Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers
Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers focuses on a powerful use of storytelling -- telling stories to advance your career, whether by moving up in your current organization or landing a job in a new organization. The title comes from the most commonly asked question (which isn't even a question but a request) in job interviews, "Tell me about yourself." Composing stories to reveal your personal and professional self in response to that "question" is just one way to use storytelling to propel your career. This book reveals many others.
Title Page & Credits. Read Title Page now.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? Learn why storytelling can be an incredibly powerful tool in your job search. Read the Introduction now.
Part I: Career-Propelling Story Basics
- Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change. The ability to tell stories that depict how well you handle change is key in the job search. Learn why in this chapter. Read Chapter 1 now.
- Chapter 2: The Quintessential You Story. The basic building block for storytelling in the job search is the story of you. Learn how to develop your story in this chapter. Read Chapter 2 now.
- Chapter 3: How to Develop Career-Propelling Stories. This chapter focuses on formulas and techniques for building on the Quintessential You story and telling many stories that can ignite your job search. Read Chapter 3 now.
Part II: Storytelling Media in the Job Search
- Chapter 4: Networking as Storytelling. Learn how to use storytelling when you network with helpful contacts. Read Chapter 4 now.
- Chapter 5: Resumes that Tell a Story Learn to incorporate story techniques in your resume. Read Chapter 5 now.
- Chapter 6: Cover Letters that Tell a Story. Use essential narrative tools to open a window into your personality in your cover letter. Read Chapter 6 now.
- Chapter 7: Portfolios that Tell a Story. Integrate storytelling into presenting your career portfolio to employers. Read Chapter 7 now.
- Chapter 8: Interviews that Tell a Story. Make the most of this key opportunity to give examples, anecdotes, and stories of accomplishment. Read Chapter 8 now.
- Chapter 9: Personal Branding as Storytelling. Dscover how you can distinguish yourself by using stories to depict yourself as a brand. Read Chapter 9 now.
Part III: Continuous Career Storytelling
- Chapter 10: Propel Your Career Through On-the-job Storytelling. Capitalize on opportunities to advance yourself through storytelling throughout your career. Read Chapter 10 now.
- Epilogue. Now take everything you've learned from this book to let your story unfold and propel your career. Read the Epilogue now.
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Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers - Title Page
A Quintessential Guide
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Quintessential Careers Press
a division of Quintessential Careers
DeLand, FL 32720
Copyright © 2008 by Quintessential Careers
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. No liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained in this book.
Produced in the United States of America
Publisher: Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Creative Director: Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? - Page 1
Once upon a time, a job-seeker underwent a frustrating series of interviews over a five-month period with no job offer. Then the discouraged young man read a book that suggested composing personal stories. Doing so, the job-seeker found, provided him with better interview preparation than any coaching he had ever experienced. Using stories he hadn't remembered before he read the book, he said, made him more confident, convincing, and persuasive in his interviews. Stories enabled him to present himself in a personable and powerful way to his interviewers. He again used stories during the next round of interviews. The tale ends happily with his hiring in an executive position that represented a major advance in his career. The job-seeker is a real person who posted a review on Amazon.com of Annette Simmons's 2001 book, The Story Factor (revised edition published in 2006).
Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers extends the ideas of Simmons and other current authors who tout the value of storytelling. The volume you hold in your hands focuses on a narrow yet powerful use of storytelling, telling stories to advance your career, whether by moving up in your current organization or landing a job in a new organization. The title comes from the most commonly asked question (which isn't even a question but a request) in job interviews, "Tell me about yourself."Â Composing stories to reveal your personal and professional self in response to that "question"Â is just one way to use storytelling to propel your career.
Simmons writes that the natural reaction of an unfamiliar person whom you hope to influence is to distrust you until you answer two major questions. The first question is "Who are you?"Â In resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and interviews, job-seekers attempt to tell who they are, but how often do you think these communications really convey a sense of who the job-seeker is? Simmons' second question, "Why are you here?"Â can be translated as "Why are you contacting this employer?"Â and "Why do you want to work for this organization?"Â
But answering those questions is just the beginning of how storytelling can springboard your job search and career advancement. Here are more reasons that storytelling is especially appropriate in the job hunt:
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? - Page 2
- Stories establish your identity and reveal your personality. Stories satisfy the basic human need to be known. Clearly, being known among employers is a major goal of job-seekers, and it is in large part through resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and employment interviews that employers get to know candidates. Job-seekers can gain the employer's recognition by integrating storytelling into these career-marketing communications.
In Training & Development magazine, Bonnie Durrance tells a tale that exemplifies the notion of revealing one's personality through story. She describes an aspiring dancer exuding happiness and a positive attitude while working in a tollbooth. While many toll-takers might consider such a job soul deadening, the protagonist in Durrance's story radiates joy because he turns on music and practices his true aspiration dancing in his tollbooth throughout his shift. "We can feel the story move us,"Â Durrance writes, "opening windows of possibilities, expanding our idea of work, and challenging our thoughts about jobs, dreams, and tollbooths."Â It's not difficult to picture the toll-taker/dancer interviewing for his next job and dazzling the interviewer with his upbeat take on making the best of a dull job.
- Stories help you know yourself and build confidence. Not only can telling stories enable others to know you better, but they can help you get to know yourself better. Developing and telling your stories can become the underpinning for self-authentication. As you see common threads and patterns emerging in your stories, you'll understand more about yourself, your goals, your best career path, your ideal job and this understanding can't help but boost your confidence and improve your ability to sell yourself to an employer. An emerging movement in career counseling involves constructing career narratives that enable job-seekers to uncover meaning and connections. They become central characters in their own stories and plot their own futures.
- Stories make you memorable. Simmons and many other experts extol story as a way for others to remember people and their messages. Tom Washington, who devotes a full chapter of his 2000 interviewing book, Interview Power, to storytelling asserts that "in less than three minutes, you can tell a powerful story that will make interviewers remember you favorably for days, weeks, or even months after the interview.A Indeed, we remember people who tell stories because, as psychologists and neuroscientists tell us, stories form the basis of how we think, organize, and remember information.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? - Page 3
- Stories establish trust. Trust has grown into a significant issue in recruitment. High-profile job-seekers who've been caught lying on their resumes are just one reason employers are reluctant to trust job-seekers. In 2004, outplacement firm Christian & Timbers researched the resumes of 500 corporate executives, and discovered 23 percent of executives lied about their accomplishments. Job-seekers can gain an employer's trust by integrating story into a resume, cover letter, or in an interview. As Simmons writes:
Before you attempt to influence anyone, you need to establish enough trust to successfully deliver your message. -- People want to decide these things for themselves -- the best you can do is tell them a story that simulates an experience of your trustworthiness. Hearing your story is as close as they can get to first-hand experience of watching you "walk the walk"Â as opposed to the "talk the talk"Â"Â¦ You need to tell a story that demonstrates you are the kind of person people can trust.
- Stories establish an emotional connection between storyteller and listener and inspire the listener's investment in the storyteller's success. When stories convey moving content and are told with feeling, the listener feels an emotional bond with the storyteller. Often the listener can empathize or relate the story to an aspect of his or her own life. That bond instantly enables the listener to invest emotionally in your success.
The Information Age and the era of knowledge workers may seem cutting edge, but in his popular book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink asserts that society has moved beyond that mindset and into the Conceptual Age in which we are "creators and empathizers,"Â "pattern recognizers,"Â and "meaning makers."Â Story is an important tool in this age because it enables us to "encapsulate, contextualize, and emotionalize."Â Pink refers to story as "context enriched by emotion"Â and tells us that "story is high touch because stories almost always pack an emotional punch."Â
- Stories help you stand out. Consider that many job-seekers or co-workers vying for the same position you seek probably have qualifications that are similar to yours. But will they be describing those qualifications to employers in evocative story form? Probably not. If you do, you'll distinguish yourself from those who seek to sell themselves to employers in less engaging ways.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? - Page 4
Look around you. Story is everywhere. Increasingly, advertisers are telling stories in TV commercials and print ads. In an age of minuscule attention spans, marketers know that stories are the key to drawing in their audiences and connecting with them emotionally. A growing body of literature describes the link between storytelling and marketing/sales including an article in which Warren Hersch discusses the value of storytelling in insurance sales ("storyselling"Â in the words of Mitch Anthony, a financial planner that Hersch quotes). Merely being educated about a product is not enough to motivate a buyer to take significant action, Hersch notes; clients need to be emotionally energized through story. Given that that the intuitive thinking associated with stories leads prospects to conclusions more easily than does analytical thinking, Hersch advises salespeople to "use storytelling to build rapport and credibility with the prospect. Substitute "employer"Â for "prospect"Â and "job-seekers"Â for "salespeople,"Â and Hersch's advice about using story in sales becomes instantly applicable to the job-seeker selling himself or herself to an employer.
- Stories illustrate skills, accomplishments, values, characteristics, qualifications, expertise, strengths, and more. Employers don't want to know merely the dry facts of what you've done. They want examples, anecdotes, illustrations, stories. You can showcase just about any skill with a story (Chapter 2 tells you more about how to do it). Washington advises that "using anecdotes to describe job skills is a highly effective interview technique."Â Truly scrutinizing the stories behind your life and career enables you to recognize patterns that reveal and reinforce who you are, what you can do, how you are qualified, what you know, what you value, what you've learned, what you've accomplished, and what results you'll produce for the employer.
- Stories paint vivid pictures. Remember when your parents read or told you stories when you were a child? You undoubtedly visualized the story as a sort of movie in your brain. Job-seekers can use colorful and even entertaining stories to imprint lasting visual images onto employers' minds.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? - Page 5
- Stories explain key life/career decisions, choices, and changes. Especially revealing to employers are personal and career stories about coping strategies, risky moves, choices made under pressure, imperfections, and lessons learned from mistakes, failures, and derailments. Chapter 1 explains more about these change stories.
- Stories told well help you portray yourself as a strong communicator. Effectively using stories in job-seeking venues offers the further benefit of demonstrating your communication skills, which is significant because most employers seek candidates who communicate well. David Boje, a well-known scholar in the organizational-storytelling field, wrote in 1991 that "people who are more skilled as storytellers and story interpreters seem to be more effective communicators than those who are less skilled."Â
This book is rooted in my dissertation research for my Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University. I've made an exhaustive study of what scholars and experts have to say about the uses of storytelling and how those uses can be applied to the job search and career advancement. I've also conducted interviews with job-changers and people in changing organizations as well as focus groups with hiring managers, recruiters, and human-resources professionals to obtain their reactions to storytelling in resumes, cover letters, and interviewing.
Part 1 of this book explains why storytelling is especially useful and effective in conveying how a job-seeker has handled, led, and communicated organizational change, as well as how to craft stories, not just about how they've dealt with change, but how they've demonstrated many other skills that employers demand.
Part 2 delves into the specifics of integrating stories into networking, resumes, cover letters, interviewing, portfolios, and personal branding.
Part 3 describes how you can deploy storytelling within an organization to advance in that organization as well as to communicate about and cope with change.
Your story is unique and special. My goal is that this book will guide you in telling your story in many ways that will propel your career.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 6
A major premise of this book is that the job-seeker or worker who can successfully convey through stories his or her ability to lead, communicate, and handle organizational change has an advantage over other job-seekers and workers. It's important to be able to tell stories about other skills, characteristics, and values, too, and they are covered in the next chapter, but "change skills" are the most important because they also encompass many other skills that employers seek. Here's the reason why.
Where stability was once the goal of organizations, relentless change is now the constant. Scholars characterize change today as no longer an option but a necessity. Without change, organizations lack the competitive and visionary edge they need to succeed. Some experts compare the current age of profound organizational change to the Industrial Revolution.
What's responsible for this inexorable change? Let's let real stories illustrate some of the major causes.
Business Process Redesign/Re-engineering
I was team leader for a re-engineering project. My team was responsible for change management for the implementation. We had no in-house change-management expertise, so a consulting firm had promised to bring in an expert to assist with design and development for change and then transfer the knowledge to provide us with the in-house expertise we needed for the ongoing rollout. As the design and development of the implementation phase progressed, the huge amount of change that would need management became alarmingly clear. The consulting firm failed to provide the change-management expert. Since I was responsible for this aspect of the project, and change-management was not being properly addressed, I began to be scapegoated, and I truly began to fear for my job. The project was in jeopardy of failing because of the consulting firm's failure to provide the appropriate level of expertise. Ultimately, the desired results were not achieved. I've therefore learned to trust my instincts and gain support of others earlier so I won't be scapegoated for the lack of expertise needed to make the change. I am also willing to obtain additional training so I can be the one with the expertise.
Change in Organization Ownership
I worked on the sale of the company for six months before the other employees knew about it. I'm very good at getting the job done, no matter what, with or without help. Then I adapt to change if something falls through.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 7
Employee Turnover, Especially in Management
In the department I was with, product management, the average number of bosses within a one-year period could be anywhere from 4 to 10. In the two years I've been there, I've gone through five bosses. So if anything can exemplify dealing with change and coping with change and rolling with the punches, I think that's as clearly as it comes. My previous boss had 12 bosses within the year. There's a very quick and constant turnaround. People hone in on the skills needed for the department. You're assigned to a project, and you have to learn everything there is to know about that specific area and then another department will want that skill set. They'll say, "Can we steal that person?" And that person ends up leaving. Or that person transfers into another department.
Management completely changed the whole back source of our project. We had to redo all of our code and everything. So in handling that situation, we had a change-management plan to do things on a certain timeline and meet our goals. We divided the task up among various people and assigned responsibilities.
Loss of Customer Base
Our college has lost considerable enrollment, so I have been striving to be a change agent for every student by personally giving one-on-one customer service to aid retention. I try to explain to each student what he or she needs to know to get admitted and obtain financial aid, and they always end up coming back to see me. I'm learning how to adapt to doing more work as a one-person office while the VP keeps demanding fix it, fix enrollment, fix it, change anything that needs changing. I have to find every possible way be more productive without getting any more staff.
Observers and researchers also cite global competition, flattening hierarchies, quality-improvement programs, burgeoning entrepreneurial initiative, increasing diversity, cost reduction, lean production, heightened customer expectations and the subsequent drive for improved customer service, deregulation, privatization, expanded financial resources, a blurring of industry distinctions, and an eroding of the divide between industrial and service businesses as drivers of change.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 8
While much change is directed at improving organizational profitability, some stems from the disruptive turmoil of unexpected events such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the SARS outbreak, and the Northeast power-grid failure of 2003. Looming external drivers of change might include soaring fuel prices and the threat of avian flu. In this example story, Sept. 11 led to company downsizing:
Early in my tenure in the training and development department of a large hospitality company, 9-11 temporarily killed the tourism industry, and we had to go through some downsizing. My role was to work with other members of the leadership team to make some tough decisions and to think through some criteria about how we would make those decisions to make sure that we were being fair and open with everyone. People in training and development are almost always the first to go. We tried to think about the human factor and to be creative in considering the individuals, evaluating the situations, and coming up with criteria.
Organizational change today manifests itself in numerous forms, including:
- New or redefined strategy
- Design and deployment of new organizational structures
- Profound changes in culture/operating environments
- Major innovations in products, processes, or distribution
- Cycle-time reduction
- Strategic combinations and consolidations such as mergers and acquisitions joint ventures, breakups, spinoffs, and divestitures
- Expansion into new regions, emerging markets, technologies, and offerings
- New senior managers who broaden and intensify jobs
In addition, outsourcing and off-shoring, with their accompanying downsizing, have become accepted management tools. Even the nonprofit sector is not immune to change as it is subject to funding cuts, new clients, and the need to dramatically increase services.
The pace of change, greater than at any time in history, has compounded the challenge for organizations, with leaders noting a striking increase in the frequency and velocity of change. Where new ideas in the form of products or services took six years to enter the marketplace in 1966 and 18 months in 1996, they now take five months (Moran & Mead, 2001).
Change is thus inevitable and constant in organizations, and the ability of organizations and their members to respond successfully to change is viewed as an imperative for future organizational and career survival. In an environment in which two of three transformation initiatives fail, scholars predict that the most successful organizations of the future will be those that respond effectively to change, while those that fail to mount a timely response to change won't last.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 9
In a 2004 Conference Board report on CEO challenges, 88 percent of the 539 European, Asian, and North American CEOs surveyed ranked organizational flexibility and adaptability to change among their greatest leadership concerns and the number one issue for 42 percent of the executives. Carl Steffen, a vice president at PeopleSoft, which co-sponsored the study, noted that "developing an agile, adaptable workforce that embraces change and aligns itself quickly will be tomorrow's competitive differentiator."
The consequences for both leaders and employees of failing to respond to change can be dramatic. A four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com released in 2005 found that 31 percent of CEOs get fired for mismanaging change, contrary to the commonly held belief that these leaders are terminated (or are forced to resign or retire under pressure) because of current financial performance. A 2002 survey developed by temporary staffing service Accountemps of 1,400 chief financial officers from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with more than 20 employees indicated that more than a third said embracing change is a critical success factor for employees.
Your Response to Change
Change is without doubt disruptive and traumatic, and when it affects you, your natural inclination might be to flee that employer, resist the transformation, cope with it or you can capitalize on it. You can grab the opportunity that change presents to develop new self-concepts, specific skills, and mental attitudes for handling, leading, communicating, and taking advantage of organizational change. Those skills will make you more marketable when you decide to leave your employer.
After all, just as your own organization is changing, change in other organizations, along with its accompanying employee turnover, creates needs for new employees with different characteristics from those hired in the past. These new workers will be those who are flexible, trainable, technologically savvy, and more highly educated. For an illustration of how continuous change creates opportunity, see the sidebar, Communication Change Continuum in Organizations. Given that most organizations undergo change, managers will need change agents/change leaders: people for their teams who possess competencies that catalyze change. In fact, experts see the pursuit of change-savvy talent as a key management strategy. A major mission of this book is to look at how you can incorporate change and other skills into storytelling both stories to facilitate your advancement in your current organization and stories to help you get your foot in the door in new organizations. "Develop a positive hunger for change," advises Pamela Kaul, President of Association Strategies, Inc. Kaul points to interviewers and search committees who want to see evidence of change and how you've motivated it. How have you contributed to effectiveness and faster, better, cheaper operations?
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 10
Storytelling provides an innovative way for you to enter organizations and to thrive within ever-changing organizations, and change supplies an advantageous backdrop for storytelling. You can distinguish yourself from the competition by, for example, telling stories in resumes and cover letters as well as during job interviews of how you have embraced change as an opportunity instead of an obstacle, as in these next examples, which may provide inspiration for your job search or quest for promotion. To garner more ideas for the kinds of skills and aptitudes around which you can tell change stories, see Carol Goman's Change-Adept Questionnaire. More examples appear in Chapters 3 through 8.
I was a consultant, for a company that had been under the umbrella of a large government contractor that decided to sell off its commercial division to focus on its military applications. A venture-capital group came along and bought the company, which then lost its controller to the original owner, the government contractor. The newly purchased company had tried to replace the controller, but the new hires just didn't stick. It was a very challenging environment. I was there for six months and got them through their first year-end close and their first audit as the new company. I stayed with them long enough to where they got their new controller on board, and I got him settled in for a couple of months and fully trained. As a consultant you have to be smart and fast because the client wants to see results quickly. You've got to be able to very quickly absorb the basic organizational structure and learn the key players. Then you have to quickly learn their software and processes and look for ways to improve them.
The strategic repositioning and closing of the training center where I am director of organizational development has been a significant change. A major contributor to the stress has been the high level of ambiguity during the past year and the fact that people are at different places in the grief and transition process at the same time. My style in times of stress and ambiguity is to try and find something productive I can do both personally and for the larger community. So, I have chosen to deal with this change by being proactive and leading an effort to offer career-enrichment programs at our sister training center. I've also collaborated with outside vendors to design a development program to support supervisors and staff through this transition, provided one-on-one coaching for the center's leadership, and provided individual sessions for teams. These sessions have been well attended, and I've received very positive and appreciative comments from staff members who attended them.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 11
In my current job, I am working on a project to increase efficiencies in the customer-service area, one component of which is to better control the way customer service handles the mail. I questioned the administrative clerk, who's responsible for receiving and distributing the mail, about how she does her job. She gathers mail from the P.O. box, reads the recipient, and passes mail around to be handled. I asked her what would happen if mail is lost. How would we track it? If someone doesn't handle the sender's inquiry in a timely manner, how can we know? I presented with her many questions of real and hypothetical situations where the ball was dropped somewhere, so I could find out from her if she had a plan in place to deal with those situations. The clerk at first, felt confident in her work, took great pride in being industrious, and didn't feel passing mail around was a broken process, but after our conversation, she began to see the situation from my point of view and became receptive to new ideas and change. I needed and attained her buy-in so that I could create change and add value to her job. Together, we've developed a process to ensure that customer inquiries don't slip through the cracks.