Applications / Interviews

Tell your career story…

At a recent event for a large investment bank, the MD speaking to the audience announced “a CV always tells a story … and you’d better be able to tell that story”.  In saying so, he got to the crux of the difference between a good candidate – who is able to provide a collection of facts about what they have done – and a great candidate – who’s able to say ‘this is my story’ and then use narrative to help make sense of who they are.

Stories are important.  Story-telling has been around since we crawled out of the caves.  They help people make sense of the world, learn, understand and connect to one another.   It’s no wonder scientists now think that we’re hard-wired to tell, and listen to, stories.

Employers want candidates a) with a good degree, b) who have participated fully in university life, c) who have work experience and d) who have reflected upon and can articulate their achievements.  It’s quite easy to spend a lot of time on a), b) and c) and to forget that the ability to tell your story in an engaging and convincing manner could be the clincher.

Not convinced?  Here are 5 reasons story-telling can be effective:

  • Stories elicit emotional responses – Connect with someone emotionally as well as rationally and you’re half way to persuading them.
  • We remember stories –  Dan and Chip Heath reveal story-telling as one of the key principles of making ideas stick in their book Made to Stick .  An employer is more likely to remember your story than your list of qualifications, however impressive they might be.  An added bonus is that you’re more likely to remember your stories too as you prepare for your interview.
  • Stories help connect audiences – It’s no longer ‘you’ and ‘them’, you can use stories to connect with people and show how you can become part of their team.
  • Stories are personal –It’s often difficult for employers to differentiate one candidate from the next.  Stories reveal your personality and make it more likely that a recruiter will remember who you are.
  • Stories are interesting  – People recruit interesting people!  A Marketing Manager for a retail company recently said to me “I get to sit with this person for up to 12 hours a day, I really want them to be interesting!”  Yes, recruiters want to employ graduates they think will do a good job, but they also really want to employ people they, and their team, will find interesting and can get on with.

So when, and how, can stories be told?  First let’s get one thing straight – we’re not talking about tall stories, porkies, or spinning a yarn.  Stories need to be authentic.  A CV tells a story but story-telling will really come into its own when you have a chance to talk with an employer.   There are some common elements to good story-telling so consider these the next time you’re asked to talk through your CV and experiences:

  • Stories have a beginning, middle and end – What if you don’t know the ending yet though?  This is your chance to show an employer how working for them becomes part of your happy ending!
  • Classic plot line – A classic plot line begins with a status quo.  An event triggers the start of something from which the protagonist embarks on a quest.  They are met with surprise events and make critical choices, the story reaching a climax and ending with the protagonist’s reversal of fortune.  How does your story fit with this plot line?  How do you describe the quest you’re on?
  • Twists and turns – No one ever commissions Hollywood films where the characters all get along fine and everything’s plain sailing – it’s boring!  Overcoming hardships is a major element in engaging stories so you don’t need to present yourself as being perfect at everything.   One of Pixar’s secrets of storytelling  is that you admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • Heroes and villains – There’s nothing more classic that the goodies versus the baddies.  So, what sort of hero are you and what adventure are you on?  But don’t forget, even heroes have sidekicks so remember to give credit to those who help you.

Story-telling doesn’t happen instantly.  Once you know the stories you want to tell about yourself remember to rehearse – an interview should never be your trial run.  Write out and speak out your stories.  Ask friends and family to listen and give feedback.  Has your story convinced them?  Have you convinced yourself?  Will you convince a recruiter?

Finally – if you’ve got a story to tell then please do get in touch and be our next blogger!

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