We see advice about having a good career story all over social media nowadays…but not everyone knows what that means. So I figured I’d give you an example of a career story from my own work life that I hope will help you in turn create your own career story!
But first as promised…what is a career story? Basically, it’s a story you use to weave together the pieces of different jobs or career moves so that, rather than looking flaky or blown about randomly by winds of career fate, it looks like you either (a) had a plan to begin with and took advantage of things – even if they seemed like diversions – to get to where you wanted to be; or (b) cleverly saw opportunities to move into even more exciting and challenging things but still unified by some common goal or vision.
Career stories can be used during interviews or when looking for career allies (as in informational interviews) while undertaking career change or simply looking for a new job. They are especially useful if things in your career history don’t obviously tie together well and may leave the other person wondering what’s below the surface. A good story can engage the person in your vision and help satisfy their questions – and also help keep them from even wandering through those other thoughts.
A sample career story from my own life
Here’s a great example of a career story from my past that even surprised me! And the funny thing is…the career story was NOT something I figured out all by myself – it was mostly pieced together by my former boss (a brilliant environmentalist and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner).
The wrong way to tell the story: I graduated with an MBA in Finance and a minor in economics. I was trained in corporate lending, but found it boring. I tried a few other things including marketing finance, secondary mortgage brokerage, some IT-related work, but wasn’t crazy about any of them. I even did some short-term consulting work (a future career in the making ) to help me get by while trying to figure out what I really wanted.
I took on each new job with hope and did my best with results I could talk about when it came time to market myself again (interviews are not the time to focus on dull moments)…but for the most part I just wasn’t all that thrilled with the day-to-day of my jobs. Not that there weren’t plenty of interesting moments and even occasionally fun projects – plus I got to add to my bag of skills. And in between I got to do some acting (my undergrad degree) and taught a coaching class (the first inkling of another future pursuit). I definitely had interesting things to talk about in interviews..but no apparent cohesive story – although somehow I always found a way to tell it to get to my next job. Still…NOT a recruiter’s dream resume!
Then I saw the ad in a non-profit library. The MacArthur Fellow had created a major new project for his well-known environmental organization and needed someone strong to help him start an “environmental mortgage” demonstration product in 3 cities. I was excited by the possibility of doing something this cool that I also really believed in. And so, while I knew they normally hire Ivy Leaguers and/or 4.0 types (I’m neither of those), I applied anyway.
The picture speaks louder than the simple facts
The job requirements were so unusual, it was hard finding someone who could do each aspect well. But when this man saw my atypical resume and read my cover – I did of course do my best to explain all the ways my background matched the job he had – rather than throwing my resume into the waste basket because it had no clear career path, he saw the picture of a bright, multi-faceted woman who knew how to make things happen, loved start-up situations, and who had exactly the skills he was looking for. (Wouldn’t it be great if all resume screeners could think that way?)
He also saw someone with lending experience who could talk to bankers (not his forté); a person who could present things in public and speak at conferences; a person who understood the mathematics of the new product; someone who understood the secondary mortgage market (very important as we’ve come to learn lately); a project manager; a person who understood IT (it included a software component); and someone unafraid to start something new and put their all into making it work. For him, an ideal fit – and story. And after I turned him down TWICE (I was unsure about moving cross-country), he told the story so well TO ME, I finally took the job! (A whole other story.)
After that, I learned that if you can show why all the pieces (transferable skills) fit well into the new direction and tell it in an engaging way that shows the logic of each move – and the desirable qualities behind those moves like strength, creativity, vision, determination, ability to recognize opportunity, etc. – your career story can go a long way. And if pieced together and told well, it can also help replace any alternative story that might translate into “job hopper” “undirected” or simply “bad risk”.
How you tell your career story – and your own sincere belief in that story – can make all the difference. And interestingly enough, the most powerful career stories are not about bending the truth…they are about how you weave your strongest and most colorful threads together!
Ever wonder when a career starts and ends?
NOTE: I added this article to the Work Coach Cafe Career Dictionary, which is part dictionary and part whatever I feel like saying when I write it. If you want to suggest changes to this or any other definition in our career dictionary, please feel free to add your suggestions in a comment.