by Rick Gillis
I was once interviewing a recruiter on a radio show, and he told me, "Tell your listeners to tell a story." He went on to say that when asked a question in the interview, yes/no answers don't serve the purpose of allowing the recruiter to get a feel for who you are in that very short period.
Personally, my take on this advice is to tell you to plan on actively promoting yourself for your entire working life, which is Storytelling for Career Success!
As a society, we are taught from a very early age to be humble -- not to brag on ourselves. But I'm here to tell you I don't stand by this view and, at least on a personal level, I wish someone had at brought this fixation on humility to my attention when I was starting out.
Put another way, every celebrity you are fond of has a public-relations firm engaged for the sole purpose of keeping its client in the public eye. Who do you have?
You have you. You are the one who must communicate your accomplishments to prospective employers.
Definition of an accomplishment: something done or achieved successfully.
To this definition of an accomplishment I would also add "something that you are proud of."
To be clear, you do not have to invent the iPhone to do wonderful things in your career. Just doing your job well for an extended period of time is an accomplishment. If you weren't accomplishing you would have been replaced!
To my job-search clients -- those employed as well as unemployed -- I promote creating an Accomplishments Inventory, a formal document that you will present at an interview and at any moment when your supervisor or your supervisor's boss asks what you have been up to. Were you to engage me in your job-search, the creation of this document is not negotiable. It's that important to your success in job search as well as on the job. (Here's a sample Accomplishments document.)
I have a personal friend, a senior manager in a global construction firm, who for 11 years has provided a monthly list to his immediate supervisor of the five things of significance he accomplished this month as well as the five things he plans on getting done next month. His boss always knows exactly what my buddy is doing and more importantly he recognizes his value to the organization.
Keeping your supervisor informed of your on-the-job performance is not the same as an annual review. This technique is letting him/her know that you came in Saturday for an extra five hours on your own time to complete a project due next week. There is nothing wrong with pointing out this type of commitment. (A casual email to your supervisor to discuss a point dated and time-stamped from your office on an off-day can often be enough to make the point.)
Storytelling for Career Success
To bring all of these points together, let me provide you with a real-world example of the value of the accomplishments document. (And to those on the job, I hope you will consider creating an accomplishments journal.)
I worked with an engineer who, after 12 years raising a family, decided she was ready to get back into the workforce.
We worked the process, which is not just to review old resumes and performance reports, but also to make personal contact with previous co-workers, supervisors, vendors, clients, and any other professionals she could think of and ask them either of these questions: What impact did I have on the organization when I was there?/What difference did I make when we worked together?
As a result of her efforts, she provided me a list of 18 tangible accomplishments that still stood the test of time 12 years after the fact. This longevity was important because she knew she would not be entering the field at the (current) knowledge level that she had left with, but we were nevertheless attempting to get her placed as high up the ladder as we could.
She not only created a single-sentence statement for each accomplishment (see sample), but I also had her write out the story behind each accomplishment -- the who, what, where, when, why, and how of each statement. My engineer then brought me 18 full pages with the story behind each accomplishment in great detail.
I glanced through the bunch and handed them back to her, whereupon she asked me, somewhat annoyed, if I was going to read them. I said no. We hadn't done all that work for me. We did it for her. She now had all the ammunition necessary to go into any interview situation and defend her value proposition as the person the company should hire. Admittedly she took several interviews, but after a few months she landed an exceptionally well-paying position for a company who was really in need of her (previous) top-ranked skills and was willing to take the time and provide the training to bring her up to speed. Three years later, she is now responsible for two teams of engineers working very high-level projects.
Final Thoughts on Promoting Yourself to Promote Yourself
What I would like you to take away from article this is that you must be able to express to your employer how you are providing value today, how you provided value to the company yesterday, three days ago, three weeks ago, three months ago, and last year at this time -- and then do it regularly. That value demonstration is tough to do, but not difficult if you have kept a weekly/monthly accounting of what has been keeping you busy. (By the way, this document will give you a heck of an advantage in your performance review.)
Your ability to tell the story of your value could be the difference between your being let go or retained during a next reduction in force.
I'll end with a question: Were you required to re-apply for your job monthly, what would you tell your boss that would make him or her want to keep you on board for another month? Consider Storytelling for Career Success.
For more information, see also these sections of Quintessential Careers:
- Career-Job-Work Accomplishments Resources for Enhancing Next Job Search, Promotion
- Career Storytelling Tools for Job-Seekers
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2014.