I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. Certainly, the wave of women from all walk of life all around the world who have shared their #metoo stories has been one factor. I saw a recent Tweet from Hillary Clinton in which she notes “Storytelling is at the heart of every cultural & political revolution” in relation to an upcoming @WomenintheWorld event. In an on-line article in The Ladders entitled “6 reasons recruiters say they'll throw your resume in the trash,” the author cites one of those reasons as “It doesn’t tell a story,” noting that if a recruiter looks at your resume and can’t tell what your career “story” is and where you’re hoping to go, that could lead to a “no.”
A new colleague, Avil Beckford, is a master in the story-telling department. She calls herself an “invisible mentor” and on her website (http://theinvisiblementor.com) she notes “I want to preserve stories so others learn from them and are inspired.” Her organizational clients hire her to interview their clients so she can craft what she hears into success stories the company can use as a marketing tool. Brilliant! She also interviews departing staff, so undocumented corporate knowledge does not leave with them. Avil understands the power of story in business, but what about the personal level?
I’ve been touting the value of stories in the career management process for a long time. From the creation of an accomplishments-based resume and a robust Linkedin to the value proposition you share in cover letters, job interviews and networking meetings, the key to career success is story. One of the first assignments I gave new clients is the creation of what I call SOARS stories. SOARS is an acronym for the Situations you’ve dealt with at work, the Obstacles and Opportunities those situations presented for you and the organization, the Actions you took to solve the problem or capitalize on the opportunity and the quantified Results you achieved. The final “S” is for the Skills you used to accomplish each.
As I explain to clients, creating these stories serves multiple purposes. For career planning, they help you identify your "towering strengths," i.e., those Skills that you use consistently. I worked with one client recently who was having trouble making the leap from individual contributor to management. After writing up several stories that clearly identified her skilled leadership as they way she had accomplished each, she had the confidence to put leadership in her resume Profile as claim of expertise she could backup with examples. This helped her expand the levels she was targeting, and eventually she landed a managerial job because of her proven skills in leadership.
Concrete examples with quantified results are also important in changing the focus of your resume from describing what you've done to proving what you can do. They also serve as examples you can use to match your qualifications to stated requirements when responding to job postings. I had a client with a Marketing degree who had started off in Sales; with most of his successive job titles and responsibilities emphasizing the sales side of his roles. As a result, he was “typecast” as a sales guy. With a number of stories about marketing successes, we were able to shift the focus of his résumé from “Sales & Marketing” to “Marketing with a foundation in Sales.” As a result, he was seen differently by the marketplace, and landed a marketing job soon afterward.
Stories can also help with networking by clarifying your "brand," i.e., what you want to do next and why-both in terms of qualifications and preferences. A client who had targeted the cosmetics industry discovered that despite her skills, she was not a great match for what can be a ruthless “Devil Wears Prada” world. Her stories about the accomplishments she had most enjoyed helped a networking contact point out that she was better suited to a less cut-throat environment. As a result, she shifted her focus to the related personal care products industry and found a welcome home that was a much better “fit.”
One of the complaints I hear from HR professionals and recruiters is that candidates flounder in behavioural interviews because they don’t have stories they can use as examples. If you can demonstrate not only what you have accomplished, but also how and the importance/impact of your achievements, you will have a leg up on the competition. One of our clients not only had to interview with a panel of senior decision makers, he had to make a formal presentation to demonstrate both content knowledge and an ability to connect with the leadership team. We helped him build a slide deck that included concrete examples with metrics and was impeccably crafted. Not only did he get the job, he was told they wanted him to be their “Chief PowerPoint Officer” for his ability to convey his message.
What’s your story? Do you have a clear way of explaining who you are and what you’re good for? How about a concise work history with examples that show the value you created in each role and how that propelled you to the next level or job? What about an explanation of your search goals and your reason for being in the market? All the “typical” questions you can expect to be asked in a job search can be answered by good stories. After all, we are a species of storytellers, and while someone might not remember your name or your resume, everyone remembers a good story. Unconvinced? Take a look back over this article and ask yourself how much credence you’d give my “advice” had I not backed it up with stories of real clients and their successes?
You are the only one who has lived your life and you are the one who can chart your course for the future. Take the time to craft your stories and learn to tell them well; it’s the best career insurance you can have.