Who else has fond memories of curling up in bed at night with Mom or Dad sitting next to you with a book in their hand? Story time!
What would the story be tonight? Something about a superhero saving the day? A mystery? A tragedy? A comedy? It could be anything and your little mind would wander to the far off, enchanted land, being painted with with words. No matter the genre or theme, almost all stories have a lesson placed in it somewhere that you'll remember.
Don't be tempted or lead astray like Pinocchio. Judge a person by their character instead of their appearance, like Belle. Have some adventure in your life, like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Always be prepared and get your work done first, like the Third Little Pig. Stand up and do the right thing, like Katniss Everdine. Use your powers for good, like Harry Potter. See what I'm saying? Stories are effective. Stories are what got thousands and later millions of people to follow the teachings of Jesus. His parables are still timeless classics that make you think and then live a better life.
I'm hearing some of you saying, "What are you talking about Brian? How do stories having anything to do with careers?"
There are two reasons stories are so important to your career. First, ever since man and woman started walking around on earth, we've been telling stories to each other. Secondly, we are, by nature, visual creatures. This is why, when you network, write your cover letter, or interview for a job, you should use the power of stories. If you're effective in using stories, you can actually get the other person to whom you're telling your story, to visualize you in the role for which they are hiring. So today, we're going to briefly talk about how to use the power of stories to your advantage so you can advance your career.
All great story tellers get a bout of mental block. They can't come up with something to say. When thinking about what story you can tell, does your brain clam up? If you don't know what you want to tell people about yourself, here are a few suggestions that are universally interesting.
Your "Why Story": People want to know what motivates you to do what you do. This information gives them insight into what type of work you are suited for and if this matches what they have available at the moment. Not sure what I'm talking about? Well, answer a few of these questions and you should start getting the idea.
Why are doing what you're doing or pursuing what you are pursuing? What's your reason for getting into the career field you've decided? Was it because of turning point in your life? Was it due to a tragedy you experienced that you wanted to help others avoid? Did you meet someone who inspired you? Did you struggle for a while and then discovered your calling by chance?
What was it? Talk about it! We want to know!
Your "Achievement Story": First of all, you need to get over your humility. No one likes someone who brags constantly, but we equally avoid the person who doesn't have a positive impression about themselves and what they've accomplished. Too many of us fear that others are going think we are "full of ourselves." Don't be one of those people. You want to know what I think of someone who talks about the awesome things they've done? I think they are a winner. I think they have their stuff together and can do good things working with me.
So if you did some really good work, talk about it! You made the effort. It wasn't all due to luck or timing that things worked out for you. You did it. Be proud and loud. Shed the "aw shucks, it wasn't a big deal" mentality, because that sort of thinking takes you nowhere fast.
Start by listing all the achievements you've had over the years. Then, start putting together the story behind each of them. You'll be amazed at how much you've actually done, you'll feel good about yourself, and suddenly you feel way more confident in your abilities. And you know what? Others will be more confident in you, too.
Your "Overcoming the Odds Story": Everyone likes a good underdog story. Who are you rooting for in the NCAA basketball tournament when a game is close: the #15 seeded team or the #1 seed? Unless the #1 seeded team is your alma mater or from your city or state, I'd bet that you naturally cheer on the little guy who isn't supposed to win. Am I right?
Watch the movie, Rudy. I dare you not to be choked up when the undersized built Notre Dame walk-on football player with a heart of gold comes out on the field to chants of "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" It's impossible. We can all relate to Rudy because we've all had times in our career or life, when we or someone else around us had doubts we would succeed at something. This is the kind of story worth retelling.
Maybe you are petrified of public speaking, but you had to get up in front of an audience to deliver a presentation. You learned how to control your emotions, get over the initial fear, and delivered much better than you thought you ever could.
Maybe you were given a seemingly impossible goal, but through your effort, exceeded expectations.
For those recent graduates who are just starting in their career, you could talk about how you turned things around in a class after you blew it on your first exam. You buckled down, took things more seriously, and stopped playing around. By sheer will, you got your grade to move from a D to an A.
Employers gobble this stuff up.
Factors to a Good Story
If your goal is to get another person intrigued with you enough that they want to know more, there are a few key things that your story needs.
Positive: Do your absolute best to stay positive and uplifting. Even if your story has some sad parts, do not linger on them. If you do, that's what the reader/listener will dwell on and associate you with. Additionally, if you go on about the negative for too long, it starts feeling self-indulgent. Instead, if discussing negative elements of your story is required for it to make sense, mention them quickly and don't be overly explicit about the details. Then move to the positive part of your story and stay there.
Why, you ask? Because the mind can only store so many things at once. To avoid seeming like a negative person (someone they want to avoid), overfill their mental space with things they can associate you with that are positive. Even though the facts of your story remain the same, their impression of you will be better. They will naturally like you more and want to spend more time getting to know you.
This is precisely why we say never go on and on about how hard your job search has been when you're networking or interviewing. If all you are exuding is a negative vibe, your audience will want to escape as quickly as possible. No one wants to hang around a "downer" for too long. Don't be a downer!
Characters and Context: No good story is void of characters or circumstances. Who would want to read just about Snow White, without the Seven Dwarfs? Would Cinderella really be as good of a story if you didn't know about her treatment by her step-mother and step-sisters? Without context and characters - when it's just narration - the story feels stale and forced. It's unmemorable.
Whatever examples you use from your previous life or work experience include some details about the people around you and what was leading up to the situation. Talk about what happened, who was involved, the feelings and emotions you and others had, people's actions and reactions, and the results. This makes your story more vivid and visual. The more a person visualizes, the more memorable the story is for the person on the other end of the storytelling. The more memorable your story is, the more memorable you become. You stand out.
Consistent with Your Personal Brand: What do you want to be known for? Are you a hard-worker? Dedicated? Resilient? Smart? Creative? A masterful negotiator? Sales genius? Marketing wunderkind?
Whatever it is, every story should incorporate your brand. The story you use should be an example of your brand in use in the real world. If you're thinking of a story that runs counter to how you want to portray yourself, reconsider using it or think about another way to tell it where there is no contradiction.
Consistency, while not always important in reality, is extremely important to how people view you - or, at least, how you think people will view you. It's why, when you tell a sales person something about yourself or your needs and they use this fact when asking you for the buy, you're more inclined to accept. You don't want to seem inconsistent (or worse, gasp, a hypocrite). Similarly, others want to see you as a consistent person. Do your very best to live up to those expectations through the stories you use.
When and How to Tell Your Story
Now that we understand the what, it's time to briefly talk about the when and how. When can I use my stories and how can I bring them up?
Fortunately, you have several chances to make your personal story known to employers.
When You're Networking or Having a Conversation: Whenever you meet someone and they ask about you and what you do, be ready with your story. For instance, you could incorporate your "why story" into your elevator pitch so it doesn't just describe what you do, but also why you do it.
If you've done this well and they continue showing interest, continue the conversation, ask them questions, share stories, and discover common areas of interest. This is the foundation of building a good connection. If they feel like they understand you and your motivations, they will feel closer to you and are more likely to want to help you discover opportunities.
When You Write Your Cover Letter: I've read thousands of cover letters over the years and very few of them ever had a story. The vast majority of them were simply a copy of their resume in paragraph form. These were missed opportunities.
They could have given me personal insights into what makes them tick and where they've been the most successful, the skills they've acquired, the life lessons they've learned from their mistakes, and the trajectory of their career and how each step has lead them to my opportunity. Instead, they just talk about being interested in the job, the titles they've held, and the tasks they've done. It read like they were writing this only because they felt like they had to. They didn't express their excitement about themselves or my opportunity. What a waste of paper!
When You are Being Interviewed: After you feel like you understand the position and what's needed for the job by reading the job description and talking with others either in the same company, industry, or job field, you want to have a story for each key point where you have good experience. Don't try to cover them all. But make sure you have thought of some good stories that fit the theme of the job your interviewing for.
You're bound to get some behavior-based interview questions thrown into the mix. So it's good to have a compilation of stories ahead of time that you can use to demonstrate you've been there and done that. You are ready.
Just make sure that you are following the rules outlined earlier about factors that go into a good story. Otherwise, whatever good impression you could have made is squandered.
So What IS Your Story?
At the end of the day, the stories you choose to tell and how you decide to tell them are what's going to set you apart from others during your search. Are you ready to tell your story?
About RockIt Career Consultation Services
At RockIt Career Consultation Services, our mission is to help you discover your true strengths and use these strengths to set your course to something more rewarding and exciting in your career.
We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.
We'd love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!