Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

The Story of YOU Part 2: Tutorial on Narratives that Work


Last time we discussed the basic principles behind engaging listeners with your story. Today we are going to get downright specific – I’m going to share specific instructions for creating narratives that work well to open doors for all types of job seekers. First, some general principles for developing your narrative.

Consider the audience for your narrative. Is it a general introduction at a roundtable discussion or conference? Is it a means of introduction to an organization, but not a specific role?

Or, is it for a specific job and your answer to the question, “Tell me about yourself.”

Let’s first get specific and tackle the narrative for a specific role/ your answer to “Tell me about yourself.”

  1. List your greatest accomplishments, ideally in a career context. This is for your eyes only. You want to try for at least 3 specific instances where you achieved something you’re still proud of today. Write full paragraphs explaining those achievements in 3 sections: The Challenge, Your Action, The Result. Practice telling your story in an engaging way, making sure you hit the key points. Leave out anything extraneous or boring to an audience; this should be storytelling at its best.

  2. If possible, review the job description.You are looking for specific qualifications you can speak to in your story to show you have the experience and know-how to succeed. If the job description doesn’t exist, make some assumptions and get ready to address them directly in your narrative when speaking with the employer.

  3. When telling your story, call out the most important job requirements first, then share what you did that makes you qualified, specifically. You might say: “I know this job requires advanced crisis management skills. I’d like to tell you about a situation we had in my last job and my role in mitigating risk for the company.”

  4. Know where to begin your narrative. You want to emphasize the experience you’ve had specific to the role. That may mean going back several years in your experience to begin your story. Wherever you decide to begin, tell the interviewer what you’re going to tell them first, so you manage expectations. For example, you might start your narrative like this: “Thank you so much for having me today. I’m very excited about this job, since it calls upon skills I’m using in my current job as a content developer, but also my background as an anthropologist. I’d like to start by telling you why I began my career in anthropology and how each subsequent step led me to interview for the role we’re discussing today.”

  5. Be articulate, engaging and brief. This is not your life story – it is a carefully curated jaunt through the parts of your professional life that relate directly to this particular role, and that demonstrate how you would succeed. If you can be relaxed and even a bit amusing, even better. Just be careful with humor – if it’s not your natural thing, don’t attempt it here. You should be able to tell a good story without being funny; it’s more important to be convincing.

Next time I’ll share several examples of narratives that have helped clients get jobs – both those launching their careers and mid-career executives changing careers.