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.
Introduction: Why Use Story in the Job Search? Learn why storytelling can be an incredibly powerful tool in your job search.
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.
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.
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 12
The bank in which I worked instituted a policy that centralized the lending process. An application was to be taken from the client and sent off to be approved or declined, processed, prepared, and returned to the branch to be signed by the client. While the process was streamlined, it also took away valuable face-to-face knowledge about the client and the loan. If the employee did not have any prior lending experience, he or she couldn't answer simple loan questions from the client. While I appreciated the newly created time in my schedule, I felt that the clients were being slighted. I proposed to my boss a small adjustment that would permit brief face time with the client. My boss implemented my idea, and now we have the best of both worlds, face-to-face time with clients without taking significant time away from the streamlined process.
In my senior campaign-management job, I was the pinnacle person for a diverse group of project managers. I had many representatives from all the product bases constantly coming to me to develop databases of customers they could sell to. They wanted to know who they could market to. I would collaborate with them, asking questions like, what's the budget, how many pieces do you want to direct mail? Or do you want to call these people? What media will you use? I worked to ensure each group got all the demographics it wanted. I'd pull the requirements into the data. And I'd be darned if the group didn't change its mind and ask for a different demographic. Or something unpredictable like a hurricane would mean the group couldn't mail to a certain region. So, I'd have to throw all the data back in to the pond and re-fish. And the changes wouldn't happen with just one group; they would happen with all of them at one time. I dreaded my pager going off at 7 a.m. because a project manager had a thought while sleeping last night: "Ooh, I would love to see how many prospective customers wear toenail polish." But whatever their requirement was, I said, "I'm on top of it." I enjoyed the analytic aspects and the busyness and the constant go, go, go. Change drives me. It's something I enjoy because it's an extra challenge.
Some change isn't instigated by the organization at all, but by the organizational member who decides to change careers, an increasingly common phenomenon. In listing 21st-century human-resources trends, nonprofit CEO John McMorrow predicted that career change would become the rule rather than the exception, in part because of the "erosion of the implied good-faith contract between employer and employee." Career-changers, too, should be prepared to tell deft stories of why they made the change and how they've adapted, as in the next example:
Chapter 1: Telling Stories about Change - Page 13
I made the huge change from litigation to transactional work and from private practice to being an in-house attorney. I was previously doing high-stakes litigation, most of it out of state. I did all the behind-the-scenes work all the drafting, all the research which I didn't find exciting. I would have liked to be in court arguing, but I was spending 11 hours a day or so in front of my computer researching and writing. I didn't like writing those long memoranda and motions. Transactional work is different. I like it better because I deal with discrete issues. I meet with clients almost every day to see what their needs are for a particular transaction. They are internal clients, such as people in the marketing department. I haven't gotten bored. I'm very happy. This may be one of the first times I've felt excited about going to work.
You can find some additional career-change stories at the the Web site of DBM, a global human-capital management-services firm (While the purpose of the stories is to promote DBM's services, the storytelling in them provides some good models).
Telling compelling stories as you transition from one role to the next, one organization to the next, helps the listener feel invested in your success, a scenario that bodes well when the storyteller is a job-seeker, and the listener is an employer, contend Harvard Business Review writers Ibarra and Lineback. The authors describe a worker who developed and told change stories about a bankruptcy, a turnaround, and a rapid reorganization, eventually garnering referrals to employers and job interviews. In another example, a worker learned more about her career passions and became more committed to a planned career change each time she told her story by writing a cover letter, participating in a job interview, or networking with friends.
Change skills should be a major focus of the stories you tell as you progress from one organization to the next. See how scholars and experts characterize these skills.
Chapter 10: Propel Your Career Through On-the-Job Storytelling - Page 157
While this book up to now has focused on telling stories to help you enter organizations, this chapter discusses telling stories in the workplace. As we've seen in the foregoing chapters, telling stories about your ability to adapt to change is important to your career advancement, but being able to tell stories that propel and communicate change in the workplace is even more powerful. This kind of storytelling can also become part of a wonderfully self-perpetuating cycle: You tell stories that drive change. When you seek a promotion or your next job, you are then able to tell stories about how you used storytelling to communicate or propel change. You can also use stories to help you make sense of change and cope with its stress.
Stories to Lead and Communicate Organizational Change
Growing numbers of scholar-practitioners have published books in recent years advocating storytelling for various uses within organizations including to catalyze change. Among these are Stephen Denning with his 2001 book The Springboard, his 2005 Leader's Guide to Storytelling, and his 2004 Squirrel, Inc., which both touts storytelling as a technique for promoting organizational change and is told in story form. Among eight types of organizational storytelling that Denning describes are "a story to ignite action" and "a story to lead people into the future," including guidelines for crafting a "springboard story" designed to spark organizational change. In her 2006 book, Wake Me When the Data Is Over, Lori Silverman presents chapters from a broad cross-section of organizational-storytelling experts on using story in day-to-day organizational operations (in such areas as financial management, leadership, and project management), as well as strategically and to propel organizational transformation.
Stories, Denning asserts, are far more effective in driving change than the "mechanistic analysis" embodied by charts, graphs, and bullet points. In The Springboard, Denning describes his experiences in using stories to help people and organizations to effect change:
I found that a certain sort of story enables change by providing direct access to the living part of the organization. It communicates complicated change ideas while generating momentum toward rapid implementation. It helps an organization reinvent itself. Storytelling gets inside the minds of the individuals who collectively make up the organization and affects how they think, worry, wonder, agonize, and dream about themselves and in the process create and re-create their organization. Storytelling enables the individuals in an organization to see themselves and the organization in a different light and accordingly take decisions and change their behavior in accordance with these new perceptions, insights, and identities.
Chapter 10: Propel Your Career Through On-the-Job Storytelling - Page 158
Narrative is effective in motivating change based on storytelling's common roots in all cultures (Dickman, 2003). If you can tell the stories that are shared throughout the corporate culture, you can also change the stories thus instigating organizational rebirth (Rhodes, 1996).
Examples abound of the ways organizations use stories to communicate about change. A major British public utility used story as part of a change process to create images of new directions and career options in the minds of workers (Collison and Mackenzie, 1999). In another company, a CEO used story to illustrate his ability to grasp his of employees' gut-level reaction to industry-changing technology. By demonstrating through storytelling that he felt their pain while also painting a clear picture of what the future story would be like, he enabled his employees to envision and embrace the technology's potential (Brittain, Swain, and Simpaon, 2005). A restaurant chain that planned to open 200 new stores in a two-year period prepared to address the change challenge presented by rapid growth by turning to storytelling to enculturate new hires (Breuer, 1998).
Stories that show transformation can become metaphors for desired change in the audience (Brown and Humphreys, 2003). That kind of transformation is illustrated in the following examples:
A faculty member tells her colleagues at a university plagued with crumbling infrastructure, environmental issues, and stagnant leadership a very different story of the situation at her alma mater. She hopes the portrayal of how such problems can be solved will inspire a "Just imagine"¦" response in her audience:
Chapter 10: Propel Your Career Through On-the-Job Storytelling - Page 159
I recently attended a reunion at my alma mater, a liberal-arts college of about 1,700 students founded in 1958. A new president arrived at the school three years ago. At the reunion in that, his first year, he unveiled a campus master plan that called for a complete rebuilding of almost every residential and classroom building more than 30 years old and eliminating cars from the center of campus.
During the past three years the college has significantly improved the landscaping on campus. In place of wet areas and drainage problems, there are now ponds with thriving communities of wading birds and plants. In place of sand spurs, there is now a world-class soccer field and a student recreation area called "South Beach," where you can sunbathe, play volleyball, and watch your classmates kayak or sail by. There are beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers everywhere.
They have placed a "freshman parking" lot at the perimeter of campus as the first step in the new parking plan.
Also in the past three years they have built a new library and a new dorm, and they are breaking ground on a second new dorm that will soon be open. The next step is to start rebuilding the existing dorms (about 34 beds each) one at a time. The next academic building in line is science, an estimated $20 million project.
The college's endowment stands at $25-30 million, where it has been for many years. There were no plans for any of the improvements described above before the new president came.
I see an administration there that aggressively seeks out problems, searches for real, long-term solutions, and successfully finds the money to implement them.
A speech pathologist inspires younger colleagues with a story of how she sees their mutual patients:
I know that your education has not prepared you properly for what you see every day. I know from when I worked with head-trauma cases how harrowing it is to see someone near your own age injured in a car or motorcycle accident who is just never going to walk again, never going to talk again, eat again, and literally be in a vegetative state for the next 50 years. But you will also encounter patients who are resilient heroes. I have a patient who was born with no lower jaw. This little girl comes from an amazing, loving town, where she is surrounded by teachers and a delightful father. And she's so spunky. To me, she's on the upswing. She has a talking board, and we plan to teach her dad to sign better. And so I don't get burned out on that. I get very hopeful and tenacious. I think some people might get burned out, but to me, there's a great deal of hope and many tenacious, resilient people.
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A new IT manager tells his staff of 10 technicians, who are frustrated by their 24/7 on-call rotation, how he addressed this type of stress at his former place of employment. In telling the story, the new manager enables the team to envision how he intends to improve their own situation:
The last team I managed was a lot like you guys and was going through many of the same frustrations you are when I came in. They were doing tedious, time-consuming work, running around fixing telecom problems based on a 24/7 on-call rotation. The first thing I did was get the group together, as I am with you now, to find out exactly what their issues were. I interviewed each of them as a group and individually. I realized that, just as it is with you, the biggest issue was the shifting on-call rotations. The schedule would be set up one week, and then the very next week it would change, because somebody wanted a change, and the manager would change it.
I set up a schedule for the entire calendar year. My only rule was that if you want to make a change, you had to work out a deal with one of your teammates to swap. So, I as the manager took myself out of the equation of making the changes; I let the team members figure it out. Sure, there were a lot of grumblings upfront because people could see six months in advance that they would be on-call over Christmas. But the benefit was that they knew that six months in advance, and if they wanted to make some changes or adjustments to the schedule, they could do that it was their responsibility.
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I also added a little fun and playfulness to the environment. I set up a putting green and invented a game called "Putting for Product." Team members came to ask for a piece of equipment whether a $2 patch cord or a $50 thousand piece of equipment. I gave them three free putts. If they sunk one of the three putts, they could take the product no questions asked. If they missed, they'd have to pay a dollar into our candy fund and putt again. Or, they could bypass all that and hire the local golf pro, one of the guys in the office who was really good at golfing, and pay him a dollar to shoot the first round for them. It was a great setting for having conversations, too. We also set up a fish bowl out in the main area so team members could acknowledge and recognize each other's achievements. At the end of the month, at our team meeting, I'd go through this fish bowl, and the person with the most acknowledgements would be acknowledged and receive prizes, like movie passes or coupons for the concessions stand. Or, you could trade your prize, but it was like "Let's Make a Deal," so you didn't know what you were trading for. It could be something really nice like clocks and watches, or silly things like gag gifts and pencils.
We also had the management team cook full breakfasts with scrambled eggs and pancakes for each team member and three of teammates of their choice.
So it was a really neat type of environment that we were creating, trying to lighten up the mood of the group. The team became more comfortable with the challenges they faced. The fun and playfulness really eased the tension that the team felt from the on-call rotation.
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Promote Yourself Through Story
Storytelling to advance your career within your organization works much the same way it does when you seek to enter a new organization. When you want to propel your career within an organization, you need to become a story collector.
Keep a record of everything you do that enhances your organization's bottom line, shines a positive light on your organization or department, creatively and innovatively solves organizational problems, and shows your loyalty and commitment to your employer. And, of course, as emphasized in Chapter 1, record everything you do that demonstrates how well you have led, communicated, or adapted to change within your organization.
The minute you begin a new job, start tracking your accomplishments. Keep a story log in a little notebook, on index cards, in a computer database, on a small tape recorder, or on your handheld device. It's important to collect this data as your accomplishments occur and compose them in story form because most people have a hard time dredging up stories of their accomplishments and achievements. At key times, such as when a promotion opportunity arises, they're frequently not even convinced they'd had any accomplishments worth sharing. But everyone has, and anyone who wants to advance on the career ladder should be prepared to articulate achievements beyond the day-to-day tasks he or she performed on the job.
Accomplishments are the points that really help sell you to an employer, much more so than everyday job duties, whether you are selling your qualifications to an employer for the first time or seeking to move up. In the interview she did with Quintessential Careers, career counselor Michelle Watson noted that "employers are seeking success stories." They want to know that you are a problem-solver, a mover and a shaker, a contributor to the organization, and someone who shows initiative. While promotions are not always based on your past performance, you can certainly make a much better case for a promotion by telling detailed stories about your past successes. Those who get results get ahead.
Expressing your accomplishments in story form using any of the numerous story frameworks throughout this book is a huge advantage because your compelling, engaging story will be more memorable to the manager making the promotion decision than the people who aren't telling stories. You will be far more confident, convincing, and persuasive than your competitors who merely list accomplishments or believe they have no accomplishments. The decision-maker will get to know and trust you through your stories, which may also help you establish the emotional connection that will inspire him or her to invest in your success.
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If you haven't tracked your accomplishment stories to date, use the following prompts to brainstorm all those terrific things you did. Develop accomplishments stories that set you apart from others who might be competing for advancement.
- What special things have you done to set yourself apart? How have you done the job better than anyone else did or than anyone else could have done?
- What have you done to make the job your own?
- How have you taken the initiative? How have you gone above and beyond what was asked of you in your job description?
- What are you most proud of in your job?
- What problems have you solved?
- How can you weave into your story tangible evidence of your accomplishments: material from your annual performance reviews, glowing quotes from colleagues, complimentary memos or letters from customers, publications you've produced, products you've developed, software applications you've written?
- Consider the "PEP Formula," Profitability, Efficiency, and Productivity, as another way to tell your story. How did you contribute to profitability such as through sales increase percentages? How did you contribute to efficiency such as through cost-reduction percentages How did you contribute to productivity such as through successfully motivating your team?
Practice Self-Promotion Through Storytelling
We're taught when we're young that modesty is a virtue, but if no one knows how great you are, you simply won't get ahead. Be a known quantity. Sell yourself with stories of your successes, and let the decision-makers know that you seek advancement. Send your boss regular e-mails or memos with stories of your accomplishments and results. Tell these stories verbally in informal and social situations. It's especially important to toot your own horn with stories when you don't see your boss often, particularly if you telecommute or work in a different location from your supervisor. The following are examples of stories that workers could tell their bosses to increase their chances of advancement:
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I have helped shift the focus of our HR department from a transactional one to more of a developmental and proactive approach. Early on, performance issues kept coming up that should have been dealt with much sooner. It was clear to me that we needed to be more proactive and developmental in our HR services to best practices and build supervisors' supervisory skills by designing systems, processes, and tools to simplify and clarify supervisors' HR responsibilities. I also began to meet monthly with department heads and department administrators, a practice that has been extremely helpful in addressing emerging issues. The result is an increased commitment to quality supervision across the organization, more efficiency, and increased effectiveness on the part of supervisors, and problems being dealt with more proactively.
My boss went on medical leave just as we were starting to wrap up a three-year comprehensive plan. In addition to just getting up to speed on the basics of the job, I was doing data presentations, monitoring agencies that reported to us, and ensuring that expenditure reports were accurate. I had to quickly pick up on the various service categories, understand which agencies provide what services, and prioritize resource allocation. My supervisor ended up taking 12 weeks of leave, so I was running the show. I called my supervisor from time to time for some advice, but I organized and ran the meetings, provided support for other meetings, went out to the agencies, figured out how to do all of the monitoring, ensured that all the reports were in on time, made sure other reports were in on time, developed good relations with the agencies. I couldn't have anticipated all of the things that would be happening during the time my supervisor was out. I was essentially working two positions.
Using Storytelling to Cope with the Stress of Change
In July 2006, Business Week published a cover story on company mistakes and failures in which author Jena McGregor listed sharing personal stories of failure as a best practice in dealing with mistakes. "If employees hear leaders discussing their own failures," McGregor writes, "they'll be more comfortable talking about their own." The cover story features several sidebars in which executives describe their favorite mistakes. Mistakes and failures can, of course, be a great source of learning when future changes roll around, as in the following example story:
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Two years after I came to the company, we instilled a process in which we started to become a 24/7, 365-day-a-year work organization, supporting the company's software worldwide. We had four global centers, three in the U.S. and one in Europe. The idea was to move the work according to time zones. When East Coast business hours were over, the work was moved to the Midwest center, and so on. The process didn't work well. Things were not getting done because the volumes were growing. When the work was moved over, someone new would have would pick it up and learn the issue from scratch, causing a delay in solving the problem. Our backlog of issues went above 10,000, and we became literally a reactive call center that just greased the squeaky wheels. We went back to something a little more in line with what customers needed where we owned all of our work. But now we've started a whole new globalization initiative, and all of a sudden the process seems to very closely mimic the time-zone-related process that totally blew up. But I knew that I had to somehow sell the initiative to my team because without any kind of buy-in, it would fail from the start. So it has been very de-motivating for me, and I had a lot of struggles with it because I knew that my workload for my engineers would dramatically increase, and of course that would de-motivate them. I knew I would start having attrition. Team members would say, "What the heck? I'm leaving. This is crap."
So as a manager, I had to be very flexible to this change. But I did it. I got my people encouraged and feeling good about it, and it actually wasn't quite as bad as the first time around. I had to step up to that and say, "Okay, we know the problems that we had before with this, so let's do something now to see if we can make some changes to move on." As a manager with my global team, I decided to have a few meetings in which we came up to an agreement that we would evenly distribute workloads globally, based on the process at hand. The engineers that I manage are seeing that I'm committed to them, and knowing that the process didn't work before, trying to implement changes to help it work this time around.
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Mistakes and failures comprise, of course, just one kind of organizational change, but the concept of people, whether executives or anyone else in the organization including you telling stories to cope with the stress of change, is the same concept.
Guided by a storytelling activity in a group setting designed by Darl Kolb of University of Auckland, New Zealand, long-time employees of an organization about to undergo change shared stories of previous changes with less-senior employees. All the workers subsequently expressed lower than expected levels of anxiety and apprehension and less resistance to change. The looming change didn't seem as radical when compared with those changes described by some of the old-timers.
Research shows that stories help workers make sense of change and undergo a shift in their own understanding of the need for change, how the change will happen (O'Hara, 1996), and what the future will look like once the change is accomplished (Fleming, 2001). The process of reviewing the organization's old stories and creating new ones helps organization members learn to adapt to change (Taylor, 1999). Smart organization members who understand David Fleming's assertion in a 2001 article on using narrative for leadership that "a thriving organization sees its mission as an ever-emerging story with all the necessary twists and turns" will tell stories like the following to make sense of change and learn to cope and adapt:
On a project I was working on, I needed the help of an analyst in evaluating a work process I was trying to change. The analyst could not understand why incoming pieces of mail in my work area were not being scanned as electronic documents, which is standard practice across the organization. He assumed I hadn't had proper training and was mismanaging the process, but in actuality, the process was new and foreign for the satellite office I was working in. In an email to the analyst, I described the background and rationale for why the processes were different, explaining that priorities, resources, management style, and availability of resources were very different in the satellite offices. The way I wrote the email had to be non-offensive, neutral, and objective because the analyst had responded to me in a dismissive manner. Ultimately, I convinced the analyst that I needed more of his attention and dedication to address the work process.
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Much of human resources requires influencing others to make changes. An excellent example is the way in which I've persuaded managers and supervisors to conduct annual performance evaluations, which wasn't the case when I was hired. I talked with supervisors and managers regarding the value of this responsibility, convened a task force, and designed an evaluation tool for the staff that has consistent criteria, is tied to the organizational goals and values, and is easy to use. I provided training and led conversations with the executive committee to foster support company-wide. The result is that all continuing employees and many temporary employees have received annual performance appraisals for several years.
To bring attention to the growing social problems in my region during a time of high unemployment, I proposed that we do what many of the participants in my temporary employment program were doing to deal with the stress, which was to have a party. A number of other service groups participated, and with our combined effort we had a daylong celebration that included a parade and activities and entertainment throughout the day at a civic park. A union group organized a parade, and another built the staging locations in the park. Through the media, I put out requests for donations to make the party work, and I received a donation of two tons of potatoes, which we used to make potato soup. Other organizations, such as church groups, began joining in, and soon we had a large group of volunteers, and the party served more than 7,000 people. It was a success in that it drew attention to the plight of the residents and acknowledged the "elephant in the room" known as unemployment and economic hardships while it gave us a well-needed reason to blow off steam.
During a time of change in our company, we had various situations where processes/ways of thinking needed to be changed. I had five managers reporting to me. During a meeting, I laid out what the company was trying to accomplish and then asked for opinions/feedback from each of them. During this meeting I also described the goal so the staff could understand the whole picture. They had questions/concerns, but once we talked through them, they were able to understand our challenge and came on board with the direction we were going in.
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I used to not handle change very well. I'm a very routine person. Everything had to be routine for me. The second something got thrown off, it threw off my routine. At the theme park where I work, I was moved to a completely different location with a different environment. I was at a stadium location, with a 14-member staff and a very controlled, outlined, and specific setting. Then I was shifted over to the park's rides area with a staff of 100 people. Everything was always changing. The volume was higher, and there were more people to deal with. I was forced to really have to change. I didn't know how to change and hoped to just assimilate. That change really did throw off my whole routine. When management finally sat me down to explain that I had to change, they broke it down into a process that I was able to understand. I could mentally build the steps in the process build a picture to make the adjustment. Otherwise, I would've never really adjusted. I probably wouldn't even still be there if I hadn't. All the changing roles I've had have helped me develop a different perspective on dealing with the change. And now you can change me on a whim at work. I can make the adjustment quickly and move forward without having to sit down and analyze how the change fits into my routine.
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I'll end this chapter with my own story of how change has affected my career:
Most of the organizations of which I've been a working member have grappled with change. The magazine publishing firm where I held my first corporate job was threatened with a movement to unionize workers. To show its benevolence, presumably in the hope that employees would shun the union effort, the company initiated the rather peculiar practice of delivering a piece of fruit to workers every afternoon. After the company began firing those who were most vocal about unionizing, the fruit no longer tasted as sweet. I then worked as an editor at a startup magazine, where the constant struggle to stay afloat was the catalyst for organizational change. Eventually the owners lost the struggle and sold the magazine. The new owners moved it to another city, leaving the staff without jobs. Next stop was an ad agency, where winning and losing accounts drove constant change.
I then joined the staff of the independent newspaper that served a large university community. There, a new batch of student staffers arrived with each academic year, and elections of top editors regularly changed the face of newsroom management. From there I joined another newspaper in a highly competitive metropolitan market. The newsroom was constantly abuzz over the ambitious plans of our chief rival paper and how these plans prodded change at our paper. Suddenly, the competitor bought our paper with plans to merge it with its own newspaper. I moved on to the executive editorship of a group of weekly papers and soon learned that the first thing the publisher wanted me to do was fire the two highest paid editors.
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Leaving publishing to try public relations, I worked at a controversial reproductive-health organization that opened a new clinic, fought for continued government funding, and initiated testing for HIV and AIDS during my tenure. Next I became the speechwriter to an elected official, a position in which partisan politics spurred change. Nearly the last stop was a private university. Budget crises, enrollment challenges, and the drive for accreditation propelled change.
Overlapping my most recent jobs within organizations has been my effort to help people enter organizations, especially through written and spoken communication. As I have looked back at all the changing organizations I've been part of, I have to ask myself what I've learned. What have I discovered about driving, communicating, and coping with change that could help others? What could I have done differently to capitalize on organizational change? In what ways was I successful and proactive in encountering organizational change? What can my story and the telling of it communicate? How might I use my story to advance my career and guide others in employing story to advance their careers?
I then think about the career-management communication tools I have helped job-seekers prepare for a number of years. This book has been the realization of my contention that storytelling should be part of networking, resumes, cover letters, job interviews, portfolios, and personal branding. These story elements can influence hiring managers. Most important, continued storytelling helps advance your career once you are on the job.
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On-the-Job Storytelling Resources
- Brown, D. W. (2002). Organization Smarts. New York: AMACOM.
- Callahan, S. (2006, April 30). How to use stories to size up a situation.
- Callahan, S., Rixon, A, & Schenk, M. (2005, December). Avoiding change management failure using business narrative
- Clark, E. (2004. June 22). Storytelling for leaders
- Denning, S. (2001). The Springboard. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
- Denning, S. (2004). Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Denning, S. (2005). The Leader's Guide to Storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Gargiulo, T. L. (2002). Making Stories: A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists. Westport, CT: Quorum.
- Gargiulo, T. L. (2005). The Strategic Use of Stories in Organizational Communication and Learning. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
- Gargiulo, T. L. (2006, January). Tell us a story. American Executive:
- Gargiulo, T. L. (2006). Stories at Work. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Goman, C. K. (2005, Aug.). 12 questions for change communicators. Link&Learn eNewsletter.
- Goman, C. K. (2006, Jan. 9). What's changed about change management? Communtelligence newsletter.
- Johnson, S. (2002). Who Moved My Cheese? New York: Putnam.
- Kahan, S. (2004). Clark, E. (2004. June 22). Every professional has stories to tell.
- Kotter, J. (2006, April 12). The Power of Stories. Forbes.
- Maguire, J. (1998). The Power of Personal Storytelling. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
- McKay, H. (1998, June). Using story as strategy: Interview with David Barry, Ph.D..
- Neuhauser, P. C. (1993). Corporate Legends & Lore: The Power of Storytelling as a Management Tool. Austin, TX: PCN Associates.
- Peck, D. (2004, Aug. 23). Changing your story.
- Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.
- Quintessential Careers: Real World Section. New graduates tell stories of the change from being a college student to being a worker and describe positives and negatives of their first jobs.
- Richards, D. (2004). The Art of Winning Commitment: 10 Ways Leaders Can Engage Minds, Hearts, and Spirits. New York: Amacom.
- Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through Storytelling. Cambridge. MA: Basic Books.
Chapter 2: The Quintessential You Story - Page 14
Before you begin developing stories about how you've handled change (Ch. 1) and how you've demonstrated other skills (Ch. 3), you will likely find it useful to develop one or more stories that capture the essence of who you are. Your starting point for all job-search stories should be a narrative that truly reveals your character and what makes you unique. The story might disclose what makes you tick, what drives you, what you value, what your goals are, how behave in a crisis (Simmons, 2001) or, as outlined in Chapter 1, a time of change.
You may not use this story in your actual job search, but you'll use it as a starting point to help you get to know yourself better and draw from it to develop additional stories that illustrate skills and accomplishments.
This type of "you" story is not my original concept. Annette Simmons has coined the Who Am I Story, while Steve Denning dubs his the Who Are You Story. Simmons' The Story Factor and Denning's The Leader's Guide to Storytelling respectively offer excellent techniques for developing these stories.
Denning, for example suggests as starting points a story about a favorite place of your youth, a story of overcoming adversity or an obstacle, a tale involving someone admirable or influential, or narrative about a significant event from your past.
Simmons recommends identifying a quality about yourself and then developing a story about a time you shined with this quality, a time you blew it, a mentor who taught you about the quality, or a book or movie that embodies the quality.
Similarly, Joe Lambert, author of the Digital Storytelling Cookbook, suggests developing a story about an accomplishment.
Decisive moments (Lambert) or turning points are also excellent fodder for the Quintessential You Story and often originate, as Denning points out, in late adolescent years, when young people are leaving the safety of their families and determining their purpose in life.
The various types of "prompts" or starting places for the Quintessential You Story suggest that you can actually have more than one story. You may want to develop multiple stories that illustrate different aspects of your character.
The experts suggest setting a positive tone for your story. Even if you tell a dark story, explain how you derived something positive from the experience. For example, my son lived a story in which he was traumatized in high school when two friends star-crossed lovers committed suicide by throwing themselves in front of a train. Eventually, though, my son gained an appreciation for the joy and exhilaration of being alive and a desire to love and be loved.
Chapter 2: The Quintessential You Story - Page 15
While you may use your Quintessential You Story only as a starting point for your own story-development purposes, it's helpful to imagine that the audience for this story is someone who could hire you or who knows someone who could hire you.
Whatever prompt or approach you choose to develop your Quintessential You Story, the bottom line is that it should convey a strong sense of who you are, the essence of your being, the core of your character. The following sample stories do just that.
Sample Quintessential You Stories
For several semesters, I have assigned my students to write a Quintessential You Story. Here is one of my favorites by a student named Kellie:
A few months back I began working at a hospital where my mom has been a nurse for 10 years. I have thought about working in the health care industry for a while, but I was never quite sure it was for me. I received a job as a unit clerk in the Intensive Care Unit/Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit. My job description was to put in doctor's orders for each patient, monitor the patients' EKGs, file papers, answer phones, and to keep supplies stocked. Patient care was not a part of my job, but I was always more than willing to help a nurse when needed, knowing that I would learn more about what I wanted to do.
I went to work at 6:30 a.m. as usual and started all of my normal tasks for both units and noticed this little old man waving at me every time I would pass his door. I waved to him a few times with a smile on my face and continued with what I was doing. After about the fourth or fifth wave, I became curious about why he was so interested in waving to me.
I walked into his room and decided I would talk to him to see if maybe he needed something, or if I could get his nurse for him. When I entered the room, he immediately called me Kelsie, which is ironically close to my name, and I had yet to introduce myself. I introduced myself and asked him if he needed any help, and he said no, but I shouldn't play games with him; he knew my name was Kelsie, and he started to laugh. In talking with him for the next few minutes I continued to correct him when he called me by the wrong name, and he continued to correct me.
I left his room with more curiosity on why he was in the hospital and decided to speak with his nurse and look at his chart. His diagnosis wasn't anything different from most of the older gentlemen we see in the unit. In speaking with his nurse I found out he had Alzheimer's and could remember only a very small piece from his early adulthood.
Chapter 2: The Quintessential You Story - Page 16
I went about my work and continued to wave to him when I passed by his room, still a little curious as to why he was calling me Kelsie. After finishing up most of my work for the morning I went and sat in his room and decided to talk with him. He was placed in restraints because of his not knowing where he was and because he was a hazard to himself if he pulled out his lines and possibly harmed those taking care of him.
I sat down, and he once again called me Kelsie, and we began talking about things he could remember from when he was in the Navy and about his family. After being comfortable with him I removed his restraints when he asked and sat him up in bed to make him more comfortable. He was thrilled that he was able to move and talk "like a normal person." I decided to ask him who Kelsie was, and he simply replied, "you know who Kelsie is; it's you, my youngest daughter." I had no idea what to say other than to laugh and continue talking with him.
In the process of our talking, his oldest daughter and son-in-law had walked into the room and were standing behind me listening to our conversation. I introduced myself, and she asked if she could speak with me. I explained to her the situation and she explained his. Her sister Kelsie had died years previous in a car accident, but it was one of the things he couldn't remember. She told me I had a strong resemblance to her sister and asked if I would mind talking with him as though I were Kelsie to make him happy for the short time he would still be alive.
I happily agreed and continued talking with him every chance I got listening to all the stories of him and his daughter Kelsie (me). I showed up one day to meet with him and instead I found an empty room and heart to go along with it. One of the nurses approached me and handed me a note addressed to me. His oldest daughter wanted to let me know he had passed away yesterday and his last words were that he loved each and every one of them and to tell Kelsie he loved her as well. Tears of joy and sorrow streamed down my face, I was sad he had gone, but more than that I was happy he had the chance to talk to "Kelsie" before he went.
Chapter 2: The Quintessential You Story - Page 17
What do we learn about Kellie from this story?
- She is compassionate.
- She is curious and eager to learn.
- She cares enough about patients to go far beyond the requirements of her job to give them comfort.
If Kellie stated on her resume or in an interview that she is curious, eager to learn, compassionate, and dedicated to patient care, none of those claims would be as believable or compelling as telling this story. She may not ever be in a situation to tell this entire story during her job search, but by developing the story as a first step, she has gotten to know herself better and identified some of the key characteristics about herself that she will want to feature in her job search.
Let's look at more sample Quintessential You stories. Like Kellie's story, these are poignant. But notice that unlike Kellie's story, these spell out the "moral" or lesson learned. If you compare them with Kellie's story, you may discover that sometimes the story is actually more powerful if the audience is left to draw its own conclusions about the characteristics exemplified. The audience does not necessarily need to be hit over the head with what the story means.
Abbie's story reveals how she learned to embrace being outside her comfort zone after her first public-speaking experience:
My hands were shaky and palms were sweaty as I walked up to the podium at the Rotary Club's biweekly meeting. I was presented an award as my middle school's eighth grade Student of the Month and asked to give a brief speech to the members. It was my first speech in front of a crowd of people, and after being home-schooled in seventh grade, I had become very introverted and uneasy around large groups of people. My heart raced as I began the first sentence of my speech. "I would like to thank the Ro-Ro-Rotary Club"¦" Oh no! I had already made a mistake, and I had not even finished the first sentence. My mind raced, and all I could think about was how embarrassing it was to mess up the very name of the club that was giving me an award.
Afterwards, I stayed around to talk to a few of the Rotarians. Their reactions to my speech were completely opposite from what I had expected. Instead of mentioning my mispronunciation of the Rotary Club's name, they congratulated me and said how well I did. I was confused by their kindness, but began to feel a little bit better about my actions. It was that day that I realized I had a lot of work to do.
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I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in business, I needed to become much more comfortable giving presentations and talking among crowds of people.
After the Rotary Club speech, I began purposely putting myself in uncomfortable situations that required an extroverted personality. Soon, I was elected to the Florida Business Leaders of America district vice president, which required me to talk in front of groups of 200 students or more. I was also elected as president of the student body, where it was necessary to remain in constant contact with the students, principal, and administration of the school.
During my senior year of high school, I was again selected as the Rotary Club Student of the Month and asked to speak at one of the Rotary Club's meetings. This time, instead of being nervous, I was confident and excited to give my speech to the members. I knew this speech would be a great test to prove to myself how far I had come since eighth grade. I walked up to the lectern, said the first few sentences, and was completely comfortable with the situation. During the speech, I even told a joke and improvised part of it on the spot. It was at that moment that I realized that people could change, it is just a matter of how badly one wants to.
The hardest thing a person can do is change an aspect of himself and make it last. Anyone can wake up and decide, "Today I am going to be nice for a change." However, it is the days afterwards that make the difference. Changing oneself can be even more complex when one does not feel the need to do so. I found myself in this situation after giving my first speech at the Rotary Club. I was comfortable with being shy and introverted; however, I knew this personality trait would not bring success in the future. This speech marked a milestone in my life because I realized how beneficial it often is to step outside my comfort zone.
Craig's story discloses his deeply rooted commitment to teamwork, motivational skills, and doing what it takes to succeed:
During my earlier days I was an avid soccer player; I lived for early Saturday mornings. Getting up early to get my equipment together, lacing up my cleats, and the fellowship that I got from my teammates were unsurpassable. However, it was not all fun and games on the field. As team captain I had a duty and responsibility to my team to make sure we were achieving our goals through a strong work ethic, and a strong commitment to our team.
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Throughout the season I was there to will on my team through my words and my actions and our 1996 county championship game was no different. It was a rainy day, and the turf was heavy. Our opponents were strong and had beaten us earlier in the season. The first half of the game was a battle. Players were working hard for each other, and no one was willing to give an inch. Just before halftime our opponents scored, and my teammates were downhearted. The halftime whistle blew, and we headed to the locker room. Inside I looked around and said, "What's wrong with you guys? We still have another half to go, and we can beat these guys. Come on; this is our time to shine. We worked too hard to just give up now." After a couple of seconds one of my teammates looked up and said, "The big fella is right. We can win this. We played them off the park, and they got a lucky goal." I chimed in again and said, "If you believe you can do it and we will do it. Give yourselves the chance to be heroes on this day." We went out for the second half and got a goal.
However, as I went to clear a ball from a penalty box, an opponent stamped on my foot. I knew something was wrong and crawled off the field. Our trainer looked at my foot and said that I had broken my toe. We had used all of our substitutes, so if I came off the field I would leave my team a man down. I looked at the trainer and said tape it up so that I could get out on the field to play. As I walked on the field the trainer told me that I could hurt myself even more, and I looked around and said, "I am needed on the field. If I go off, the team will lose confidence, and they could fold. I can't let that happen. I won't let it happen." I continued to play in pain, and the game finished in a draw leading to extra time.
Playing through the pain, I kept going and tried to keep a brave face on for my team. All the players knew I was hurting, and they knew that I was not willing to give up on them. As we pushed on, the game finished 1-1 and we went to penalties. I was dreading having to take one so I said that I should go before the goalkeepers take theirs. Penalty after penalty went in until our opponents took their 10th penalty. Their player stepped up and hit the bar, making it 9-8 on penalties.
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So, I walked up and placed the ball on the penalty spot. Then I heard the whistle and ran up to strike the ball. After planting my bad foot, I could not bear to stand up because I was in so much pain. I fell down and did not see if the ball went in. When I first heard the players and crowd I thought that I had let the team down and I just started saying, "I'm sorry lads, I blew it." Then I heard, "what are you talking about? We won the game." When I looked up I saw the ball in the net and all my teammates around me saying that they were glad I kept going and that without me they would never have done it.
I always pride myself on being there for my friends and being dependable no matter what I need to do. That day will always be special to me for I know that I never let them down and that I was willing to do anything to help our team achieve its goal.
Shelley's story illustrates how an early event that affected a family member set Shelley on her career path:
Everyone has a childhood memory that influences the choices that they make and alters the path that they take in life. This is my story that influenced my life decisions.
I can still remember August of 1995; it was my favorite time of the year because all the neighborhood children would gather at the pool and go swimming. I was swimming underwater watching all the kids play, but my sister is the person who stood out to me. I can still picture the sparkle of her tears rolling down her face while she sat on the pool steps watching all the other kids have fun. I just remember thinking how could someone be so mean and irresponsible. The devastation happened three months earlier.
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In May, my mom decided to take my sister and me to a new lake the city just built. My sister went swimming that day. Afterwards she started feeling sick. The next day at school my sister was playing the telephone game at school, and one of the kids whispered in her ear the word, but my sister couldn't hear her, so she whispered again, and she still couldn't hear her. My sister realized that there was something wrong with her ears. After school my mom took my sister to the doctor, who discovered that she had bacteria in her ears that was causing tumors. Over the next couple of months my sister had to get numerous operations on her ears, but the damage was too severe. After numerous operations my sister lost complete hearing in her left ear and partial hearing in her right ear.
To this day my sister still cannot get her ears wet, because the tumors could grow back. She has had to live with difficulties that the hearing loss caused in school and in her personal life. Because of the lack of government regulation and laws, my sister lost her hearing. That memory has shaped my decisions for trying to become a lawyer, so that way I can fight for people's rights and bring justice to people who cause harm to individuals. That experience has caused me to work harder in school so that way I can become an attorney. It gave me the determination, drive, strength, and passion to excel, so I do not disappoint future clients, my sister, or myself.
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Matt's story demonstrates his persistence:
One month, during my apprenticeship under a Korean master potter, I experienced a great deal of bad luck with the pieces I was making, mostly smaller pieces. Thunder shook the studio enough to knock one piece off a shelf during a storm; another piece melted onto mine in the kiln. For the next month I worked on the biggest and best piece I had ever made. It took an entire month for this one piece alone. One day, I came in to put the finishing touches on it before it would be ready to be fired. My streak of bad luck had not ended because I came in to find a pile of clay pieces from my collapsed artwork. I found out that the clay I had used was bad, and of course decided to find a new, more reliable clay company to buy my clay from.
So after a month of work all gone down the drain on what was to be the best piece I had ever made at the time, my persistence and commitment to excellence would not let me give up, even in what seemed like the worst streak of luck in the world. I was disappointed and frustrated, and at the point where most people may have just given up entirely, but I used it to fuel my goal of making the piece even better this time. I took another month working from scratch with new clay from the beginning all over again. I finally finished it.
This time, the piece was even bigger, and even better than what it would have been before. I put everything I had into it and was extremely pleased with the final product. I ended up being able to put this piece in many different art shows and won several awards and scholarships for it. I had many people eager to buy it, for over $1,000 even, but I wasn't ready to let go of a piece that I could still profit from in shows and scholarships. I earned the highest award from a local organization and earned a scholarship, as well as a space in the window of a prestigious downtown art gallery.
This experience reaffirms for me that I should never give up on any goal I have for myself and that I'm capable of getting through anything I put myself up against. My persistence and goal-focused drive keep me thriving in a world of uncontrollable factors and setbacks. My ability to work through any circumstance and solve problems got me to a finished product that I could be proud of and even help pay for my college experience.
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Andy's dramatic post-hurricane story describes the gratification gained from helping in a time of crisis:
In the fall of 2004, the beginning of my senior year of high school, hurricanes Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne pounded the state of Florida. My hometown is centrally located between the east and west coasts, sheltered by miles of land from tidal surges and the fiercest winds of the storms. However, that is not to say that we went unaffected. The days before and after the brunt of the storms were still plagued with incessant rain.
One or possibly two storms in a season would have caused no serious problem; that would have been normal. But four? The infrastructure of the city was not designed to withstand so much rain and wind in such a short time.
By the time the third storm approached, parking lots and streets were under water. Neighborhoods around town were flooded, cars were submerged, and trees were uprooting from the completely saturated soil.
My father and I decided to drive through the neighborhood just down the road from our house and see what damage the storm had done to our area. As we drove along the streets there was not too much to see. There were some downed trees in yards, leaves and small branches everywhere, and flooded ditches. As we neared the back of the neighborhood I noticed a group of two or three men working with buckets, brooms, and a small pump on generator power to move the runoff water that was approaching a house. In an instant my father and I recognized one of the men and stopped immediately. The man so desperately trying to save his house from flooding was my dentist, Dr. Dutter. He has been my dentist as long as I can remember. I rode the same bus as two of his daughters in elementary school. We got out and Dr. Dutter came to greet us in the midst of his frantic effort to save his house (uninsured from floods) from the rising water. The problem was that they were unable to move the water fast enough and far enough away to make any progress.
I immediately headed back to my house where I grabbed a bucket and some old pool vacuum hose that we could attach to the pump and move the water across the street and into a ditch that drained into the woods. Even with all our efforts, the water still crept toward the low-lying house. One of Dr. Dutter's friends called the industrial equipment rental places around town in search of a stronger pump.
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To give an idea of what were working with at the time, it would have been just as effective to siphon the water with a garden hose. Only one place on the other side of town had a pump, a brand new one at that, but it came with a catch. They had received a new pump without a new hose to fit it. Not only that, but Dr. Dutter had no car as his family members had grabbed their valuables and fled to his in-laws' house. If that weren't enough, the rental store closed in less than an hour, and the house was sure to flood with nobody there to bail away the water.
I volunteered to drive Dr. Dutter across town in my truck in what seemed like a desperate attempt to save his house from flooding. We were fortunate enough to make it before the store closed. We went to pick up the pump in hopes that we would come across some hosing that fit it, or maybe someone would turn some back in by the time we got there. Unfortunately, there was no hosing at the rental center. The trip appeared to be in vain. Fortunately, a contractor who happened to be a regular customer came in and the store manager told him our situation. I still think it was a divine act of God that the customer had a spare hose that fit the pump. He headed back to his shop and within half an hour we had a pump and free hose. A total stranger's willingness to help made me proud of my community and how the people there come together in times of hardship and celebration alike.
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We hurried back to Dr. Dutter's house, our spirits lifted, to set up the industrial sump pump. I spent the rest of the day wading into dirty water, setting up the pump, and bailing water with a five-gallon bucket to save the house of a man I see once every six months. As darkness fell, my dad (unable to help much himself because of a bad back) returned to see how things were going. Dr. Dutter began praising me and thanking us for our help, telling my dad how much help I had been and how impressed he was with me. It was embarrassing to hear him say all that in front of me. I could only think that I had done what anyone would have in the same situation, and I still think that. I was just happy to help him and be a good neighbor. His house was safe from flooding, at least until the next hurricane season, and I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment to have been a part that. Not too much later a thank you note came to me in the mail with a gift certificate to a sporting-goods store. The note was nice, and I was glad to hear he decided to buy flood insurance for next year, but I was almost ashamed to take the gift card. My decision to help him was not based on the assumption of compensation. I did it only because I knew he needed my help and it was the right thing to do. Of course, I dared not insult him by refusing the gift. I managed to put it to good use. When I think about that day, I always remember how grateful he was for my help, and how surprised he seemed to be that a teenager would spend his day off from school to help him bail water and chase down a sump pump and a hose. That memory of helping someone who needed and appreciated it so much is a reward that will last my entire life and remind me forever how fulfilling it is to come together and accomplish something meaningful.
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In developing your foundational story, ask yourself, what story can I tell that best captures the quintessential me? (And, as mentioned earlier, you may find that you need more than one story to express the quintessential you.) Develop that story or stories, and the stories in Chapter 3 and beyond will be much easier to generate.
Quintessential You Story Resources
Denning, S. (2005). The Leader's Guide to Storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Joe Lambert, Digital Storytelling Cookbook
Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through Storytelling. Cambridge. MA: Basic Books.
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In addition to the change stories we've seen in Chapter 1, job-seekers need to know how to develop stories about skills, abilities, expertise, personal traits and characteristics, values, and accomplishments. But how do you develop the stories, how do you know which of these qualities to develop stories about, and how do you know how to frame your stories? First, you need to know how to formulate or structure a story.
Career experts have developed myriad formulas and clever acronyms for how to structure stories in the job search. These formulas have in common the idea of setting the scene for your story by describing the situation, problem, or challenge you faced, explaining what action you took to address the situation, solving the problem or meeting the challenge, and explaining the result of your actions. Results expressed quantitatively, in numbers and percents, for example, are especially effective. An optional inclusion is the learning you gained from this experience. Some of the common formulas and acronyms (with their originators,where knowm, in parentheses) include:
- CAR: Challenge, Action, Result
- CCAR:Context, Challenge, Action, Result (Kathryn Troutman)
- PAR: Problem, Action Result
- PARLA: Problem, Action, Result, Learning, Application (Donald Asher)
- SAR: Situation, Action, Result
- SCARQ: Situation, Challenge, Action, Results-Quantified (Steve Gallison)
- SHARE: Situation, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation (Fred Coon)
- SIA: Situation, Impact, Analysis
- SMART: Situation with Metrics (or Situation and More), Actions, Results, Tie-in (Susan Britton Whitcomb)
- SOAR: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result
- STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result
These story formulas are most often prescribed for interviews; thus, you can find a story example for each in Chapter 7 on interview stories.
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Develop stories of various lengths and containing assorted amounts of detail for each element of your job search:
- Short bullet-point version for your resume. Because a resume needs to attract attention quickly, it's a good idea to tell each story so that the result comes first, as in the following bullets about a job-seeker's accomplishment:
- Beat two-month deadline for operationalizing online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll system by overseeing fast-track implementation from outside vendor.
- Reduced payroll discrepancies 25 percent and time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues by 50 percent.
- Decreased time spent on reports by 25 percent by customizing reports to track labor/benefits allocation.
- Earned vendor's Certificate for Management's Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.
Read more about resume storytelling in Chapter 4.
- More detailed paragraph version for your cover letters. In the following example, the same story is told in paragraph form in the job-seeker's cover letter. Note that a cover letter should not rehash the resume, so even if you are highlighting the same accomplishment in both documents, vary your language and the way you frame the story:
I demonstrated my strong project-management skills when the project team I led exceeded all expectations while implementing an outside vendor's system for online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll. Not only did we crush our two-month deadline, but we also reduced payroll discrepancies, slashed in half the time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues, and cut time spent on reports. The icing on the cake was earning the vendor's Certificate for Management's Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.
Read more about cover-letter stories in Chapter 5.
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- Still more detailed version, composed in a conversational style, for job interviews:
My company was struggling with scheduling employees, monitoring their time and attendance, as well as tying these elements into payroll. We needed a system, preferably online, that would make these tasks more efficient, save time, and reduce errors. When management decided to go with an outside vendor for the new system, they chose me to head up the project team. We were on a tight, two-month deadline, but I led the team to surpass not only the deadline, but the expected results. Under my guidance, we got the vendor's system online so successfully that we reduced payroll discrepancies by 25 percent. Since we've operationalized it, the company has saved time in scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues; in fact, these processes take half the time they used to. By customizing reports to track labor and benefits allocation, we also cut time spent on reports by a quarter. We did such a great job and made the functions so much more efficient that the vendor recognized us with its Certificate for Management's Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.
Read more about interviewing stories in Chapter 7.
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Identifying Characteristics to Highlight in Your Stories
Once you're familiar with these basic accomplishments-driven job-search story structures, the next step is determine what characteristics you wish to showcase about yourself in your stories. The answer is to tell stories that demonstrate the skills, abilities, values, and knowledge that employers seek in the type of job and industry you're targeting.
- Identify a dozen or so help-wanted ads or Internet job postings that typify the kind of job you seek.
- List keywords that describe the skills and characteristics required for these jobs. See the end of this chapter for a list of skills and characteristics that employers typically seek.
- Now, highlight all the skills and characteristics keywords the ads or job postings have in common and make a list of these frequently appearing skills/characteristics.
- For each skill/characteristic listed, compose a story that illustrates how you have successfully demonstrated that skill or characteristic in your career or even in your personal life.
- Be sure to compose stories that come from a variety of aspects of your life and career; don't focus on just one job or extracurricular activity, for example. Draw your stories from fairly recent experience. Employers what to know what you've done lately that could benefit their organization.
Keeping in mind that a successful story must be true and told in context, consider these ideas for story-framing (with originators in parentheses) so your collection of stories comes from various perspectives:
- A time in your life when this skill/characteristic was tested. (Annette Simmons)
- A person/event in your life that taught you the importance of this skill/characteristic. (Annette Simmons)
- A time when you failed to live up to this skill/characteristic and decided never to let it happen again. (Annette Simmons)
- A movie/story/book/event that exemplifies this skill/characteristic for you. (Annette Simmons)
- A turning point in your development of this skill/characteristic. (Annette Simmons)
- A story about tasks and job functions related to this skill/characteristic.
- A timeline of how you developed and sharpened this skill/characteristic.
- An example from your personal life (as opposed to career) of deploying this skill/characteristic.
- Patterns that have emerged in your development of this skill/characteristic.
- Results you've achieved through using this skill/characteristic.
- Lessons you've learned while developing and using this skill/characteristic.
- Ways you've applied this skill/characteristic in diverse situations.
- A strength or vulnerability from your past that led to developing this skill/characteristic. (Stephen Denning)
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Following are examples of stories that use some of these frameworks:
I have learned that my role is to do work that makes a difference in people's lives. For the first 20 years, I worked in television news, believing in the people's right to know. For the past six years, I've been in education, helping teachers and their students. My ultimate goal is to be head of a department. (Recognizes a characteristic that has become a career pattern).
I realized I had solid problem-solving skills during my freshmen year after I went to the soup kitchen in Parkersburg to serve food to the less fortunate. I felt that I needed to do something more, so I had an idea that when everybody moved out of the dorms at the end of a semester, instead of throwing nonperishable food away, students could put it in a box, and I would take it to the local food bank so it could feed the poor. I ended up gathering about six carloads of canned and dry food that would have been thrown away. (Describes a skill honed in personal life rather than career).
My leadership skills were called into question by my first evaluation as a district manager. I was rated much lower than I had ever been rated. I realized that, after having been promoted into a new position, I needed to learn a lot more. Determined to never again get a low rating, I learned as much as I possibly could, and this quest for knowledge became the driving force behind my attaining the high rating I achieved for this year. (Describes failure to live up to skill/characteristic and determination never to let it happen again).
I solve problems every day in my job, but one recent example I had that truly tested my problem-solving skills involved a woman who called me to question why we refunded part of her premium to her. She's a new policy-holder who was quoted $2,900 for an annual premium and paid that amount, but in the computer, her annual premium was about $2,500, so we refunded her the difference. My first hunch was she received a discount for paying in full, but when I calculated the discount percent, it was not adding up. After about two or three iterations of trying various combinations of discounts, I still was unable to figure out why the quote and actual premium were different and figured I was not looking for the right root cause. I decided to manually price her policy from the ground up, and during the process I happened to notice her birthday on her application was written ambiguously and could have been interpreted as 1925 or 1928. I calculated quotes for both ages and realized the reason for the difference. I honored the lower rate since the payment transactions were fully completed. (Describes a time when skill was tested).
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As an undergrad, I took a course on argument and advocacy and learned a very important concept called Tooling Modeling, which is a logical way of thinking with three parts: claim, grounds, and warrant. The claim is your point; the grounds consists of your proof, evidence, or backing; and your warrant is your logical leap that connects the two. The theory is naturally a little more complicated than that, but this way of thinking has been my bible for rational thought and was the single most valuable lesson I learned in college. I use this way of thinking when I am presented with problems that require decisions. I structure a rational, logical argument for each likely outcome. I can therefore see where weaknesses exist, either in the grounds or the warrant. I conduct a bump-and-compare between arguments to see which are the strongest, and I go with the most durable argument. I also take a practical approach to decision making in that I try to find out best outcome for the least price or cost. (Describes a turning point/event that taught the importance of skill/characteristic).
I have always had a fascination for how machines work, and whenever my family and I went on holiday, I would always try and get the window-seat on the plane, if only to watch the flaps and air-brakes in action during takeoff and landing. As I continued my education, I felt a compulsion to use my degree in a people-oriented profession. So, while I love machines, I'd like to contribute my engineering skills in a company that affects peoples lives positively. I just like helping people. (Identifies a strength from the past that led to developing this skill/characteristic)
More examples of stories that illustrate skills and characteristics:
I found myself applying to my university because my cross-country coach told me not to. He advised me to take the free-ride cross-country scholarship to another school. I reasoned that academics and cross-country would be too much for me to handle there. So I applied to my current university because I felt I could compete comfortably while also excelling in my academics. My high-school coach was not too thrilled. He said, "You are making the biggest mistake of your life."Â He went on to tell me that the other college had a better cross-country department, and I would be running with a nationally ranked team. I challenged my coach and told him that with leadership and devotion, any team can be nationally ranked. Of course he laughed at my statement and restated that I was making a mistake.
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Once I enrolled at my chosen school, I saw that my coach had been correct about the facilities and the character of the people on the team. The team members were not motivated, not athletic, and needless to say, lost every race they entered. Three other freshman that had walked onto the team joined me in deciding to change the team members' attitudes. However, animosity was abundant between the upperclassman and the freshman. While we won races, the upperclassmen felt inferior, causing internal conflict in the team. Regardless, I was determined to persuade the team to mesh well to create unity. Consequently, the upperclassmen quit the team. Still, after winning our state title, we advanced to the national level, where we were expected to compete against the college my coach had wanted me to attend. We won the meet against that school, beating them out of a third-place medal. The moral of this story is that when I was challenged to do the impossible, my devotion, character, team leadership, and tenacity persevered, while also helping the team.
I grew up in a poor, broken home, yet decided that golf was my great passion in life. I creatively used my meager resources to buy golf clubs and later a junior membership for $180 at a local club. Every day for two years, I walked through the woods to the golf course where I would play, practice, and compete throughout high school. I eventually got a job at the club so I could buy myself a few necessities. I wanted to play in college but was nowhere near the player I needed to be to play or even get on the team. So over the summer before college, I worked on my golf game to the point where I won almost every tournament I entered. I spent every hour I had during the day to make myself a better all-around player. I eventually walked on my freshman year and was exempted from qualifying because I played so well in my first outing. Through the years my decision to play golf has influenced every part of my life 100 percent.
I didn't give up on a dream, and although I am not competing with Tiger, I realized all of the good decisions I made were based on the fact that I loved the game, but better yet, didn't give up on a goal.
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My stepfather was a role model and a strong influence in my life. He taught me about character; he taught me the tough lessons in life that some people learn too late or not at all. In one instance, he taught me the value of standing up for yourself. When the kids in his family (the "stepfamily"Â) failed to accept me, he advised me that I would have to take the initiative to learn how to handle situations in which people passively exclude me "Â that I would have to do something that could get their attention. I soon learned to gather a couple of people and start up a card game or another fun activity to direct the focus on the activity instead of clashing personalities. I later realized that through this process, I had learned creative techniques to influence group dynamics.
In another situation, he taught me the value of hard work. After volunteering to do yard work one day, I got tired of the project after mowing the lawn. Hot, sweaty, and tired, I started to leave before the project was done, and he told me I couldn't leave. After several hours of pulling weeds, watering, weed-whacking, fertilizing, trimming, and prepping flower beds while my father supervised from his comfortable lawn chair in the shade, I had learned that completing only a portion of a project is not acceptable when completion is expected; that there usually is a lot more work that goes on in the background of a finished product; that there will always be someone in that comfortable lawn chair watching others work "Â and that I wanted to be a supervisor in life.
When I was a receptionist at a photography company, a man came in claiming to be the father of a student who was there to pick up the student's pictures. I asked him for identification, and he said that he had forgotten it. Normally, if the student is present with the parent and verifies that it is the correct parent, then we give the pictures to them. That wasn't the case here. There was no student. I refused to give him the pictures, and he became angry and left. Later that day, a different man came in to pick up those same pictures. This man had photo identification with him, and I told him about what had occurred earlier that day. He told me that his child was being stalked, and that the family had a restraining order against that man. I took the stalker's image from our security cameras and posted a picture behind the counter that indicated that he was not to have any contact with the pictures of that student. My decision-making skills helped prevent a dangerous situation because he has continued repeatedly to come into the store posing to other employees as the parent of that student.
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As a Customer Service Rep for a video-rental company, I once had an irate customer who left three messages on my voicemail in about 10 minutes demanding a call back. I contacted the customer, who was now even angrier because I had been in a meeting when her call came in. I listened to the customer explain that she was upset because she had purchased a loyalty program membership from us, and then several days later, we were giving away the same memberships at no cost. I apologized to the customer and asked her how I could help. She stated that she wanted her money back and she would no longer be a member. I agreed to refund her money. I then bought her a thank you card and enclosed her refund and a free membership to our loyalty program. I also noticed that several times during the phone conversation, she had stopped to yell at her children, so I also enclosed two coupons for free kids' rentals. I thanked her for her business, apologized for not meeting her expectations, and invited her to bring her children in for a free video rental. I also enclosed my business card and asked her to call me directly if she was ever disappointed in any way while visiting one of our locations. She telephoned me when she received the card and told me that was the nicest thing any person had ever done for her when she was upset with a business. I again thanked her for her business and told her that she was my bread and butter. If she wasn't happy, then I couldn't be either!
Chapter 3: How to Develop Career-Propelling Stories - Page 36
Skills and characteristics employers seek
- Adaptability and transferability of skills (important for career-changers)
- Administrative support
- Analytical thinking
- Areas of expertise
- Certification and/or degree(s)
- Computer, technological proficiency
- Cost savings
- Customer/client service
- Entrepreneurial/startup skills
- Indicators of success/good performance/quality
- Problem-solving and troubleshooting
- Process improvement
- Quantitative skills
- Research, strategy, and planning
- Team player who can also work independently
- Team player/team-builder
- Time management/ability to perform under deadline pressure
- Willingness to learn/ability to learn quickly
- Willingness to travel, relocate
- Work ethic/professionalism
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The KSA, an acronym for Knowledge "Â Skills "Â Abilities, is a close cousin of the resume used primarily in government hiring and is another aspect of career-marketing communication in which storytelling can play a positive role. It's common to be asked to complete a KSA document, typically consisting of 3-6 KSAs, for government jobs and sometimes for non-government positions as well. I include KSAs in this chapter rather than in the section about resumes and other career-marketing communication because the process for composing KSAs is very similar to the process described above. These documents provide an opportunity to memorably elaborate on the skills that distinguish you from other candidates, and you can do so with stories. Jay Christensen, co-author of On-the-Job Communications for Business, the Professions, Government, and Industry, encourages his business-communication students to write stories about career experiences that enabled them to achieve the knowledge, skill, or ability they are being asked to describe. With a KSA, you can develop a story, using the story-development frameworks in this chapter, to illustrate the knowledge, skill, or ability the employer requires you to demonstrate. The KSA, Christensen notes, "is the story of some part of the [job-seeker's] work experience lifestyle."Â As with most stories used in job-search communication, KSAs should include results and quantification where possible.
Fopllowing are examples of partial KSA stories (A full KSA statement is about a page to a page and a half for each question asked).
Contracts: I have extensive experience with contracts and expertise in contract interpretation. The Salvation Army selected me to lead multimillion-dollar contract negotiations on corporate-wide benefits between the Salvation Army and healthcare providers. I also specialized in contract law during more than three years as an in-house attorney for SouthComm Communications, Inc., where I reviewed, negotiated, and managed contracts. My contract interpretation skills are highly relevant to a Patent Attorney-Advisor's work because of their applicability to interpreting and analyzing statutes.
Ability to be organized and perform efficiently and proficiently in a fast-moving production environment under short deadlines: As an in-house attorney at SouthComm Communications, I excelled for more than three years in fast-paced environment in which production against tight deadlines was critical and directly impacted the company's bottom-line sales and revenues. My job was to execute as many leases and other real-estate agreements as possible while limiting the company's exposure to risk. Cell sites could not be constructed to offload heavy-traffic areas without an executed lease, so the company depended on my organizational skills, proficiency, and rapid turnaround during contract negotiations. While speed was essential, I also succeeded in striking a balance between achieving business objectives and minimizing the company's liability.
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Skill in working independently on a wide variety of complex issues and make quick decisions with a high degree of accuracy at various stages of review simultaneously: I have great respect for the value of working independently without supervision to increase the productivity of the entire department and company. As a contract attorney, for example, I perform all work independently during each stage of document review. Law firms hire me with the understanding that they will not have to oversee my work because I produce quality output. They also depend on me to proficiently perform all assigned functions of my job with minimal supervision of staff attorneys and partners.
Atkinson, Cliff: Free story-building templates and resources, as described in the book, Beyond Bullet Points Although the book is about PowerPoint presentations, the templates and resources can be useful for any kind of story-building).
- Bronson, P. (2002). What Should I Do with My Life? New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Denning, S. (2001). The Springboard. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
- Denning, S. (2004). Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Denning, S. (2005). The Leader's Guide to Storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Gargiulo, T. L. (2006). Stories at Work. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Han, P. (2005). Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start. New York: Portfolio.
- Maguire, J. (1998). The Power of Personal Storytelling. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
- Neuhauser, P. C. (1993). Corporate Legends & Lore: The Power of Storytelling as a Management Tool. Austin, TX: PCN Associates.
- Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through Storytelling. Cambridge. MA: Basic Books.
- Simmons, Annette. Developing "Who Am I/Why I'm Here" Stories
- Whitcomb, Susan Britton, (2003). Resume Magic. Indianapolis, ID: JIST.
Chapter 4: Networking as Storytelling - Page 39
The often misunderstood art of networking is all about establishing relationships so that you can enlist support and comfortably ask for ideas, advice, and referrals to those with the power to hire you or advance your career. Storytelling provides a wonderful way to build these relationships because of story's ability to instill emotional investment. Tell a good story to new network contacts you meet, and they will care much more about your success than if you had simply listed facts about yourself. This chapter introduces two primary ways to integrate storytelling into your networking activities:
- Developing a brief introductory speech to succinctly tell network contacts who you are and what kind of work you seek. This speech is usually referred to as an "Elevator Speech,"Â but for our purposes in this chapter, let's call it the Elevator Story. You may want to develop multiple versions of this story to have ready for various situations.
- Enlisting an "advisory board"Â of network contacts to review and critique the stories you use at all points in the job search.
The Elevator Speech Becomes the Elevator Story
By now the Elevator Speech is a fairly well-known tool not only for job-seekers but also for organizations and individuals with products and services to sell. Authors of numerous Internet articles on the Elevator Speech offer speculations on the origin of the term "Â ranging from the notion that we often run into important people in elevators to the more common explanation that the Elevator Speech is a clear, concise bit of storytelling that can be delivered in the time it takes folks to ride from a building's top to the bottom in an elevator.
Whatever its exact origin, the Elevator Story is an exceptionally useful and versatile tool in numerous situations:
- Events designed specifically for networking.
- The casual networking opportunities we encounter nearly every day "Â the kids' soccer games, plane flights, waiting in line to buy tickets, and on and on.
- Career or job fairs.
- Cold calls to employers.
- Cold calls to absent employers: Rita Fisher of Career Change Resumes suggests that leaving your Elevator Story in the form of a voicemail message virtually guarantees that the employer will call back. Hint: Assuming your story is sufficiently compelling, call after hours when you know for sure you will get the employer's voicemail.
- Opportunities within your own company to talk with higher-up honchos, let them know you're doing a great job, and position you for promotion.
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- Job interviews where the Elevator Story can provide the answer to at least two common interview queries: "Tell me about yourself"Â and "Why should I hire you?"Â (See Chapter 7, Storytelling in the Interview).
Wide variation exists among experts as to the ideal length of an Elevator Story. Some experts say as few as 15 seconds; others say up to three minutes. There's no reason, however, that you can't employ both short and long versions. Different situations, after all, may well call for diverse approaches.
An Elevator Story is a story-based introduction of yourself used in situations where you are meeting a lot of people and probably not spending a great deal of time with any one of them. The trick is to make your introduction so intriguing "Â by using story "Â that people will want to spend more time talking with you. The speech also might be incorporated into an initial phone conversation with a prospective new member of your network.
At its most basic level, the Elevator Story's structure is:
Hi, my name is -----------. I'm in the --------------- field, and I'm looking to---------------------.
The last blank would be filled in with your current career aspiration, whether it is to stay within your field and move up or move into a different career. Here's a slightly more embellished example:
Greetings. My name is Indra Ghee. I'm an accomplished, published, senior-level scientist with 12 years of experience in molecular biology.
A college student or new graduate might add the following to the basic structure.
Hi, my name is -----------. I will be graduating/I just graduated from -------------------- with a degree in ---------------------. I'm looking to---------------------.
These bare-bones structures don't tell much of a story, though, and are not terribly memorable, so consider adding meat to the bones of your Elevator Story with additional details about your background and what you can offer, as in these examples:
Hi, I'm Joe Fredericks. I'm a versatile project/program management executive with 15-plus years of leadership and business management expertise gained from positions of increasing responsibility in both the U.S. Navy and the private sector. I recently reduced my employer's costs by 35 percent through leading a hardware and software redesign of the access control system, which also resulted in improved performance, increased reliability, and additional features.
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I'm Valerie Obermarle, a creative outside-the-box thinker who approaches strategic development with innovative vision, high ethical standards, unsurpassed work ethic, and ability to communicate effectively across management levels and disciplines to build highly effective cross-functional teams.
Hello, I'm Jim Swing, a brand-new MBA and an accounting professional with three years of hands-on experience in multiple aspects of accounting operations.
Hi there, I'm Tim Tejera, but you can call me a technically proficient, enthusiastic new computer-science graduate who possesses comprehensive, practical knowledge of the latest hardware and programming technologies along with expertise in multiple software applications. I might look like a college kid, but I accelerated time-to-market for embedded software by 25 percent by using appropriate software quality tools, improved debugging methods, and timely personnel training.
I'm Janet Singleton. I like to think of myself as an accomplished organizational-development professional with more than a decade of experience in project leadership, needs assessment/definition, resource identification, and process/change facilitation. I took the initiative to improve medical benefits and develop systems for handling benefits-enrollment data after being recruited initially to set up an HR department for a company that has grown from eight to 25 employees.
Hello, I'm Cynthia Bee. I'm a licensed industrial engineering professional with eight years of experience in medical diagnostic manufacturing and personal products manufacturing and additional five years of experience in logistics.
Hi, Jack Burnham here. As a diligent, quantitatively skilled achiever, I'm equipped, through my master's-level training in taxation, to play a key role in your organization's tax research, analysis, and planning. I also have expertise in interpreting tax code, regulations, revenue rulings, and case law, as well as preparing tax returns for corporations, partnerships, individuals, estates and trusts.
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Hi, I'm Jenny Swade. I'd like to use my newly minted MBA-education to apply organizational-development theory and practice at a growing firm. I can particularly contribute strong analytical, quantitative, research, and planning skills, along with solid leadership, interpersonal, and people-management capabilities. I enhanced my company's pricing competitiveness by assessing and selecting vendors for new systems.
Hello, my name in Andy Fellows. I'm an entrepreneurial marketing professional with more than 15 years of uncompromising accomplishments in multiple facets of building, marketing, and operating highly successful academic product sales businesses. I attained a 170 percent increase in 12 months by expanding the academic market for software through direct sales to universities worldwide, channel partners, and publishers, as well as by implementing solid prospecting strategies to cultivate new business opportunities and broaden the customer base.
Hi, I'm Kimberly Jackson. I'm a customer-service professional with a solid background in administrative management and technology support as well as experience in public relations for internal and external clients, team-building, technology training, quality assurance, contract negotiation, and event planning.
Hello, I am Ed Kendall. As an international marketing consultant, I realized more than a 50 percent increase in overall profitability and $500,000 in new revenue through directing Euro conversion in four countries while simultaneously improving client relationships and controlling project costs.
Hi, I'm Sandra Dinkleman. You might be interested in knowing that I recently stabilized a highly chaotic operational and customer-service situation by taking control and implementing new heightened customer-service standards and collaborating with staff members to improve the company image and boost the morale of my employer's staff.
Chapter 4: Networking as Storytelling - Page 43
Hooking Your Network Contacts into Your Story
You could stick with a fairly basic structure and a simple Elevator Story and see where it takes you. Or you can begin your story with a conversational teaser or "hook."Â If you add this element of intrigue "Â a story "Â the ensuing conversation has even more potential. Let's look, for example, at how a conversation might go that starts with an intriguing story:
Networker #1: Hi, my name is Tom Jacobsen. I was born a lucky Arkansan.
Networker #2: How so?
Networker #1: Because I was born on July eleventh, 7-11. I have been fortunate enough to meet two presidents, Reagan and Clinton, and the richest man in the world, the late Sam Walton. I am also blessed to be part of a good family with one brother and three sisters. This family has instilled in me strong values, which were reinforced by volunteer work in my church and community. Trustworthiness and honesty are my defining characteristics. Quiet by nature, I am the "strong silent type."Â Far from boring, I have a great sense of humor, and even own a goose. I intend to achieve my goals through hard work.
Let's look at another example:
Networker #1: Hi, my name is Aleksandra Auersperg. I propagate teamwork and believe that brain share is key to success.
Networker #2: What does that mean?
Networker #1: I thrive on the synergy created by a team working well together, sharing, encouraging, and supporting each other. For example, back home in Slovenia, teamwork was everything "Â a value that basic to life. All my previous work has been in a team-driven work environment. I very much believe that two ideas are better then one, and two people will attain much more than one individual person.
And one more:
Networker #1: Hi, my name is Barney Joiner. You might think I'm a pimp, but I'm not.
Networker #2: That's good to know.
Networker #1: I have the PMP credential "Â which can be pronounced "pimp"Â "Â but it's actually Project Management Professional. I'm results-driven, and offer a master's-level education and a proven track record in project leadership, product development, project initiation and execution, and exceptional client management.
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The concern, of course, with an intriguing story is that you'll sound corny or hokey. And, in fact, chances are you will. I'll admit that when I first researched these Elevator Stories, I found them very corny. But they work "Â by hooking your conversation partner into learning more about you.
Even the most intriguing Elevator Stories often lack an important element "Â a request for action. Following are some action items that can be appended in various situations:
At a career fair: 'I'd like to take your business card, as well as leave my networking card and resume. Would it be possible for me to get a spot on your company's interview schedule?"
In a networking situation: "What advice do you have for me? Can you suggest any employers I should be contacting?"Â
Cold-calling an employer: "When can we set up a meeting to discuss how I can help your company?"Â
Telephone or e-mail situations: "May I send you my resume?" (For in-person situations, you should always have resumes handy.) If your resume exists in electronic form on the Internet, you can say: "May I refer you to my resume on the Web at [insert Web address here]?"Â
The Expanded Elevator Story
You can expand on your Elevator Story in networking situations in which you have more time to talk about yourself such as when you are visiting the office of a prospective member of your network or having lunch with a contact. It's also an effective response when you're conducting an informational interview, and the interviewee turns the tables and starts asking questions about you. This longer version is typically one to three minutes long and contains more about your background, qualifications, and skills.
Obviously, you don't want your expanded Elevator Story to sound memorized. But you are, after all, talking about yourself, so the material is not hard to remember. It helps to write it out first "Â outline form is fine; then read it over a few times, and practice saying it without reading or memorizing it. Practice it in front of friends and members of your network, too. It's not a big deal if you forget a detail as long as you remember the main points you want to get across. Here are some samples, which range from about 300-400 words. Remember that the point of composing such stories is not for them to sound exactly the way they are written. But writing them will help imprint them on your brain so you can tell them with the natural ease of a storyteller:
Chapter 4: Networking as Storytelling - Page 45
My desire to become a businesswoman began at a young age. I can clearly remember many summers of my childhood, the kind of summers that couldn't come quickly enough and that seemed to last an eternity. I would set up shop in front of my house, ready to sell lemonade to the neighbors or the occasional UPS man. A colorful sign and decorated table would adorn my roadside booth to entice customers. After a while, I became bored with just the lemonade shop. I wanted to draw in my peers, so I began to collect Happy Meal toys during the year. When summer came, I would fill up my red wagon and tug it along to the shop to sell nifty gadgets and toys in addition to the lemonade.
Eager for a change and the excitement of something new, I passed along the lemonade shop to my younger sisters and decided to move onto other avenues. My best friend Ashley and I opened up "Maggie and Ashley's Place"Â "Â another business endeavor, this one providing jewelry services. We bought bead boxes and filled them to the brim with multi-colored thread and an assortment of beads. On the inside cover of our boxes, we had a log to record orders, determine the price based on the thread and number of beads used, and provide an estimate as to when the orders would be completed. We also started to use the computer technology that we learned about in school to design and print out our own business cards.
Looking back, I'm amazed at the precision, quality, and detail I gave to these businesses, attributes I continue to strive for to this day. From brainstorming ideas and seeing them through to fruition, I found excitement and vigor in pursuing my dreams. Over the years I've learned to never give up and if something isn't working out, to forge a new path to make it my own. I truly admire Eleanor Roosevelt for saying that "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,"Â and I plan to see to it that I never stop dreaming of bigger and better aspirations.
I started playing fastpitch softball when I was 10 years old. I have missed a ball in the field, struck out at the plate, and even been injured during a game. However, I love softball unconditionally because I have discovered elements of my life that I truly treasure from simply playing the game. I have learned the importance of being a team player as well as communicating effectively to execute the game plan. I have established leadership qualities by leading by example and motivating others to be the best that they can be. Most importantly, softball has taught me that only dedication and devotion toward your goals brings success; therefore, hard work and patience is the key to being successful.
Because the preceding stories have their roots in childhood, they are especially heartwarming and emotional. But of course, most Elevator Stories will come from professional experience, as in the following examples:
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I have worked with my father in our family business since well before I turned 18. My father and I own a company that specializes in diverse business fields, primarily property development and hydro-engineering. We branched into hydro-engineering mainly because I had such a fascination with renewable energy. I expressed this interest to my father and our team of engineers, and I was given the "greenlight"Â to set up a company and do some research. After two years, our company obtained all necessary approvals from the government, and our first mini-hydro project was on the way. Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons and a central region of mountains, which is the perfect recipe for generating hydro-electricity. The project began operation in September 2004, and by now it has become one of the most profitable subsidiaries in our establishment. The confidence and the experience that I've gained provide me with strength and guidance for my future endeavors.
My determination and ability to connect people with resources that produce results is my greatest attribute. For example, my first retail management position involved an independently owned start-up pet store in Sausalito. My goal was to establish a profitable business within a two-year timeframe. I hired and developed a knowledgeable and trained team of employees, researched the market to properly merchandise the store, connected with the community to make it an enjoyable shopping experience and develop loyal customers, and initiated procedures to manage expenses, shrink, and inventory. The result was a well-established community pet store that grew into a $1.25 million a year business. I also have a strong sense of equality and thrive on the experience of learning from and leading a team. I enjoy setting goals and empowering others to achieve their goals. I am fearless and persistent when it comes to connecting with the people who can make a difference and asking them for what we need to complete a task. I have excellent communication skills and a keen eye when it comes to grasping the big picture and finding those who will contribute their talents to creating success.
Chapter 4: Networking as Storytelling - Page 47
The following roundup of formulas suggested by experts should provide food for thought for the method that works best for you in planning and outlining your Elevator Story. Remember that in a job-hunting situation, the listener's tacit question may be "Why should I (or any employer) hire you?"Â
This framework for planning your Elevator Story is adapted from Tony Jeary, author of Life Is a Series of Presentations:
- Define your audience universe.
- Define the content or subject matter of your story.
- Define your objective.
- Define your desired image or style.
- Define your key message and build your story around it.
Author, speaker, and consultant Marisa D'Vari suggests starting the Elevator Story process by writing down three key points about your product (you, in this case) and telling stories about how these points will benefit an employer.
Here's a story-based variation on a formula suggested by Certified Professional Virtual Assistant Jean Hanson:
- Who am I? (introduce yourself).
- What field or industry am I in?
- What position am I in and what position do I want to be in? In what capacity do I serve or want to serve?
- What is my USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? What makes me different from the competition?
- A brief story that illustrates the benefits that employers can derive from my skills, based on my proven accomplishments.
- Who am I? Hi, I'm Thad VanIderstine.
- What field or industry am I in? I'm a strategic operations executive in the cable-TV sector.
- What position am I in and what position do I want to be in? In what capacity do I serve or want to serve? I want to add value to an organization in a senior position by being involved in many facets of operations and how strategy translates into increasing the bottom line.
- What is my USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? What makes me different from the competition? A successful manager must be able to provide valuable feedback in timely fashion while allowing employees to be independent and coaching them on both their strengths and opportunities for development. I've been a successful manager because I lead by example.
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- A brief story that illustrates the benefits that employers can derive from my skills, based on my proven accomplishments. For instance, when I was asked to manage a field project, one team was struggling to get the program off the ground. One of the issues they had was the ability to effectively manage outsourcing. So I showed them how to take charge of meetings with the outsource vendors, hold them [meetings] less frequently, and ensure that everyone was accountable. The result was the successful management of the program, and my gaining the respect of the team, rather than potential resentment for my taking over the project. Senior management recognized the entire team for launching the program.
Next is a formula that requires researching targeted employers and telling your Elevator Story to someone connected to the targeted employer. It's adapted from Randy W. Dipner of Meeting the Challenge, Inc.:
- List target employers. Group them and ultimately define the employer.
- Define the need or opportunity. That is, what critical issue does the employer face?
- Identify yourself in terms of a job function or contribution. What do you do?
- Tell a story that incorporates the benefits not the features that you provide to the employer. Prioritize the benefits to identify the single benefit that is the most compelling reason for the employer to hire you. To the maximum extent possible, the benefit should be both quantified and expressed in story form.
- Develop a statement of the primary differentiation of yourself, which should be the single most important thing that sets you apart from the competition.
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- Define the employer. I'm looking to join an organization like Tornado Marketing that values an impact player who can help maximize brand productivity. My ideal job would allow me to interact with all areas of the company in all marketing-communications disciplines, from market research to agency management, to sales and marketing.
- Define the need or opportunity. That is, what critical issue does the employer face? Based on my research, I know that Tornado has a major new client that is looking to raise its visibility and build its brand in the banking sector.
- Identify yourself in terms of a job function or contribution. What do you do? I go far beyond advertising, delving into internal communications, sales discussions, and virtually any client interaction. Throughout my career, I've continually progressed to take on more responsibility because of my commitment to ensuring the integrity of marketing and collaborating with all areas of the organization.
- Tell a story that incorporates the benefits not the features that you provide to the employer. One of the things I am most proud of is the awards program I created to help a former bank client become better known for catering to small businesses and recognizing small businesses for the contributions to the economy. I managed all aspects of program including communications, securing an independent judging panel, instituting an impartial judging process, and overseeing public-relations strategy and tactics. I created a media strategy around the program and winner announcement in local markets. The program generated 2 million media impressions in first year and experienced an increased response of 25 percent in second year while reducing the budget by more than 30 percent. And internally I then used the results of this program to create a brand new look and feel for the bank's marketing communications. I was recruited for this opportunity because of my successful management of the Leadership Awards program.
- Develop a statement of the primary differentiation of yourself, which should be the single most important thing that sets you apart from the competition. While my specialty is brand-building, I'm the complete package. I help clients increase awareness, favorability, and ultimately sales by employing a variety of marketing communications disciplines, including market research, program development and management, advertising and public relations. I've been successful in my career because I'm passionate about what I do, am extremely energetic, and have the ability to be both strategic and tactical.
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The business school at Pepperdine University suggests knowing your audience and knowing yourself, including key strengths, adjectives that describe you, a description of what you are trying to let others know about you, and a statement of your interest in the company or industry the person represents. Armed with that knowledge, the job-seeker can then outline the Elevator Story using these questions:
- Who am I?
- What do I offer?
- What problems can I solve?
- What are the main contributions I can make?
- What should the listener do as a result of hearing this?
- Who am I? I am an experienced financial operations manager with more than 15 years of managerial experience and a track record of leading teams of people who achieve benchmark results. I have an extensive background in operations analysis, training, and managing the performance metrics in an operations environment.
- What do I offer? I offer excellent project-management skills, and I'm a pro at cost savings.
- What problems can I solve? I can implement money-saving projects. I led a project team that came up with new payment programs for people experiencing serious long-term hardships that were impacting their ability to make regular payments on their debts. I suggested the project to the president of our company. My project team designed the requirements for the new programs and the system requirements to support the enrollments. We determined the metrics needed to measure the program's success, helped design the required training for the program rollout, and handled the actual rollout. Within 12 months, we had saved more than $50 million in potential losses through the use of the new programs.
- What are the main contributions I can make? My background demonstrates a strong record of loyalty to my employers as well as top results and consistent promotions consistently to positions of increasing responsibilities. I can contribute strong analytical, communication, and leadership skills, and can build a strong team of people focused on achieving the organization's goals.
- What should the listener do as a result of hearing this? Can you suggest any employers who could benefit from my skills and experience?
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You'll notice that one thing nearly all the experts have in common is their emphasis on the importance of stressing your benefit to the listener and touching on how you're better than the competition. This principle encompasses many names "Â Unique Selling Proposition, value proposition, benefit statement, competitive advantage, deliverables, differentiation "Â but the bottom line is the same. What can you bring to the employer, and how can you do it better than anyone else? Telling a story is a great way to answer those questions.
Enlisting Your Personal Advisory Board in Reviewing and Critiquing Your Job-Search Stories
One of the most effective uses of networking is the potential to build an inner circle of close advisers who can guide and support you through your job search. They're the ones that you can always feel comfortable calling on for advice, the ones who will conduct practice interviews with you, and the folks who can review and critique the stories you develop for all phases of the job search. They can help you develop and tell your stories. Ask for feedback from them about your strengths and weaknesses, and build stories around your strengths as perceived by those who know you best.
Test out your stories on your close inner circle. Ask them to place themselves in the employer's mindset as they listen to or read your stories, and request that they react as an employer would react. You can then use their feedback to refine and polish your stories.
Writing on Business Week Online, Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of WorldWIT (Women. Insight. Technology.) recommends trading resumes with colleagues and asking the reader to "look for the story that comes through."Â
Expand your network by conducting informational interviews. Learn about industry trends through these interviews so you can tailor your stories to what's happening in your field. Ask interviewees what the top people in your field offer that others don't, and then incorporate your matching qualities into your stories.
- Bolles, Richard N. (2008). What Color is Your Parachute? Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. New editions of this classic are published annually.
- Enelow, W., & Goldman, S. (2005). Insider's Guide to Finding a Job. Indianapolis, IN: JIST.
- Hansen, Katharine. (2008). A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
- Quintessential Careers: The Art of Career and Job-Search Networking
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The contemporary resume, with its bullet points and terse, clipped phrases, seems antithetical to any type of storytelling device. Some players in the hiring process, particularly recruiters, tend to want candidates to stick to the facts in their resumes. Others, however, especially those who make direct hiring decisions, appreciate a resume that opens a window to your personality through storytelling. In this 2002 book, Making Stories: A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists, Terrence Gargiulo, for example, points out that human-resource managers prepare to interview candidates by reading resumes with their "story mind." Putting himself into the mindset of HR people, he envisions using the information in the resume to "construct a story and image of the person." As a job-seeker, you can help the hiring decision-maker by crafting a narrative that grabs the reader.
When read by human eyes, your resume will get the reader's attention for only 2.5 to 20 seconds. In his popular book about intuition, Blink!, Malcolm Gladwell talks about "thin-slicing," which he defines as "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience." Employers can be said to "thin-slice" when they glance at a resume. Rare is the employer who will read even close to the entire resume on the first pass. Yet they will usually put your resume into a "yes," "no," or "maybe" pile based on the tiny slice of your resume that actually catches their attention. That's why compelling narrative can be key to intriguing your reader. The usual thin slices of your experience served up in a resume don't enable you to weave a theme to resonate with the employer.
Two hilarious examples of story resumes appear on the Internet. One is a musical, animated creation that attracted a great deal of notice and was actually a fairly serious attempt to obtain a job. Another, from Allen Williams, would seem to be a quite tongue-in-cheek incarnation of a resume.
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"Too long and boring" comprise two of the top complaints about most resumes voiced by Liz Ryan of WorldWIT. Contributing to a blog called "Get That Job!" Ryan cites one of her favorite resumes from a controller who includes this telling line on his resume: "Unusually wicked sense of humor for a Finance type." Ryan notes that "the human need for stories should be a vital clue to job-hunters, whose resumes often have as much dramatic punch as the back of a cereal box. Your resume is your marketing brochure. It has to tell your story." She suggests reading through your resume with the fresh eyes of an employer who will wonder, "Who is this person?" An unnamed blogger on the blog Fincareer similarly writes that "by highlighting and interpreting experiences in light of the job or career alternative you are contemplating, your story will get the quality and coherence needed to win a recruiter's trust and interest." With a storied resume, you can often explain the rationale and value of what you've done.
Just as valuable as the resume itself is the process of compiling it, write Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback in Harvard Business Review, because "it entails drafting your story." The authors advise that "everything in the resume must point to one goal which is, of course, the climax of the story you're telling." They cite a job-seeker who better defined what excited her about her chosen field every time she wrote her story in a piece of job-search communication.
Most employers also want to see substantiation of your claims about yourself, which is something you can accomplish through storytelling. Too many resumes are collections of adjectives and meaningless puffery with no stories to back up their claims. In focus-group research conducted for this book, participants found a story-based resume (the Wesley Edwards resume) more memorable than one that did not contain story, noting that the storytelling resume "leaves more of an impression" and that it "lists actual numbers. And it allows the reader to understand in dollars what he's accomplished."
Still, the resume is the trickiest component in career-marketing communication in which to tell stories. Following are some guidelines to keep in mind when creating a story-based resume:
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- A commonly used section at the top of the resume, a Qualifications Summary or Professional Profile, provides an excellent vehicle for telling the story of who you are professionally. Later in this chapter we'll see how.
- KPMG Principal Mary Anne Davidson observed on the HR.com Web site, "Candidates write about what their positions entailed and not what they actually did. So they tell us their job was to do XYZ. I know what controllers do. I know what recruiters do. I need to know what accomplishments you made in your role. This makes you different than another candidate."Â Susan Britton Whitcomb, author of Resume Magic, one of the most highly recommended resume books on the market, calls accomplishments "the linchpin of a great resume."Â
Her chapter on accomplishments is one of the best sources to help you compose effective accomplishments stories.
- To a great extent, if a job activity cannot be portrayed as an accomplishment, it may not be worthy of mention in your resume. Thus, your resume should be primarily accomplishments-driven (rather than driven by duties and responsibilities), and accomplishments are best communicated in story form.
- Accomplishment stories should include the situation, problem, or challenge that contextualizes your achievement, the action you took, and the results you attained; however, you should tell this story in reverse order "Â results, action, problem/situation/challenge. Why? Because, as we noted earlier, the employer looks at your resume so quickly. Results need to be listed first for each accomplishment so these outcomes catch the reader's eye. So, instead of SAR, PAR, or CAR stories (see Chapter 3), you'll tell RAS, RAP, or RAC stories. We'll see more information and examples later in this chapter.
- Some professional resume writers use the tactic of going easy on the story approach in the resume itself, but letting loose with stories of accomplishments, results, and outcomes in a resume addendum or career biography. Addendum examples appear later in this chapter.
- Most employers prefer a resume that is formatted mostly in bullet points "Â which don't exactly lend themselves to storytelling. You can tell stories in resume bullet points, but they must be concise, not wordy. Think of a story-based resume as "story lite."Â You can go into more detail in a resume addendum, in your cover letter, and later in your interview. Focus-group participants emphasized the conciseness point repeatedly, strongly cautioning against wordiness, overblown adjectives, too much information, and the impact of accomplishments lost in a sea of text. One participant said, "If you could combine the brevity of [the non-storytelling resume] with the numerical details of [the story-based resume], that would be the preferred ideal."Â
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- Humanize and personalize your resume. The trend in resumes has been to eschew personal information and interests. But this type of human-interest information can work for you as long as you relate it to professional skills. It also helps to reveal more of your story to the employer and portrays you as someone he or she would like to get to know better. For their book, Insider's Guide to Finding a Job, Shelly Goldman and Wendy Enelow interviewed 66 top corporate human-resources executives, recruiters, hiring managers, and career experts, among them Bill Welsh of Equinox Fitness, who believes that personal information on a resume is important and that "the more he knows about someone, the more informed his hiring decision will be."Â Revelation of personal interests and affiliations can indicate cultural fit with the prospective employer, create a bond with an interviewer with similar interests, and demonstrate transferable and applicable skills. For example, the following sample bullet point shows how a job-seeker might apply a slice of personal life to the corporate culture of the targeted employer:
Avid outdoor enthusiast poised to contribute my passion for outdoor sports to your firm's mission to promote the active lifestyle.
- It's wise to be story-minded when composing your resume so that you know what to leave out. A resume is neither a job application nor a life history. It's a marketing document, so it need not and should not be all-inclusive. Keeping your story "Â and better yet your branded story, as discussed in Chapter 8 "Â in mind as you craft your resume can help you judiciously omit material that, in the words of David W. Brown, author of Organization Smarts, "doesn't advance [your] personal narrative."Â WorldWIT's Ryan similarly notes that most resumes "tell us what we don't need to know, for instance, the typical tasks in a Marketing Research Manager's job."Â She goes on to describe how most resumes read: "I did this job. I stopped that. I had these responsibilities."Â Job-seekers need to dig deeper, Ryan exhorts. "What was your motivation?"Â she asks. "Surely you didn't go through these experiences in a daze. What was going on during that time? You've built your career, thus far, from scratch. How and why?"Â
- Remember that you don't have to tell the same stories on every resume you send out. The ideal scenario is to tailor your resume for every position you apply for so that you can change up your stories, selecting those that are most appropriate for the job at hand.>
- Quantify. Employers love numbers. Atlanta-based resume writer Gayle Oliver refers to these numbers as "performance metrics,"Â for example:
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- Increased sales by 50 percent over the previous year.
- Produced total meal sales 20 percent higher than those of the other servers in the restaurant.
- Supervised staff of 25.
- Served a customer base of 150, the largest on firm's customer-service team.
- Use superlatives. As Donald Asher notes in his excellent resume reference for college students, From College to Career, you can impress employers with words such as "first,"Â "only,"Â "best,"Â "most,"Â and "highest."Â.
- Think about the critical success factors for the type of position you are targeting, advises Oliver. Tell a story of what it looks like to succeed in this kind of position. Brainstorm stories of how past employers defined you as successful.
Using the Professional Profile or Qualifications Summary Section to Tell the Story of Who You Are
Twenty years ago or so, a Profile or Qualifications Summary section was somewhat unusual on a resume. Career experts trace the use of summaries and profiles, which include information about candidates' qualities beyond their credentials, to the publication of the late Yana Parker's The Damn Good Resume Guide in 1983. Today they are seen as an important resume element, consisting of 4-5 bullet points that encapsulate your top selling points.
So, a typical Profile or Summary section might consist of these items:
- Bullet point summarizing your professional identity in a nutshell. Tells the story of who you are.
- Bullet point addressing interpersonal communication skills and optionally including any applicable language skills. Tells the story of how well you communicate.
- One or more bullet points addressing key job-specific skills, ideally supported by stories, quotes from employers, or quantification.
- A bullet point addressing computer/technical skills.
- Optional bullet points addressing relocation, willingness to travel, work eligibility, or other contingencies, if applicable.
Some employers say they don't like Summary/Profile sections because they are full of unsubstantiated fluff. Therefore, it's incumbent upon the job-seeker to substantiate as much of the Summary/Profile section as possible "Â with stories, as well as with numbers, examples, and quotes from those who know your work. Any bullet points that are not substantiated in the Summary/Profile section itself should be substantiated later in the resume. Following are examples of story-substantiated bullet points:
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Demonstrated organizational skills at the highest level; successfully completed all assignments meeting all goals and timelines, from initiating complex and sensitive operations in the United States and abroad to establishing overseas office.
Successfully deployed unsurpassed interpersonal skills during professional interactions with U.S. government personnel, representatives of Fortune 500 defense-industry corporations, and as an instructor/lecturer for business groups and government employees..
Innovative decision-maker who consistently made informed purchasing choices on ERP and other software packages by developing fully operational, user-configurable, corporate intranet, and numerous in-house custom-built, Oracle-based applications..
Accomplished facilitator with reputation for highly effective team-building skills proven through overcoming team resistance and collaboratively completing key intranet project well before four-month deadline..
Enthusiastic self-starter who addressed seemingly insurmountable technical difficulties in software program that threatened timely document submission to National Drug Administration; research efforts resulted in software upgrade that enabled swift completion of time-sensitive documents..
Solutions-oriented manager who overcame negativity of two unsuccessful prior project attempts by applying specialized project-management methodology and design techniques..
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Begin your Summary/Profile section with a bullet point that tells the story of your professional identity in a nutshell. It's the most important bullet point because it puts you into focus, characterizes who you are, and tells the story of what you can contribute. If the reader should happen to read no further in your Summary/Profile section, he or she should at least have a sense of your essence from this first bullet point.
Dynamic MBA-level professional with more than seven years of experience in successful leadership of business and organizational turnarounds that involve multiple, complex dynamics and cross disciplines and management levels.
PhD-level leader, change agent, and social activist who has developed broad range of programs and procedures that yielded cost effectiveness and maximum utilization of resources and accountability.
Dynamic performer with background of achievement and success in entrepreneurial and business-development roles that have catapulted bottom-line revenues..
Multi-faceted change-agent with significant human-resources experience who applies expertise in cross-functional process improvement to achieve meaningful organizational change.
Entrepreneurial, outside-the-box, critical thinker with strong quantitative and research skills, functional IT skillset, and enthusiasm to deliver on front-line globalization issues.
Goal-driven achiever with strong organization skills who performs as both versatile individual and team player with ability to quickly assess, comprehend, and manage customer relations while upholding company values.
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Outstanding, success-validated sales performer proven in the field as highly motivated self-starter with exceptional skill and experience in direct, persuasive interface with CEOs and senior-level marketing executives of Fortune 500, Global 2000, and NYSE companies.
Accomplished project-management professional with more than 15 years of experience in capably and creatively delivering operating solutions through proficiencies in business analysis, problem-solving, process improvement, and software development.
Self-motivated professional with strong financial skills who expertly manages multiple deadlined tasks, including accurate processing and reporting accounts payable/receivable, reconciliations, and payroll.
Outgoing customer-service professional known for outstanding interpersonal, organizational, and prioritization skills, as well as people-management know-how that consistently elicits positive interaction with internal and external clientele.
Highly motivated sales professional with excellent communications and presentation skills as well as a reputation for instantly developing rapport that produces immediate sales results while paving the way for future sales successes.
Goal-driven IT operations and technical-support management professional with 15+ years of experience and commitment to delivering high-quality technical service and support to multiple IT customers concurrently.
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Efficiency-driven call-center professional who upholds highest accuracy performance standards and operational effectiveness through genuine talent for motivational, interpersonal teaching and mentoring.
Accomplished accounting professional and licensed CPA with extensive experience in developing and implementing highly efficient accounting systems that deliver accurate reporting and ensure compliance with established control policies and procedures.
Accomplished QA professional with 15+ years of progressive experience and proven record of significant, successful contribution in wide range of organizations that previously had no quality standards or programs in place.
Dynamic B2B/B2C technology marketing executive with exemplary career record of bringing products to market, precisely targeting consumer demographic while maximizing adoption and profitability.
Conscientious direct caregiver who provides meticulous, fully attentive, individualized nursing care to meet complex array of patient needs by employing nursing process methodology including assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation.
Highly proficient, multi-faceted professional with demonstrated ability to identify and define needs, formulate solutions, direct and supervise multiple participants, and capably juggle and effectively manage several priorities simultaneously.
An important technique to enable your reader to interpret your Summary/Profile section as a story is to make it parallel, as though each bullet point is completing the same sentence. This kind of narrative flow helps readability enormously. Imagine that each Summary/Profile bullet point answers the question, "Who are you, and what can you do for our organization?"Â and finishes an unstated but understood sentence that begins: "I am a(n)"Â¦"Â
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Let's see how this formula works in practice:
[I am a] Seasoned systems analyst with strong commitment to time and resource budgets, new-business development, strategic planning, innovation, technology trends, customer-service needs, and close collaboration with sales and marketing during development.
[I am a] Competent problem-solver who resolved sales and shipping issues by creating internal customer-care system and saving 20 percent on shipping; researched and delivered Web conferencing service for sales that saved 30 percent of travel budgets.
[I am a] Visionary innovator who partnered with another programmer to create pioneering language-learning software that earned national attention; served as lead analyst for revolutionary legal document generating and tracking product.
[I am a] Technical guru who provided direct support for successful million-dollar negotiation with major print vendor and completed many successful major conversions from mainframe to mini-computer systems.
[I am a] Strong communicator who was voted best specification writer with least number of re-writes by programmers and their managers.
You'll note that the story-based grammatical structure of these parallel bullet points goes like this:
[Adjective] [noun] [connecting words] [phrase describing skill/strength/expertise] [supported by quote, example, numbers]
Composing RAS/RAP/RAC Stories as Bullet Points to Describe Accomplishments
Presenting your accomplishments in your resume represents a case where it's OK, indeed desirable, to give away the end of the story first. Tell the Result (R) of your Action (A) first so it catches the employer's attention. Then, ideally, describe the Situation (S), Problem (P), or Challenge (C) that your Action addressed. Quantify wherever possible.
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Note in the following examples from diverse resumes that, because of resume space limitations and employers' preference for conciseness, the Situation, Problem, or Challenge is not always described:
- Produced sales growth from $50K in backlog to more than $31 million in backlog in three years by building high-performance, multifunctional/multi-discipline, sales team comprising professionals from multiple departments.
- Deflected 50 percent increase in electricity costs by designing/installing power factor correction systems.
- Reduced water usage by 80 percent by developing new cooling water temperature control system.
- Led national expansion of single-serve potato chip product building US volume +33% by utilizing US volume projections, international test market demands, and available capacity.
- Increased revenue by recruiting, training, and organizing efficient contract staff capable of faster processing time that optimized sales representatives' performance.
- Began employment as fax runner whose superiors recognized exemplary professional skills and unsurpassed work ethic; promoted to administrative assistant, and promoted again to senior administrative assistant within a year.
- Achieved 36 percent rating increase in customer survey scores by creating and implementing two new staff training programs that heightened levels of guest satisfaction.
- Increased sales revenue by 15 million in one year by assembling dynamic marketing team, coaching team members, and implementing highly effective marketing strategy.
- Raised $250K in one evening by coordinating 85 volunteers for school auction/dinner and through sales of 800 silent and 40 live-auction items.
- Facilitated 55 percent increase in customer satisfaction and 50 percent increase in employee job satisfaction by flattening hierarchy from 10 functional areas to just two, guiding employees to redefine their jobs, creating efficient work processes, eliminating redundancies, and eradicating paperwork in organization formerly unresponsive to clients as well as inefficient, bureaucratic, and apathetic.
- Boosted sales rate by 200 percent in first year and 400 percent over five years, successfully capturing majority of engineering specification market.
- Achieved 95 percent spend capture, 35 percent system operating and maintenance cost reduction, increased order visibility and leverage position, and enhanced supplier relationship management by executing successful integration of business units' procurement and payables systems and processes.
- Reduced annual consulting costs by $1.4M, streamlined development processes, facilitated rapid turnaround of customer requests, and enhanced internal application-development and application-support capabilities by developing and executing plan to in-source numerous key IT functions.
- Achieved 25 percent call-back rate, 30 percent sales increase, and a reopened revenue stream by executing direct-mail initiative to contact dormant customers to provide name recognition reminder and publish service-option details.
- Saved company $13.75 million $1.75 million in first year and $4 million annually for three consecutive years by conceiving, designing, and strategizing to bring branch computer maintenance in-house.
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- Reduced customer requests from 500 to 12 within three months by designing and implementing centralized customer task-tracking system.
- Reduced errors, saved time, achieved nearly a 100-percent paperless environment, and saved money by implementing central Web-based database that houses all client data, realizing remarkable return on equipment investment in less than a year.
Creating a Resume Addendum to Enhance Your Resume's Storytelling
Even if you've used storytelling to describe your accomplishments in your resume, space limitations have likely prevented you from providing much detail. Deborah Wile Dib, a CEO coach with multiple certifications in resume writing and career coaching, is an enthusiastic champion of the concept of resume addenda. Noting that these story-based addenda are "a good read,"Â she gives them a variety of titles, such as "Critical Leadership Initiatives,"Â "Marketing Milestones,"Â "Performance Milestones,"Â "Key Engagements"Â (for a consultant), "Career Success and Distinctions,"Â and "Major Campaigns."Â Dib encourages clients to identify their "career-defining accomplishments"Â and then rank-order the top five that align best with the job-seeker's targeted employers. For Dib, most accomplishments can be summed up in the phrase "accomplished solutions provider."Â The employer, Dib notes, is primarily interested in whether the candidate can solve problems and make/save money. The addendum supplies information "Â that the more concise resume can't accomplish "Â about the challenge the candidate faced and the process used to achieve the result, Dib says. To enhance the storytelling power of her resumes and addenda, Dib sometimes even breaks the cardinal resume rule against using the pronoun "I"Â in her documents.
Also touting the idea of the resume addendum is well-known resume writer and career author Louise Kursmark, who refers to these addenda as "ROI documents,"Â replete with stories that illustrate the Return on Investment the employer will gain in hiring the candidate. Kursmark's own special twist on the resume addendum is the Job Proposal, which tells a future story of what the candidate can do for the employer. The proposal presents the candidate's understanding of the employer's challenge, a section entitled "My Value"Â that explains how the candidate is the most qualified person to meet the challenge, and offers a "Proposed Solution."Â
Dib cautions that not everyone involved in the hiring process likes resume addenda, and my PhD bears out that caution. But as long as the employer also has your "story lite"Â resume, he or she can choose whether or not to review the addendum. Some recruiters in the focus-group research liked the option of being able to obtain additional information from addenda. One participant said, "I like addenda because they don't get in my way, but if I choose to delve deeper when presenting to a hiring manager, the info is there."Â
The addendum can also make an excellent artifact for your career portfolio. See Chapter 6.
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Are Resumes Dying?
With some career experts predicting that traditional resumes may be on their way out, readers may question the notion of the storytelling resume. Citing online recruiting expert John Sullivan as well as Allan Schweyer of the Human Capital Institute, Dib prognosticates that "within a few years most companies who are hiring or recruiting online will use e-profiles in place of the traditional resume. E-profiles allow access to information that is sorted and easy to use."Â Dib's finger is on the pulse of those who predict that paperless recruiting will become the norm. While the resume may disappear from the online job search and morph into new forms and spin-offs, it will still be used for mailing, networking, and interviewing. No matter what form the resume takes, expert wordsmithing will still be required, Dib notes, "to compose keyword-rich online profiles and resume builders, and to develop compelling success stories for interviews."Â A focus-group participant agrees, stating that "in the business world, there will always be a time and place when candidates will need a quick, concise, easily accessible summary of their skills. I think technology will continue to streamline the job application process, and resumes will adapt accordingly but never go away completely."Â
It's also just possible that the current business trend toward storytelling will move the resume to a more rather than less narrative form. As businesspeople recognize the power of storytelling and eschew emotionless data, PowerPoint presentations, dry analytical facts, and terse bullet points, they will be drawn to story-based resumes. As A Whole New Mind author Daniel Pink warns, "minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril."Â
Employers and recruiters express a constant concern about finding candidates who are a good fit with their organizations, who will perform, and get results. Given that they fret about the ability to predict candidate performance before hiring, they should welcome information in the resume that helps them to get to know more about the candidate rather than less. In fact, it is not decision-makers' distaste for rich information that is driving the current trend toward standardized profile forms that enable employers to compare apples to apples; instead, it is the revolution in Internet recruiting and job-hunting which has inundated employers with too many resumes to deal with. But as Pink points out, we have a "hunger for what stories can provide "Â context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters."Â
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Sample Story-based Resumes and Addenda
The following section contains these story-based resumes and addenda to give you a better idea how to use storytelling in these documents.
- Walter Dietz Story Resume
- Sean Patrick Story Resume Addendum: Leadership Profile
- Wesley Edwards Story Resume
- Zhang Li "Story-Lite" Resume followed by Executive Performance Highlights Addendum
- Mathias Carroll Projects Supplement
- Georgia Lutz Bio Addendum
Resume Story Resources
- Enelow, W., & Goldman, S. (2005). Insider's Guide to Finding a Job. Indianapolis, IN: JIST.
- Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink! The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Little, Brown.
- Kraft, C. (2004, Nov. 9). Don't just tell what you did, tell how you did it! Gladiator newsletter.
- Quintessential Careers: Resume and CV Resources for Job-Seekers.
- Ryan, L. (2005, Feb. 22). Multi-story resume, higher profile. Business Week Online
- Whitcomb, Susan Britton, (2003). Resume Magic. Indianapolis, ID: JIST.
Chapter 6: Cover Letters That Tell a Story - Page 66
Unlike resumes with their clipped bullet points, cover letters offer the job-seeker much wider latitude to tell stories because letters are quite compatible with the narrative form. You can engage the employer, make an emotional connection, show results, and become instantly memorable by writing at least one paragraph in the form of a powerful story. Not all employers read cover letters (about a third don't), but those who read, do really read the letter, unlike the resume, which they almost always skim.
Types of stories you can tell in a cover letter
- Stories of early interest in your career path and determination to reach your career goal. A participant in cover-letter focus-group research conducted for this book said that the following sample "creates a vivid picture in your mind and leaves a memorable impression with the reader."Â
One of my most profound memories as a young child was the day I first flew on an airplane. I was traveling with my family to California, and I still remember the feeling of excitement as I held my mother's hand and climbed the stairs into the immense red, white, and blue plane. That was my first of many flights on Delta, and I have never forgotten it. I am interested in fostering that same excitement in others by working for Delta as a training instructor.
More samples of early career interest:
Six years ago when you hired me for my first job, I wonder if you realized that the experience would inspire my career. I want to thank you for giving me that first opportunity to explore retail, not only because I enjoy the work so much, but because I've learned enough to know that I want to make a long-term commitment to this field.
You would have to look far and wide to find someone who could bring as much enthusiasm and creativity as I could to the position of assistant creative director of StoryDance. Ever since I attended StoryDance's performances as a young child, I've had a vision of the kind of creativity and energy I could add to the program. I carried that vision all the way to college, where I majored in theater and minored in dance.
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- Stories that depict your motivation, enthusiasm, and passion for the job you seek. Words such as "passion"Â and "excited"Â jumped out at a focus-group participant when evaluating this sample letter. "These are things an employer looks for in a candidate,"Â the participant said. "You don't want to hire someone that is simply there to do a job. You want them to have a desire and motivation not only for the position, but to help the company grow as well "Â and using those words depicts just that."Â
- While completing my degree in media communications and technology last year, I cultivated a true passion for video work that I would like to contribute to Southeast NewsVideo.
- Every morning I kick off the sheets and leap out of bed "Â thrilled to greet my new day and eager to engage all the challenges I will encounter. I can imagine the many challenges you face as the market leader that could benefit from my performance-management expertise as your Product Support and Training Manager.
- Stories describing specific projects you've led or collaborated on, including results:
- More than five years of high performance in retail banking and the direct-investment industry in a recently emerging market "Â Vietnam "Â has provided me with exceptional experiences and strong connections with decision-making officials in the private and public sectors. Leading a small team to reorganize a Vietnamese bank virtually from scratch, I was apprehensive over the overwhelming challenges, yet excited to exercise my leadership skills. The result exceeded all expectations; not only did we stabilize the bank, but we also managed to raise $2 million in equity. After completing the successful reorganization, I earned a promotion to deputy managing director, the youngest manager in the Vietnamese banking industry.
- I have demonstrated my aptitude for client management and relationship building by successfully rebuilding a damaged relationship with a major financial institution and creating the flagship office for this global engagement team. In these capacities, I have consistently proven my ability to mold a diverse team of experts to form cohesive plans and successfully complete projects.
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- Stories detailing problems you've solved for your employers:
- My analytical skills have contributed to my ability to solve challenging problems. At FoodAmerica, for example, sales quotas were not tied to financial objectives. I applied my creativity to devising a sales-forecasting system in which order files could be integrated with shipments and invoicing files, and SAS reports could be prepared each morning. I arranged for SAS reports to be e-mailed to each sales unit so all parties could see the sales status daily, ensured that the system tied sales quotas to financial objectives, and added a trend projection expert system to forecast which products would not make their objectives. This report contributed significantly to the successful startup of the Mighty Macaroni product line.
- As a consultant at Connor Associates, I have proven myself as a team leader. For example, when the mainframe computer crashed last summer, and we lost months of crucial data, I motivated team members to pull extra shifts to duplicate the work in just a few weeks.
- My broad-based background enables me to adapt well to building client relationships. In my current position, for instance, I identified and resolved customer issues with a computer manufacturer, resulting in a $1M contract. Not only did my company win the contract, but its management expressed the organization's satisfaction by providing excellent word-of-mouth promotion of our services to its subsidiaries.
- Stories describing other accomplishments and successes. The story of your past performance shows that you are the best value choice for the employer because you've achieved the same kind of results the organization seeks, says Robert S. Frey, Senior Vice President at RS Information Systems, Inc. (RSIS), whom I interviewed for this book. Tell stories that vividly show how you've made a difference for your past employers:
- In my most recent music-industry position at BMG, I maintained $1 million project budgets and helped boost the record sales of artists such as Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks, and Carrie Underwood. With great efficiency and productivity, I can oversee budget creation and negotiation for video and photo shoots, hire creative staff, and function as the liaison among artists, their management, and the label.
- My immersion into the world of business and finance at Global Financial Advisors has prepared me for business consulting. As a rising adviser who regularly cold-called CEOs and owners of successful Atlanta corporations to persuade them to meet with me, I banked my success on the ability to think creatively, conceptualize on many levels, and communicate crisply. I effectively explained the value my firm could provide and demonstrated my competency in tax, legal, insurance, and investment realms. I helped clients understand complex ideas in simple terms, motivated them to action, and then collaborated with a team of Global associates to implement our ideas.
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- I have proven my ability to attract and keep customers through the excellent feedback and comments I've received from guests, many of whom have come back and requested me as their server. I've also demonstrate