best of all, it held my family/friends’ attention. They, in turn, told other people, and soon many more people knew.  A story is meant to be shared, and interviewers who hear your compelling career story will remember it long after you've left.

So, starting with just one short career story.  It could be about how you were able to manage 20 legal offices across the country single-handedly; how you saved your organization $4 million; how you effortlessly coordinated attorney schedules and invoices; graduated with high honors and working full time; or something else strength or accomplishment based. It also helps if you can quantify (#s, $s, for example).  Practice by telling it out loud so you’ll sound natural and genuine. Once you develop one, you'll be able to write several more.

Interviewers will value your ability to tell stories. Stories make you human and relatable.  Career stories also help the interviewer get to know your personality so they can better assess your "fit" within the organization.